Tonight is the night.
Meaningful pro football returns with the Broncos hosting the Ravens in prime time, and there’s no shortage of story lines.
If I’m a Redskins fan, though, there’s one thing I’m watching for tonight more than anything else: How will the Broncos’ defense look without linebacker Von Miller?
You probably know the all-pro is suspended for the first six games of the regular season after a violation of the league’s drug policy.
What you might not have realized is three of Denver’s first six games are against NFC East opponents. The Broncos visit the Giants in Week 2, host the Eagles in Week 4 and play in Dallas in Week 5.
Washington travels to Denver in Week 8, when Miller will be back.
Is this a big deal? If the Broncos aren’t the same team with Miller off the field, it might turn out to be.
In each of the past four seasons, the NFC East has been decided by one game or fewer. It’s not a stretch to consider that the absence of a player as talented as Miller could make a real impact on the NFC East race if Denver struggles to cope with him being gone.
The only real precedent — and it isn’t an entirely fair comparison — is during Miller’s rookie season in 2011, when the Broncos were 6-5 and riding a four-game winning streak after Miller tore ligaments in his thumb late in an overtime win against San Diego.
Tim Tebow got a lot of the credit for that run, but it was really the Broncos’ defense that carried him, dominating in wins that ended 17-10, 17-13 and 16-13.
Miller missed the next game, a 35-32 win against the Vikings, then played the rest of the season at less than full strength.
Denver went 2-4 including its two playoff games the rest of the way, and gave up 41, 40 and 45 points in three of those losses, allowing at least 400 yards in four of the seven games after Miller was injured including the Minnesota game he missed.
Now, the Broncos clearly are a more talented team this year than they were two seasons ago, and nobody in the league is better at covering up a depleted roster than Peyton Manning, but it will still be an advantage to play Denver while Miller isn’t around.
What do you think? Am I being an alarmist, or could this actually be a disadvantage for the Redskins?
Greg Schimmel is a copy editor who will contribute his NFL insights to Opening Kick on Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter at @Greg_Schimmel.
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Best from around the Web:
● On Grantland.com, Bill Barnwell took an analytical look at NFL teams that he says will be better in 2013 than they were in 2012. Two of the Redskins’ first three opponents made his list. On Tuesday, Barnwell examined which teams he expects to be worse than last year, and the Redskins are in that group.
● Via the Chicago Sun-Times, retired Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said on Fox Sports 1 that part of his former team’s game plan was to fake injuries to slow fast-paced offenses. Maybe the Redskins will resort to this if Chip Kelly’s Eagles start moving a little too fast? I’m sure not.
● The New York Daily News, and everybody else, reported Wednesday that the Jets officially named rookie quarterback Geno Smith their Week 1 starter as Mark Sanchez remains sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered during the preseason. Pro Football Talk passes along the news that Rex Ryan wouldn’t name Smith his long-term starter.
● The Redskins practice today at 1 p.m.
● The Broncos – without Von Miller and cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) – will host the Ravens tonight in the regular season opener at 8:30 on NBC.