ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Broncos last cycled through the NFC West in 2010, the division was not only the worst in the league, but arguably the worst in league history. Its champion, the Seattle Seahawks, became the only team in a non-strike season to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9); the quartet's collective point differential was a staggering minus-322.
And against that then-stumbling crew, the Broncos went 1-3 -- which was a perfect microcosm of a 4-12 overall finish that every Denver fan would like to forget.
Circumstances couldn't be much different for the NFC West as a whole and the Broncos themselves this August, when Denver faces the entire division again in the preseason.
Denver had the league's best record in 2012, just 24 months after enduring its worst season since the AFL-NFL merger. Meanwhile, the 49ers are established as an NFC power after a conference-championship loss and a Super Bowl appearance the last two years; the Seahawks have rebuilt and regenerated faster than most expected; the Rams have a bushel of draft picks from last year's trade with the Redskins and finally appear to have a line to keep Sam Bradford upright, and the Cardinals just stabilized their quarterback position by trading for Carson Palmer, who should be enough to return Larry Fitzgerald to the league's upper echelon of wide receivers.
Top to bottom, this should be a good month-long test for the Broncos -- particularly for their defense, which ranked No. 2 in the league last year but will absorb the loss of Elvis Dumervil, along with changes at middle linebacker and cornerback with the signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The collection of quarterbacks the Broncos face offers a stern test. Bradford is starting to emerge, Kaepernick looks poised to join the league's elite after guiding the 49ers on their Super Bowl run, and Wilson was a Pro Bowler as a rookie. (Denver likely won't see much of Palmer, since the Cardinals come to Denver for the preseason finale.)
The mobility of Wilson and Kapernick will particularly test the Broncos' edge pass rushers -- which currently consist of Von Miller and Robert Ayers, but should be supplemented at some point in the next few months. Sure, it's "only" preseason. But a demanding schedule offers an excellent chance for the Broncos to find answers to their lingering roster questions before the results matter.