DENVER -- Can you feel it?
There's something lingering in the air at Sports Authority Field this Thursday, and it wasn't here the last time the Denver Broncos took on the Baltimore Ravens.
Sure, it'll be a lot warmer tonight -- both literally and figuratively -- than it was when the Ravens ended the Broncos 2012 season. But that's not what makes this Thursday unique.
This Thursday seems unique because there still seems to be a chill in the air -- the sort of chill a parka can't fix; the sort of chill the confidence-laden Broncos never seemed to feel a season ago.
And therein lies the head-scratching anomaly as this team opens the 2013 season.
We should be talking about how, with the addition of Wes Welker, Denver's passing attack appears set to be breeze through opposing defenses. Instead, we're talking about how a stiff breeze appears capable of jarring the ball loose from Ronnie Hillman's grasp.
With another year of familiarity with each other, we should be trying to come up with more good nicknames for the pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Instead, we're talking about whether the Broncos can survive Miller's six-game suspension and a fax snafu that paved Dumervil's way to Baltimore.
We should be talking about the fact that the Broncos are opening the season as 7.5-point favorites over the defending Super Bowl champions. Instead, we're talking about the fact that the Broncos' odds at beating the Ravens are considered worse tonight than they were eight months ago, when they were 9.5-point favorites.
So where did those two points go? It appears they've become lost in the cloud of uncertainty forming over this team as they embark on the coming season.
And that newly-infused doubt is especially frightening considering these Ravens aren't half the team they were when they ended the Broncos season eight months ago.
That's not a figure of speech, either. Following their Super Bowl win in February, the Ravens literally lost about half of their team.
Ray Lewis? Gone. Ed Reed? Gone. Paul Kruger? Gone. Dannell Ellerbe? Gone. Bernard Pollard? Gone. Anquan Boldin? Gone. Dennis Pitta? Gone.
Those seven names signify five of the Ravens' 11 defensive starters in 2012, and their best two pass catchers. There's also the fact that Baltimore has thrown in its lot with Joe Flacco, a quarterback who was one unanswered Hail Mary away from a job hunt.
Conversely, the Broncos have a future Hall of Famer quarterback, and they took clear steps to improve the talent around him as well as the talent on a defense charged with getting him the ball back.
And so the question remains: Why are the oddsmakers more unsure of these improved Broncos in a game against these diminished Ravens? The answer may have less to do with football, and more to do with five offseason arrests and a six-game suspension.
It's troubling, to be sure. And yet, in spite of all, those very same oddsmakers are still picking this year's Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl.
So what does it all mean? It might mean that the end of last season and the beginning of this one aren't so different, after all.
Like Rahim Moore's go-for-broke decision to lunge for a game-ending interception or John Fox's conservative play to take a knee, this year's Broncos already appear plenty capable of beating themselves -- no matter how talented they may be.
Here's to hoping that, for their fan's sake, there is something to be said for the 2013 Broncos coming to that realization at the beginning of a season instead of the end of it.