Team Capsules: Denver Broncos

August 30, 2023

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

To say that the 2022 Denver Broncos were a disappointment would be one of the biggest understatements ever made about the once-proud franchise.

The high hopes in the Mile High City quickly soured as new head coach Nathaniel Hackett appeared to be inept while Russell Wilson looked like a shadow of the Super Bowl winning quarterback he was in Seattle. Simply put, Denver was a mess from the jump, and it never got better. Wilson struggled all season and Hackett was fired after Week 16. The Broncos limped to a 5-12 finish, capping their sixth losing season in a row.

The Walton-Penner Group, the new owners of the Broncos, didn’t sit idly. In the offseason, they brought in veteran coach Sean Payton, who’s expected not only to right the ship, but to get Wilson back on his path to Canton.

Can the Broncos snap their streak of losing seasons under Payton? Or will they extend the longest postseason drought in franchise history? We’ll soon begin to find out.,

What to like about the Broncos…

  • Two words: Sean. Payton. Despite what happened last season, Broncos Country has happily bought into Payton. And for good reason. In his 15 seasons, Payton posted an impressive .631 winning percentage, went to the postseason nine times, won a Super Bowl and only had four losing seasons – the worst of which still saw seven wins. There’s little doubt in Denver that Payton can be a savior, it’s just a matter of how quickly he can do it.
  • The Broncos’ defense is still good. Despite the team’s abysmal record, its defense was respectable. The Broncos D only allowed 21.1 points per game – good for the 7th best in the NFL. They were a top-10 rush defense and a top-12 pass defense. Former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph returns to be Payton’s defensive coordinator, leading a defensive unit that’s largely intact from a year ago.
  • For now, the Broncos are relatively healthy. A season ago, Denver was the most injury-riddled teams in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos logged the most Adjusted Games Lost to Injury with 148.6 (the Titans were second with 122.9). The Broncos fired their strength and condition coach after the season and enter 2023 with a healthy Javonte Williams and a leaner, meaner Russell Wilson. Excuse or not, the Broncos were a M.A.S.H unit last season; if they can simply be healthier, it could be worth a win or two.

What not to like about the Broncos…

  • From 2011 to 2015, the Broncos won the AFC West. That was then; the now has been considerably uglier if you’re a Broncos fan. Since their last division title, the Broncos have surrendered the West to the Chiefs, who have now won seven straight division titles – and have been to five straight AFC Championship Games as well. The Chiefs have been to three Super Bowls, winning two. Making matters worse, the last time the Broncos beat Kansas City was in September of 2015, making it 15 straight L’s to the Chiefs. In the meantime, the Chargers have emerged as the team most likely to challenge Patrick Mahomes and Co. Point being, even if Denver is improved, there are a lot of hurdles in the AFC West.  
  • Last season, Russell Wilson was bad. But a lot of that might not have been his fault – it’s hard to be a good quarterback from your back. That’s not opinion; it’s fact. The Broncos offensive line allowed the most sacks (63) of any team in the NFL last season. While there have been additions to the line, most notably the healthy return of left tackle Garett Bolles and the signing of right tackle Mike McGlinchey – who was sidelined during the preseason with a knee injury – there are still many questions about the Broncos O-line. They can’t be much worse, but they’ll need to be markedly better to get the best out of Wilson and Payton’s run-heavy offense.
  • A great team may not need a great kicker, but a team that’s trying to return to relevance generally operates on thin margins. The Broncos are that team, and at the moment, they’ve got what most people believe to be “kicking problems.” In the offseason, they let go of steady veteran kicker Brandon McManus, who was quickly scooped up by Jacksonville. In his place – at the moment – is Will Lutz, who the Broncos acquired (with a 7th-round pick) on Aug. 29. Lutz could be good, but he was also let go by the Saints, who were 7-10 last season. Additionally, Lutz’s first kick as a Broncos won’t take place until Week 1 at the soonest, as he wasn’t a part of the team during the preseason. A team trying to make the jump from five wins to nine or more will likely play in plenty of close games; entering the season with instability at the kicker position is a good way to lose a handful of those.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Sean Payton to win NFL Coach of the Year +1200

For the record, taking the Broncos at over 8.5 wins is a fine – and recommended – bet, especially at +100. Given the strength of the division and the rest of the AFC, making the playoffs (+180) might be tricky, but even that’s not a bet we’d be afraid to make. If either of those wagers work, it will solely be because of Sean Payton. And if that’s how the season plays out in Denver, Payton will undoubtedly be in line for Coach of the Year. At +1200, that’s a much bigger payoff than the other two bets you should consider.