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Prediction: Broncos will be playoff bound in 2020-21 season

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ESPN’s Mike Clay spoke with denverbroncos.com this week and said he believes Denver is on the bubble for being a playoff team in Vic Fangio’s second season.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

After a couple of big gets for the Broncos in the offseason - including A.J. Bouyé, Jurrell Casey, Graham Glasgow and Melvin Gordon - plus the hope of healthy returns and big-time performances from Bryce Callahan, Ja’Wuan James and De’Vante Bausby, there’s reason to be optimistic that Vic Fangio’s second season as head coach will produce a winning record.

Maybe even a playoff berth.

It would be a first for the team since winning Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

And it is also being predicted by ESPN’s Mike Clay, who has created a model for projecting wins for each NFL team as well as some likely scenarios for playoffs based on the win-loss projection.

And for the Broncos, Clay believes Denver can get 8.3 wins (so depending on how you want to round that up or not, a winning season, I guess). But more importantly, in Clay’s model, the Broncos end up as the sixth seed in the AFC, good enough for a playoff appearance (unfortunately he has Chiefs winning 11.1 games and taking the AFC West again, but at least Raiders and Chargers are out!)

“I think they’re very much in the mix. I think there’s plenty of competition for those last couple of wild cards,” Clay told Phil Milani and Aric DeLalla on Broncos TV this week, noting that Tennessee, Houston and Cleveland are all in the mix. “I actually don’t have the Patriots in the playoffs right now. I have them at 8.2 wins, right behind Denver. Maybe the Chargers based on their defense can hang in there, and maybe they’ll draft a quarterback that makes an impact.”

Clay did express some hesitation over the Broncos’ offense, saying he wasn’t completely confident it could perform.

But that Denver D...

”Love the defense,” he said, noting that the defense as is should be enough to keep the Broncos in the seven-to-nine-win range. “I love this unit. It is stacked.”

Clay pointed to Chicago’s previously No. 1 defense that fell off the moment Fangio left to coach the Broncos. With additions like Jurrell Casey and the return of Shelby Harris - along with a healthy Bradley Chubb and motivated Von Miller plus an “above-average linebacker corps” and a solid 1-2 punch with Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson - Clay sees big potential.

“Honestly, it’s hard to find weak spots here,” he said, noting the need to address depth at corner. “We’ll see if they address that in the draft or sign someone, but I really, really like this unit. I think it’s one of the best in the league.”

When it comes to the quarterback, Clay’s model gives some very specific predictions. And for Drew Lock, the numbers are...decent:

15 games, 316-of-497 passes, 3,491 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 32 sacks

”He flashed a little bit as a rookie, but the sample is very small,” Clay said. “The efficiency, not really good. It was below average. Again, that’s not necessarily a knock. He’s a rookie. Rookies aren’t generally going to light it up.”

Clay’s biggest concern with Lock is just not knowing enough yet because as a rookie, he only played five games - not a large enough sample size.

“We don’t know for sure if Lock is going to be good or not,” Clay admitted. “I think there’s optimism there, and that’s fine. But there’s been a laundry list of optimism for quarterbacks going into their first full year as a starter, and a lot of them do not pan out. It’s even worse when a guy’s not a first-round pick.”

For the running game, Clay sees Melvin Gordon edging out Phillip Lindsay on total rushing yards, but both bringing in 700+ yards on the ground while Gordon tops Lindsay in the reception yards, 365 versus 205.

He has Courtland Sutton breaking 1,000 yards for a second season in three and seven touchdowns, and Noah Fant tabulating more than 550 yards plus four touchdowns.

Clay doesn’t like to predict sacks because they’re hard to project - especially based on previous sack stats. Instead he likes to look at a “pass-rush win rate” developed by the ESPN stats department.

With that tool he came up with 8.5 sacks for Miller and 7.7 for Chubb and 5 for Casey. The team total was 40, which is exactly what the Broncos finished with last season. Hopefully, Clay’s predictions are on the low end.

“These guys will still rank in near the top of the league in sacks.”

Poll

How many wins you got for the Broncos in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    16, baby! (for you, Whorfin)
    (95 votes)
  • 10%
    If magic happens, 11 or 12
    (139 votes)
  • 55%
    I feel confident with 10
    (712 votes)
  • 24%
    7-9 as Clay suggests is about right
    (321 votes)
  • 1%
    I’m a Raiders/Chiefs/Chargers fan so I vote six or less.
    (19 votes)
1286 votes total Vote Now

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