Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3:42 PM
The Denver Broncos season can break either way as we head into the final quarter of the regular season. The Broncos are 8-4, and while they trail both Oakland and Kansas City in the division, they are head-to-head games against both still looming. On the other hand, Denver is only a game ahead of Miami and the Pittsburgh/Baltimore runner-up for the final wild-card spot. The Broncos could rise as high as the 2-seed or they could miss the postseason altogether.
A look at the schedule shows how combustible Denver’s situation is right now. They go to Tennessee on Sunday with the Titans squarely in the mix for the AFC South title. After that comes three straight high-profile games. The Broncos host New England in the late afternoon window the following Sunday, a game that will be seen by most of the country.
Denver then goes to Kansas City on Christmas Night for a rematch of that epic Sunday Night game the two rivals played just two weeks ago. The regular season ends on New Year’s Day at home against Oakland, a game that could also be flexed into the Sunday Night spot depending on what’s at stake.
The schedule provides opportunities for the Broncos to play their way into a favorable playoff seed and set up another Super Bowl run. Or they could lose all four and go home. Which way do you play it?
Denver’s offense isn’t bad--13th in the league in points scored, but it doesn’t inspire confidence. Especially not against teams like the ones left on the schedule and especially not with so much uncertainty. The Broncos are clearly better off—at least in the short-term—with Trevor Siemian at quarterback than rookie Paxton Lynch.
Siemian gets the ball downfield a bit better and makes better use of the big-play capability of Emmanuel Sanders and Demariyus Thomas. But Siemian is also mistake-prone and more to the point, he’s still listed as questionable for Sunday in Tennessee after missing yesterday’s 20-10 win in Jacksonville.
In the running game, Devontae Booker did nothing to suggest he’s ready to take the load over from the injured C.J. Anderson. The Bronco offensive line isn’t bad—center Matt Paradis is one of the best in the game and in a league where a lot of contenders have problems on the offensive front, the Bronco issues here are more manageable than most. If the Broncos are going to win with defense again, it would behoove Booker to be able to grind out yardage and enable the offense to at least win field position battles.
When you consider the offensive problems it seems foolish to even think about Denver’s 6-1 odds to win the AFC West or their 25-1 odds to win the Super Bowl (a price more than twice as generous as Pittsburgh’s 12-1 and the Steelers wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if the season ended today). But it was the defense that delivered a championship to the Rocky Mountains a year ago and this unit is more than capable of doing the same again.
Von Miller is playing the best football of what’s already a great career. Miller has 12 ½ sacks and is a 5-1 bet to win Defensive Player of the Year honors. The cornerback tandem of Chris Harris and Aquib Talib is every bit as good as last year when they were merely the best lockdown duo in the game. Darian Stewart, Brandon Marshall, Derek Wolfe and DeMarcus Ware are all game-changers in their own right.
When New England lost Rob Gronkowski, it meant the AFC was an open race. A team with as many elite defensive players as Denver has is a threat to win any postseason game they play and the price is there to make it worth your while. It’s just about deciding if you believe the offense can stabilize enough to let the D win it all again.