ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Some of it is a little take-care-of-the-neighborhood talk and some of it is to add some impact to what the Denver Broncos do as they go about their football business, but head coach John Fox has been adamant in his beliefs.
That the AFC West was “the toughest division in the league last year and I think it’s the toughest this year."
And earlier this month, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning chimed in a bit with, “I think it’s the toughest division in football."
With the Oakland Raiders seemingly on course to add another season-long chapter to their growing Book of Struggle, it is difficult to give the AFC West the top-to-bottom grade it would need to pass a best-division-in-football exam. But after four weekends of the NFL season the San Diego Chargers have done their part.
For the Broncos, that’s certainly worth some attention. The Chargers’ only loss in this still-young season was 18-17 to the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener. The Chargers, with the help of a little home-field swelter, own a win over the Seattle Seahawks and have dispatched the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars in their last two games.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, who has spent large portions of his career beating the Broncos, has played all kinds of good thus far -- 70 percent completion rate, just more than eight yards per attempt, nine touchdowns and one interception.
The Broncos formally concluded their bye week early Monday morning when the players arrived to start what is now a run of 13 consecutive football weeks to close out the regular season. To get the next weekend off they’d actually like to have, they’re going to have to take care of plenty of business over those next 13 weeks.
The Broncos already own a grind-it-out win over the Kansas City Chiefs, who could add to the AFC West’s resume with a win over the New England Patriots Monday night but still have no explanation for the opening-week loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead.
So, if the Broncos aren’t just tossing early-season compliments around and the AFC West does turn out to be the kind of division it was last season when three of its teams made the postseason, then they’ll have earned any playoff trip the hard way.
Among their next five games, the Broncos have the Cardinals (3-0), the 49ers (2-2), the Chargers (3-1) and the Patriots (2-1 heading into Monday night’s game). The Chargers game in that grouping is on a Thursday night, in Denver, which is exactly the scenario from 2013 when the Broncos openly complained about a short week throughout a short week and then lost to the Chargers on a Thursday night in Denver.
The Broncos have said they’re better than last season, said they’ve seen plenty of good things already in a 2-1 start and said they want another shot at the title when all is said and done. But to prove any of that true, they will have to be the best team in their division.
And as they returned to work Monday, it should be clear they will have some work to do there.