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Mile High Morning: Broncos are serious contenders to win the AFC West, ESPN's Bill Barnwell says

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The Lead

Though the regular season has hardly just begun, the Broncos are off to a great start in the race for the AFC West. At 3-0, they have tackled each of their opponents with ease and are currently tied with the Raiders for the best record in the division. But with the Chargers and Chiefs not too far behind, it's hard to predict just how the AFC West teams may fare as the season goes on.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell took a look at the current AFC West standings, breaking down each team's chances to win the division based on ESPN's Football Power Index. At this point, the Broncos are the FPI favorites to win the AFC West title in 2021.

"The Broncos have dominated their competition through three weeks, outscoring teams 76-26," Barnwell said. "Those 26 points even understate how effective Vic Fangio's unit has been, as they include a kickoff return for a touchdown and a Daniel Jones rushing touchdown on the final snap of a blowout Denver victory over the Giants."

Though Denver is still undefeated, with resounding wins over the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, some analysts have raised concerns about the difficulty of their schedule. Each of Denver's first three opponents so far sit at 0-3 on the season, leading some to question if the Broncos are for real.

"Even as the Broncos face stiffer competition, they should still be a competitive team," Barnwell said. "If they go 7-7 the rest of the way, that would get them to 10-7 and likely net Teddy Bridgewater & Co. their first playoff berth since the franchise won the Super Bowl in 2015."

Despite the perceived ease of schedule for Denver through Week 3, Barnwell says the Broncos have done exactly what good teams do in these situations — beat the teams they are supposed to beat. And Denver has been dominant enough in those matchups for Barnwell to buy in on them as potential division winners.

"They've already done enough to make themselves viable contenders for a division title," Barnwell said.

Below the Fold

Denver is 3-0 thanks in part to outstanding defensive play, as well efficient and mistake-free performances by Bridgewater. But despite his success so far, opponents are still trying to test Bridgewater at every turn. 

 "Essentially, three different teams came up with the same plan: to make quarterback Teddy Bridgewater beat them," ESPN's Jeff Legwold said. "Score one, two and three for Teddy."

 The Giants, Jaguars and Jets all game-planned to stop the run vs. Denver, attempting to put the pressure on Bridgewater to make big plays. Unfortunately for them, Bridgewater has responded to each of those challenges with near-perfect games. The Broncos QB has tossed four TDs and committed zero turnovers, while completing 76.8% of his passes through Week 3.

 But Bridgewater isn't taking it personally. If teams want to keep focusing on the run and free him up make plays in the passing game, he's happy to keep answering the call.

 "Man, if that's what it means, we'll take it," Bridgewater said.

 Most of Bridgewater's teammates, however, are tired of people underestimating their QB. They've seen what Bridgewater is capable of through the first three weeks, and they're standing with him.

"Quit doubting Teddy, man," tackle Garett Bolles said. "The dude is composed back there. He knows exactly where to throw the ball. I'm telling you right now man, he's a dangerous threat. If we do whatever we can to keep his jersey fresh, we're hard to beat."

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