There were two clear favorites in the AFC this season: Denver and New England, in that order. The last month hasn't been very good to either of them.
The Patriots obviously cut tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of their best players. And now comes word that Miller, who could make an argument as the best defensive player in the NFL (though he'd lose that argument to J.J. Watt), could be suspended four games for violating the league's drug policy, according to multiple reports including the Denver Post. According to the Post's Mike Klis, Miller had tested positive for marijuana and amphetamines as a rookie in 2011. He is appealing, and it's not unheard of that a player wins an appeal. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman did last year. So there's hope for Miller and the Broncos.
If Miller wins his appeal, the Broncos can carry on as the clear favorites. But if he is suspended four games, does that change the AFC race?
The Miller loss would compound the Broncos' problem of losing Elvis Dumervil in that weird fax machine incident. Denver's strength as a defense last season was having two of the best pass rushers in the game coming from either side. Now Dumervil is gone, and Miller might be out a month too. Aging former Charger Shaun Phillips will be asked to replace Miller's pass rush if he is suspended, and that's a dramatic downgrade. That puts more strain on Denver's secondary, which didn't look that great in a playoff loss against Baltimore.
If Miller gets suspended the first four games of the season, the Broncos play Baltimore (Joe Flacco), at the New York Giants (Eli Manning), vs. Oakland (OK, shouldn't be a problem) and vs. Philadelphia (Chip Kelly's new uptempo offense). That's a winnable stretch of games, but it gets a lot tougher without Miller.
Fortunately for the Broncos, they have what should be a huge cushion in a really weak division. They're the runaway favorite in the AFC West. Even if Miller's suspension costs them a game or two, they should still win the division. Losing a game or two might cost them the top seed or a bye, however. And anything less than a Super Bowl this season is a disappointment for Denver.
Teams like Cincinnati, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and even New England will be watching Miller's appeal very closely. Facing the possibility of being without one of the best defensive players in the league for four games, Denver doesn't seem like an overwhelming favorite in the AFC anymore.
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