It’s been a steep decline since the Broncos achieved Super Bowl glory in 2016. In just two seasons, they’ve gone from a perennial powerhouse to the AFC West’s cellar dweller. Last season, after the briefly remarkable Trevor Siemian led the Broncos to a 3–1 start, the air rushed quickly out of the balloon and the team suffered an agonizing eight-game losing streak. By the time the season was over, the Broncos had stumbled to a 5–11 record—good enough for last place in a mediocre division.
There are a few fresh faces on board for the 2018 roster, and there’s reason to believe the Broncos might be better this year (we sincerely hope that’s the case; we really do). Here, we’ve listed out three reasons to be optimistic and three causes for concern for the upcoming season, plus our predictions on how it will all play out.
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Arguably John Elway’s most impressive accomplishment in his time with the Broncos—as a player or an executive—was orchestrating the 2016 Super Bowl championship team. But rebuilding since then hasn’t quite worked out as planned. The Broncos’ front office has swung and missed with at least two quarterbacks in the NFL draft. Brock Osweiler, who the Broncos drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, was projected to be the heir to Peyton Manning. But he left for Houston in free agency in 2016, and after things didn’t work out there (or in Cleveland), the Broncos welcomed him back last September. He started four games for Denver during the 2017 season. They lost all four.
Then there’s Paxton Lynch, who the Broncos drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft. He, too, was billed as “the quarterback of the future.” Lynch started only two games each of the last two seasons, and has now been demoted to the third-string quarterback. When the 2017 season ended, the Broncos had no dependable gunslinger to take the reins in 2018, so they picked up Case Keenum—the 29-year-old journeyman quarterback who’s coming off the best season of his career. Maybe it’ll work out.
Keenum proved himself to be a more-than-adequate NFL quarterback last season. While he’s no John Elway or Peyton Manning, he could be just good enough to lead the Broncos on a playoff run. But there is at least one problem with that idea: The offense assembled around him isn’t very good. Let’s start with the offensive line. While the additions of veterans Ronald Leary (guard) and Jared Veldheer (tackle) are welcome, overall, it’s still a below-league-average group, which will likely leave Keenum tasting grass more than a few times. There has also been a lot of talk about the Broncos’ young running backs. The two potential starters—Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman—are ultimately unproven. Freeman is a rookie, and Booker hasn’t inspired much confidence in his first two seasons in Denver. That pair will only go as far as the offensive line takes them. Finally, that brings us to the most difficult thing we will say in this entire article: Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are getting old. While there is still, arguably, some juice left in their tanks, it doesn’t even come close to comparing to a few years ago. We will introduce you to another potential game-changing wide receiver here in a second, but Keenum may not have as many open guys as he would like. Still, if newly minted offense coordinator Bill Musgrave (formerly Denver’s quarterbacks coach) is able to implement a new system that can overcome some of these shortcomings, the offense may beat the odds.
After an abysmal first season, it’s honestly a bit remarkable that Vance Joseph still has his job with the Broncos. Last season was bad. But Elway and other players voiced their support for the defensive-minded coach with Colorado roots, and he kept the gig. The reality is, though, that before becoming the Broncos’ head coach, Joseph only had one season as an NFL coordinator under his belt. During that season, he led an average Miami Dolphins defense. There is no better way to learn on the fly than actually running the show, but if last season proved anything, Joseph still has a lot to learn.
A Terrifying Defensive Front
Von Miller. Derek Wolfe. Domata Peko. Adam Gotsis. Bradley Chubb. Shane Ray. Shaq Barrett. If you’re an AFC West quarterback reading that list, you just wet your jockstrap. Despite a disappointing two seasons, one aspect of the Broncos’ game that has remained dominant is their capacity to rush the passer and eat quarterbacks for breakfast. The Broncos already had perhaps the best linebacker in the league in Von Miller, and they just drafted Bradley Chubb—a young talent who played college ball at North Carolina State University—with the fifth pick in the 2018 draft. Quarterbacks, beware. This group just got even better.
Courtland Sutton is the next Randy Moss. OK, maybe we’re overselling. Maybe. But have you seen this guy in training camp and preseason? Courtland Sutton, the wide receiver who the Broncos nabbed in the second round of the 2018 draft, appears to be the real deal. Already, he’s emerged as a favorite target for Case Keenum, and his athleticism is dazzling almost everyone who has seen him play. Even Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla argues that Sutton will turn out to be the most important Broncos draft pick since they selected Von Miller back in 2011. If Sutton turns out to be the spark we’ve all been waiting for, he might energize the offense in a way we haven’t seen for a few seasons.
Back-to-Back Losing Seasons Don’t Happen in Denver
It just doesn’t happen. You have to go back to 1971–72 to find seasons in which the Broncos posted consecutive seasons under the .500 mark. And sure, that kind of anecdote doesn’t mean it won’t happen this year, but the Broncos have a history of bouncing back from bad years with at least moderate success. Case Keenum, Bradley Chubb, and Courtland Sutton might not be enough to push the team deep into the playoffs, but the new blood might bring the team to a winning record in 2018. Also worth noting, the Broncos don’t play the Patriots this year. As long as Tom Brady continues to play (probably another two decades), avoiding New England on the regular season schedule bodes well for your odds of success.
2018 Record Projection: 6–10 – Shane Monaghan
2018 Record Projection: 9–7 – Jay Bouchard
Here’s the full 2018 Broncos’ Schedule (Bold = Home Game; Mountain Time):
Week 1: September 9, vs. Seahawks, 2:25 p.m.
Week 2: September 16, vs. Raiders, 2:25 p.m.
Week 3: September 23, at Ravens, 11:00 a.m.
Week 4: October 1, vs. Chiefs, 6:15 p.m.
Week 5: October 7, at Jets, 11:00 a.m.
Week 6: October 14, vs. Rams, 2:05 p.m.
Week 7: October 18, at Cardinals, 6:20 p.m.
Week 8: October 28, at Chiefs, 11:00 a.m.
Week 9: November 4, vs. Texans, 2:05 p.m.
Week 10: BYE WEEK
Week 11: November 18, at Chargers, 2:05 p.m.
Week 12: November 25, vs. Steelers, 2:25 p.m.
Week 13: December 2, at Bengals, 11:00 a.m.
Week 14: December 9, at 49ers, 2:05 p.m.
Week 15: December 15, vs. Browns, 2:30 p.m.
Week 16: December 24, at Raiders, 6:15 p.m.
Week 17: December 30, vs. Chargers, 2:25 p.m.
*Editor’s note: We made a bet on the Broncos’ regular season record: The winner gets to drink cold beers while the loser must do Tom Brady’s TB12 workout for two weeks. Go Broncos!