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How could the 2019 Broncos make the playoffs?

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It’s easier than it sounds, in theory. Let’s see how easily the 2019 Denver Broncos could make the playoffs.

NFL: Denver Broncos-Minicamp
If Denver wants to make it to the dance, Flacco will need to stay healthy.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve reached that period between the draft and training camp where things get a little weird. Some are still arguing over rookies from the 2019 draft. Others are looking ahead to 2020 and blowing up at Vegas predictions. Meanwhile, analysts are looking at how strong a schedule is or who is a lock for the postseason without any real certainty. Never forget the 2018 Jaguars. Or the 2017 Raiders. Or the 2016 Bengals...

You get the idea. I’m well aware that the orange Kool-Aid is overflowing at this time of year. One only has to look back to 2018 to see there were arguments about Case Keenum leading the Broncos into contention a year ago. So keep that in mind as we take some big sips and look to the 3 big steps the roster will have to take for Vic Fangio to steer Denver into playoff contention during his first year at the helm.

Step 1: Joe Flacco has to stay healthy

This will upset the Locked in crowd right off the bat, but let’s be clear: Denver will not win the AFC West or seriously compete for a playoff spot in 2019 with Drew Lock playing a majority of the snaps. This isn’t to call the kid a bust right out of the gate, merely facts. As I’ve said since before the 2019 draft, he needs time to rethink his footwork to become a more consistent passer. If pressed into action too soon, he’ll revert to the Cutler-esque tactics he lived and died on with the Missouri Tigers.

So as boring as it may be to the click-centric media and SEC fans among us, Flacco needs to be “the guy” this year. There are sprinkles of reason to believe he can. As I mentioned back when the trade occurred, the Broncos’ system fits the 34-year old’s strengths as a passer. Combine that with the fact that there’s an abundance of talented youngsters around him and he could quiet a lot of doubters this year. Speaking of youngsters...

Step 2: The 2016 & ‘18 classes need to step up

As much as the ‘16 draft is remembered for the Paxton Lynch debacle, every other member but Riley Dixon is in line to significantly contribute this coming season. At least 23 of them need to for Denver to contend. Will Parks and Connor McGovern look like they could be in line for big jumps with opportunities in front of them. Justin Simmons is at a bit of a crossroads, but could reach his Pro Bowl potential with better coaching and a system more befitting his talents. It shouldn’t hurt that he should finally have a reliable running mate beside him. Even Devontae Booker and Andy Janovich have a chance to stand out in their roles. Adam Gotsis probably has the least pressure on him as he simply needs to continue doing what he’s been doing. The 2nd round interior lineman has served as a poor man’s Derek Wolfe since coming out of Georgia Tech.

If every one of them makes a jump, it still may not be enough if Bradley Chubb and the 2018 class disappoint. Such is life when Elway trades away Demaryius Thomas in order to hand WR1 duties to Courtland Sutton. He and DaeSean Hamilton will play a significant role in how Flacco and the offense perform this year. Expect big things, as Sutton gives Flacco the most physically imposing receiver he’s had since at least Anquan Boldin. On the ground, the Broncos run game will go as Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay do. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the two split carries more evenly than they did as rookies. After all, Freeman is a natural fit for the outside zone running scheme Scangarello brought with him from San Francisco. Isaac Yiadom could also have a big influence on things. If he can settle in as a reliable outside corner in year 2, Fangio and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell will be able to take full advantage of Kareem Jackson’s versatility, which leads us to...

Step 3: The Secondary Has to Gel

MHR’s Jeff Essary has given hints as to how the coverage scheme will change under the new regime, but the pieces have to fit. On paper, Chris Harris, Jackson, Bryce Callahan with the youngsters around them looks like the strongest secondary since the 2015 No-Fly Zone. If the system benefits them as expected, this unit could force opposing quarterbacks into a real conundrum: rush passes into a hungry pass defense or risk sacks to Chubb, Von Miller, and the defensive front. Which is probably the safest bet for early optimism this far out of the 2019 season. Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr lead the NFL in adjusted interceptions a year ago, so chances are they’ll cough up the football a bit more in 2019. Combine that with an average line in front of Phillip Rivers and a rebuilt Orange Crush could shock the world this year.

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5. Denver Broncos

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