Broncos fans are no strangers to the old emotional rollercoaster. From humiliating Super Bowl losses to dominant Super Bowl victories. From being the only franchise to have not one, but two, legendary quarterbacks walk off into the sunset on top of the football world all the way over to years of quarterback purgatory. Heck, the entire 2015 season was nearly heart attack-inducing, with the Broncos cruising to an NFL record 11 victories won by 7 points or less.
But they don’t usually give us quite this much whiplash.
A bit less than 8 days ago, the Broncos absolutely balled out. After a month of losses and mounting frustration for the team and fans alike, they claimed their first road win of the season by crushing the Arizona Cardinals in pretty much every phase of the game. Whether it signals the beginning of a turn-around or will just be a bright spot in a lost season, we can’t yet say. But, for one night at least, the good times were here again. It just feels good to be able to sit and enjoy being on the shiny side of a 45-10 beatdown occasionally.
While it would’ve been nice to sail smoothly through the following mini-bye, it just wasn’t in the cards it seems. In the midst of an otherwise very normal Halloween party, Chad Kelly engaged in a string of bad decisions that cost him his job, landed him in court, and saddled the Broncos and their players with an embarrassing and mostly misguided social media backlash. It’s the worst sort of press a team can get, and right before traveling to face the most dangerous team in the division in their own stadium is close to the worst timing possible for it.
The sharp contrast between the high of one weekend and the low of the next is jarring, and it’s fair to wonder how the team will proceed. On the personnel level, we know that Kelly’s stunt got him kicked out of the Broncos organization & Isaiah McKenzie stepped in to fill the vacant roster spot. But what about the season at large? With probably our toughest away game coming up this weekend, I think the Broncos are approaching their make it or break it moment.
If the Broncos lose to the Chiefs...
If the Broncos lose, then the season almost certainly becomes what we’ve all worried it will be: another year lost in QB purgatory and the catalyst of a long-denied full rebuild of the team. It means the final demise of the 2015 Super Bowl core, the trade or eventual release of some of those players, and the transition of others into a new role as the foundation pieces the organization will seek to build a new, young core around.
A loss Sunday would also probably signal the end of the Vance Joseph era in Denver. It might not result in firings then and there, but it would likely make such firings inevitable rather than just likely. There’s no reason to go into a rebuilding phase with a losing coach- and despite all his efforts, Vance Joseph has been exactly that.
Will a loss mean the Broncos tank the season outright? Will the organization “Suck for the Duck” as some have put it? No. That’s not Broncos football. It wouldn’t of happened under Pat Bowlen, and it certainly won’t under John Elway. Regardless of what happens Sunday, there’re probably still some wins left in this team. How many wins and what impact will they have on our draft position is the question.
But if the Broncos beat the Chiefs...
Well, this is where things would get interesting. Obviously, it’d be a very impressive win. It’d mean that the coaches have finally figured out the team’s identity and are coaching to those strengths- because there’s no way it happens if they don’t reach that point. And it would mean that the 2018 Broncos are dangerous.
There are already some signs that that might be the case. The Broncos are the only team that’s been able to slow down the Chiefs’ offense so far, being the only opponent to hold them under 30 points and forcing Patrick Mahomes to pull off some 4th quarter heroics to scratch and claw his way to victory. The 27 points the Chiefs mustered in Week 4 were 12 points shy of the 39 points per game pace they’ve averaged against their other 6 opponents. Similarly, the Broncos brought the Rams juggernaut down to near-mortality. The 23 points Sean McVay’s crew scored against Denver are a full 10 points fewer than any other opponent has given up to LA this year and again 12 points lower than their average.
What that means is that this is still a talented team: a team that, on a good day, can compete with literally any squad in the NFL and make them fight and claw and sweat their way to victory- if they can get it. It’s a flawed team, certainly, but there’s still potential here and a victory in Kansas City would build an impressive head of momentum.
The Bottom Line
The outcome this weekend will, in my opinion, very likely determine the course of the rest of the Broncos’ season and the narrative that builds around the team in the second half of the 2018 campaign. If the Broncos lose, then a losing season, a high draft pick, and a rebuild are all likely in our future. But if the Broncos win, they’ll be back at .500 and very much alive in the conversation for a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
While a win doesn’t seem likely, it is indeed possible. But whatever the result of the game is, expect it to be a watershed moment for the 2018 Broncos.
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