Today, the 3-7 Denver Broncos head east to take on Sam Darnold and the 3-8 Carolina Panthers. Both teams are likely long shots for the postseason but are still fighting for their playoff lives in this one. The Panthers are continuing their musical chairs at quarterback and are starting quarterback Sam Darnold in this one. As for the Broncos, they are coming off a heartbreaking overtime defeat by the Las Vegas Raiders.
So, with all that said, I am going to give you five things to watch during this game between two three-win teams.
1. Just win a damn game
The Broncos have just three wins on the season and just one victory since defeating the 49ers on Sunday Night Football back in week three. This was a team with playoff aspirations and was even mentioned as a possible Super Bowl contender. Now, they are pretty much already eliminated for the postseason before Thanksgiving.
They are not mathematically eliminated just yet, but a loss here would all but completely end their postseason hopes. A win doesn’t really help their odds all that much either as it is likely too little, too late here, but it does keep their slim hopes alive.
2. The somewhat new-look run game
Earlier this week, the Denver Broncos waived veteran running back Melvin Gordon. They then placed recently acquired running back Chase Edmonds on the injured reserve. That was two of the three active running backs on the roster. Replacing them is veteran Marlon Mack and journeyman, Devine Ozigbo who was activated off the practice squad.
Expect veteran Latavius Murray to continue to receive the bulk of the carries in this one, but we should see Mack and Ozigbo receive some carries as well. The pecking order behind Murray is unknown at this time, so seeing who gets the most snaps in this one should be interesting.
This backfield looks much much different than the one the Broncos started the season with.
3. Broncos defense vs. Sam Darnold
The Panthers' game of musical chairs at quarterback continues with quarterback Sam Darnold getting the start in this one. Baker Mayfield received the start in week one, then P.J. Walker had a run before going back to Mayfield. Now, the 2021 starter, Sam Darnold will get a chance to lead the struggling Panthers' passing game.
The Broncos defense should continue to be solid in this one. The Panthers do have a good running game, but their passing attack is not good. Receiver D.J. Moore is their top target but will get cornerback Patrick Surtain II in this one.
This is destined to be another low-scoring, frustrating, down-to-the-final possession game, just like every other Broncos game this season.
4. Panthers' pass rush will likely cause the Broncos' issues
The Panthers are a lot like the Broncos. Their offense is holding them back while their defense is actually pretty good. This Panthers defense is led by star pass rusher Brian Burns and defensive tackle, Derrick Brown. Both figure to cause plenty of disruption to a Broncos offense that has struggled with protection throughout this season.
They are coming off a game where they caused fits for quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense and have stringed together two solid efforts.
The Broncos' offensive struggles and lack of depth/talent will already hold them back, but the Panthers' defense has a chance to have a game like the Titans did against the Broncos a few weeks back.
5. Will this be it for Nathaniel Hackett?
With Nathaniel Hackett, it seems like it is a “when” not “if” he will be fired by the Broncos after just one season as the Head Coach. A loss to the three-win Panthers who are starting their third different quarterback this season could be it for him. Especially after how the loss to the Raiders went down and being swept by Josh McDaniels.
As of now, it seems as if Hackett will likely finish the season since firing him now with the team all but eliminated from the postseason would not change much. So waiting for this awful season to finally conclude to make the firing seems a good possibility. However, we could get a Sunday morning news dump stating that Hackett’s job is in danger.
Falling to 3-8 and likely being eliminated from the postseason could, and should, be the final straw with Hackett. We shall see how it all plays out.