The Denver Broncos have been in decline for the last two years. After their run of consecutive playoff appearances from 2011-15 culminated with a Super Bowl championship in Peyton Manning’s grand finale, the Broncos first slipped to 8-8. Last year, the first under rookie head coach Vance Joseph, was a 5-11 disaster amidst complete chaos at quarterback. Denver signed Case Keenum in the offseason and they’re off to a 2-0 start. Are better things ahead for this proud franchise?
Any team in the AFC has this going for it—there’s a lot of room for guesswork at this early point in the season. Even the Patriots and Steelers don’t seem like sure bets and after last night, the Browns have won a game. In this type of landscape, dismiss any team that has actually won a couple football games at your own risk.
Here’s a look at the concrete reasons that 2018 could be a return to contention for Denver…
*They still have elite defensive playmakers. Von Miller is as good as ever rushing the quarterback from the edge and he sacked Seattle’s Russell Wilson three times in Week 1. First-round draft pick Bradley Chubb has played well out of the gate on the other side and if he emerges, it will give Denver an unstoppable pass-rush combination.
*Chris Harris continues to be a lockdown corner. The core formula of lockdown man-to-man coverage, combined with linebackers attacking the quarterback is the one that won Denver a Super Bowl in 2015. The ceiling for this year’s defense isn’t quite that high, but it’s certainly high enough to get them back in the playoffs.
*The offensive line, a source of weakness, has played pretty well in the first couple weeks. Left tackle Garrett Boles made the All-Rookie team in 2017 and his development into a steady Pro Bowl-type player will be the key to seeing whether this unit can sustain things.
*Keenum avoids mistakes. He did it with Minnesota last year—another team that won with a defense-first approach and if he gets decent protection from his offensive line, can do it again this year.
*Emmaneul Sanders and Demariyus Thomas are nice weapons on the outside. I also like the drafting of a couple rookie tight ends out of the Big Ten, Michigan’s Jake Butt and Troy Fumagali from Wisconsin. The latter is out with a groin injury, but Butt stepped up with some big catches in last week’s win over Oakland. A tight end like this a good escape hatch for a play-it-safe QB like Keenum.
There’s nothing written so far that dazzles you, in the way that Denver used to when Peyton was still playing at an MVP level or when the ‘15 defense could reach the levels of the league’s all-time great Ds. But can this team win 10 games and win an AFC West that has no clear-frontrunner?
Why not? Admittedly, “why not” is not the most ringing endorsement you’ll ever hear, but I’ll never bet against John Elway, even from the front office. Denver’s next couple games, a visit to Baltimore and then a Monday Night home date with Kansas City, and hot rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes will tell us more.