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The Broncos are expecting improvement out of third-year quarterback Jay Cutler.


AFC West preview:

Broncos: Counting on Cutler | Chargers: Super contenders? | Chiefs: Rebuilding mode | Raiders: Can only go up

The Broncos suffered through only their sixth losing season in the last 35 years and their first since 1999 last year, but may have to get used to it because this looks like a team that's unraveling.

2008 forecast
Vic Carucci : Now that Jay Cutler has his diabetes under control, the Broncos' quarterback should have the strength and stamina to carry him for an entire season. Still, it's hard to say if that is enough to make the Broncos a playoff team. Prediction: 7-9

Thomas George : Jay Cutler passes for big yards and a few scores. That alone will not make the Broncos a division or postseason factor. Prediction: 9-7

Pat Kirwan : Denver struggles to stop the run in a division that is committed to the run, and that always spells trouble. Jay Cutler continues to grow as a quarterback, but Brandon Marshall needs to stay away from the off-field issues that have plagued his young career. Prediction: 8-8

Gil Brandt : Broncos QB Jay Cutler needs to have a big year, but it's even more important for the run defense to make some plays. They allowed 4.6 yards per carry in 2007. Most of their tough non-division games are at home. Prediction: 6-10

» Broncos' 2008 schedule
Fantasy file
Riser: Selvin Young
Young became the favorite to start after the offseason release of Travis Henry. With Ryan Torain now out of action, Young has even less competition for carries this season.

Faller: Darrell Jackson
The absence of Brandon Marshall should have increased Jackson's role, but he's fallen behind Eddie Royal on the depth chart instead. His best seasons are behind him.

» Fantasy draft kit | More fantasy

Denver believes much of its trouble last year resulted from quarterback Jay Cutler fading badly as a result of a undiagnosed problem with type 1 diabetes. That's now under strict medical control and the belief is he'll bounce back from a mediocre year in which he completed 64 percent of his throws for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns but with 14 interceptions and had an apparent obsession with throwing the ball to Brandon Marshall (102 receptions for 1,325 yards in an offense where no one else caught as many as 50 passes). Hopefully he'll be fine, but he wasn't the only problem or the biggest one.

The offensive line got old and slipped noticeably last year. Coach Mike Shanahan has rebuilt the left side by installing No. 1 pick Ryan Clady at left tackle and putting Ben Hamilton at left guard. But one is untested and the other has a history of serious problems with concussions, so who knows how that will work out? Shanahan also signed veteran center Casey Wiegmann as insurance only to find he had to start him ahead of fast-fading Tom Nalen. Nalen, once a perennial Pro Bowl selection, is battling a bad knee and another 37-year-old for his job. That's not progress.

Defensively, the Broncos were 30th in the league against the run. They hope to improve that with the addition of Dewayne Robertson at defensive tackle, but he has a chronic knee problem that acted up in training camp and that doesn't bode well. Neither does the fact it appears journeyman Nate Webster beat out Niko Koutouvides for the middle linebacker slot.

On the hot seat

Matt Prater replaces 15-year veteran placekicker Jason Elam, who left for Atlanta. Elam was a staple of Bronco football. At 38, he connected on 27 of 31 field goals in 2007. The first time Prater misses, someone will mutter, "Elam would have made it."

Difference-maker

Elvis Dumervil is one of the smallest pass rushers in football at 5-foot-11, but he comes up big. Dumervil led the Broncos with 12½ sacks a year ago and is athletic enough to prove that was not a fluke.

Hard road to hoe

Denver has a three-game stretch in October that will test its mettle. The Broncos play host to Tampa Bay and Jacksonville on back-to-back Sundays Oct. 5 and 12 and then must travel to New England to face the Patriots.

Broncos will be better than you think if ...

Newly acquired DT Dewayne Robertson reacts well to returning to his natural position in the 4-3 after struggling to play nose tackle the past few years with the Jets.

Broncos will be worse than you think if ...

The new faces on the left side of their offensive line, especially No. 1 pick Ryan Clady at left tackle, don't mesh quickly.

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