The Denver Broncos are coming off a miserable 5-11 season. It’s hard to remember, but the Broncos actually started out last year 3-1. They preceded to lose their next 8 games and would close the year on a 2-10 run.
It’s been quite the decline for Denver since winning the Super Bowl during the 2015 season. The Broncos had won at least 12 games in four straight seasons. They went just 9-7 in 2016 (missed the playoffs) and followed it up with last year’s stinker.
Last year was the first under head coach Vance Josephs, who was hired after Gary Kubiak was forced to retire because of health concerns. Josephs has made numerous changes to his coaching staff in the short two years he’s been with the team.
One of those changes came during last season, when he fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy due to poor performance. Bill Musgrave was promoted from quarterbacks coach and has retained the job for 2018, despite the fact the offense wasn’t any better once he took over.
While McCoy took the fall, the real blame for Denver’s offensive woes was the play they got from the quarterback position. Trevor Sieman, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch all took snaps and none of them were any good. Combined the three completed just 58.7% of their attempts with a 19-22 TD-INT ratio.
Some thought Denver would use the No. 5 pick on a signal caller, but instead GM John Elway rolled the dice on Case Keenum, who had a breakout season in 2017 filling as the Minnesota Vikings starting QB after Sam Bradford was injured. Keenum started 15 games and completed 67.6% of his attempts for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions.
As good as Keenum was, the Vikings let him go and pursued Kirk Cousins to take his place. The big concern with Keenum, is whether or not it was a fluke. He looked nothing like the quarterback that struggled with the Rams the previous two seasons. On the flip side of this, you could argue Keenum’s poor play with the Rams was more a result of coaching, as we saw what Sean McVay did with that offense in his first year with the team.
There’s plenty more question marks outside of Keenum with the Denver offense. The biggest of those being how they replace the production of running back C.J. Anderson, who finished 9th in the NFL with 1,007 yards. Despite Anderson being one of the top rushers, the Broncos as a team were a mere 12th in the NFL in rushing at 115.8 ypg.
The top returner from last year is Devontae Booker, who was expected to contribute a lot more in his second season. Booker will be competing with a couple of rookies. Denver took Royce Freeman out of Oregon in the 3rd round and David Williams from Arkansas in the 7th.
At wide receiver the Broncos have their top two weapons back in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but that’s about the only two sure things Keenum will have to work with. Denver needs one of their young wide outs to emerge. They also are counting on second-year tight end Jake Butt, who missed all of last year, to play a huge role.
The offensive line hasn’t produced at the level you desire in the NFL the past couple seasons. A lot of the same faces are back from last year, with the exception of new right tackle Jared Veldheer, who was acquired in a trade. If this unit struggles, things might not get any better with Keenum under center.
The good news is the Broncos aren’t asking their offense to put up 30 points a game. They just want them to take care of the football and let their defense do the heavy lifting. Denver’s stop unit was 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed (290.0) but way back in a T-24th in points allowed (23.9 ppg). That was a direct result of the offense not being able to stay on the field and putting the defense in bad spots. Denver was 31st in the NFL in turnover margin (-17), despite ranking 7th in the league in takeaways (17).
Last year the Broncos made a point of getting better up front to improve their run defense. They struck gold in free agent nose tackle Demonte Peko and saw a couple of their young guys take big steps forward. The improvements were impressive, as the Broncos went from ranking 28th in 2016 (130.3 ypg) to 5th in 2017 (89.4). All the primary guys are expected back, though starting 3-4 defensive end Adam Gotsis is dealing with a rape charge from back in 2013.
At linebacker, Denver has one of the elite players in the game in outside linebacker Von Miller. He’s been at his best when he’s had another guy opposite him that can also wreak havoc. It’s a big reason the Broncos couldn’t pass up on NC State outside linebacker Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 pick. Some had Chubb rated as the best player in the draft. He’ll be the starter before long, but until he’s ready Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett will get some reps.
While Denver made a big addition on defense with Chubb, they also have to replace one of their best players in veteran corner Aqib Talib, who was traded to the Rams. That means nickel corner Bradley Roby will play opposite pro bowler Chris Harris. Roby has flashed enough to believe he will excel on the outside, but it’s a pretty big drop-off when you go from Roby being your No.3 corner to the newly signed Tramaine Brock.
If Keenum can jump start the offense, the Broncos can use the same recipe for success that won them the Super Bowl three seasons ago. If he ends up being a bust, it’s going to be really hard for Denver to compete in what looks like a loaded AFC West.
2018 Broncos Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|7||at Cardinals TNF||-1.5||0.53|
|16||at Raiders MNF||+4||0.34|
Projected Wins: 7.32
Over/Under Wins Prediction: UNDER 7
This is one win total where I just don’t see a ton of value, as I could just as easily see Denver going 6-10 as I could see them go 8-8. If I had to take a side, I would lean towards the under, for the simply fact that a lot of things have to go your way when you rely so much on your defense.
I personally like Keenum, but he’s not an elite talent and needs to be in a good situation like he was with the Vikings to excel. I just don’t see a lot to get excited about outside of a couple 9-year vets in Sanders and Thomas, who both made their living playing beside Peyton Manning.
Another thing you have to consider is that it’s not all about the players. Coaching plays a big role in a team’s success and I’m simply not sold that Vance Joseph is the right guy to be in charge. I also don’t like all the changes that have taken place with the assistants. Continuity within a coaching staff is something that is way undervalued.
With all that said, the defense has the potential to be elite and that should have them finishing somewhere around .500.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +4000
The Broncos are a complete long shot to win the Super Bowl, but they also aren’t getting the same respect as some of the other contenders. There are a total of 12 teams that make the playoffs and there are 17 teams who have better odds than Denver to win the title.
If you are someone who believes that Keenum will solve all of Denver’s problems on offense and Chubb will dominate as a rookie, than the price here would be hard to pass up. If both of those things hold true, the Broncos should be closer to a team like the Minnesota Vikings, who are sitting at +1100.
Odds to Win the AFC: +1500
Same story here. There are just 6 teams who advance to the playoffs out of each conference. There are 6 teams with better odds than Denver to win the AFC and they are tied with 3 others at +1500.
Keep in mind that two of those teams with better odds are from their own division in the Chiefs and Chargers. One of the teams tied with them is their other division rival in Oakland. The AFC West is no joke this year and it’s a much tougher task to make it to the Super Bowl if you don’t win your own division.
Odds to Win the AFC West: +400
Speaking of winning the division, Denver has the worst odds of the four teams to win the AFC West. The Chargers are the favorites at +175, followed by the Chief and Raiders at +275. The interesting thing to note is that oddsmakers see a significant enough gap with the Broncos to have them back at +400.
I personally don’t think Denver is going to be able to finish ahead of Kansas City or Los Angeles, but it’s definitely not out of the question that they could return to the top of the AFC West in 2018.