The State of the State: Colorado

June 27, 2023

Are the Broncos poised to be one of the surprise teams this season?

Sean Payton looks to get a once-proud franchise back on track

Eight Super Bowl appearances. Three Lombardi Trophies. Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever lace up cleats.

There are few franchises that have more to boast about during their history than the Denver Broncos. They’re one of the NFL’s most-storied teams.

But recently, they’ve been one of the worst. Since winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have failed to reach the playoffs in seven-straight seasons, the longest all-time drought for a champion. In the last six years, they haven’t even reached .500, typically being nowhere close to that mark.

They’ve tried everything to right the ship. It’s been a revolving door of head coaches and quarterbacks, as Denver has sputtered through their worst stretch since their time in the American Football League.

Enter Sean Payton. He replaces Nathaniel Hackett as the Broncos head coach, looking to do in Denver what he did in New Orleans, where he turned around a moribund franchise and built a winner.

To do the same in the Mile High City, Payton will have to do one thing first – fix Russell Wilson. The quarterback came to the Broncos last offseason in a blockbuster trade, only to fall flat on his in year one. He went from a surefire Hall of Fame inductee to a punchline, in the blink of an eye.

That leads to one big question: Was it Hackett or Wilson? Who was the problem last season?

The Broncos are betting on it being their former head coach. And that their new one will make that painfully obvious.

Last season, Denver went 4-9 in games decided by one score or less. If the Broncos can turn four of those nine losses into wins simply by not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, clock-management issues and questionable in-game decisions, they’ll be able to turn last year’s 5-12 record into a season with nine-plus wins.

That would put the Broncos over their win total, which currently sits at 8.5. That would end the streak of losing seasons, which would be a big first step for Payton is year one.

On the surface, it would seem wise to take the under, given that Denver hasn’t reached nine wins or more since 2015. But the Hackett effect can’t be overstated.

Payton will resolve a lot of the issues that plagued the Broncos last year. He won’t allow Wilson to do whatever he wants, instead putting the quarterback in a position to succeed by running the ball more to set up big-play opportunities. And he’ll prove to be exactly the right hire in the Mile High City.

Steve Quinne’s pick: Denver over 8.5 wins in 2023