Following a disastrous 5-12 2022 campaign, the Denver Broncos have few places to go but up, but predicting how far up they go in the 2023 NFL season should best be approached with caution.
With the exile of in-over-his-head Nathaniel Hackett and the hero’s welcome given to Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer Sean Payton, Broncos Country is certainly feeling optimistic, particularly with recent upgrades on the offensive line and pass rush. Yet, that optimism is best described as “cautionary”.
After the hype of adding Russell Wilson and an offensive-minded and energetic coach one offseason ago that sizzled almost immediately, most of Broncos Country (along with the NFL media/personalities) are practicing a wait-and-see approach. Fool me once, etc.
Yet, the presence of Sean Payton and perhaps the ghost of Russell Wilson past that may resurrect itself under Payton has caused enough intrigue as to bypass the cautious approach.
For instance, last week, Pro Football Focus, perhaps the premier sports analytics company, compiled their list of most likely teams to go from worst to first in their divisions. The Broncos made the cut.
There were of course some obvious choices like the Jets, now led by Aaron Rodgers, and the Atlanta Falcons, now out of the shadow of Tom Brady, but for the Broncos to not only surpass the LA Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders (two not-so-unrealistic feats) but the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs is a lot to expect.
Whether or not it’s realistic lies somewhere within the answer of whether Nathaniel Hackett was such an incompetent putz that he destroyed an otherwise talented team. After all, once out of the shadow of Hackett, the team showed actual competence and competitive behavior under interim Jerry Rosburg, a lifetime assistant.
And set aside for a second the chance Wilson regains his elite ability, and instead focus on t he core group around him. On offense, there is plenty of fire power with names like Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Greg Dulcich. On defense, the team has perhaps the best DB in the game in Pat Surtain II, added a major pass rushing piece in Frank Clark, and returns most of what was one of the league’s top defense in 2022. There’s also the woefully bad offensive line in 2022 that has since had a Frankenstein-like upgrade.
Therefore, even if Wilson only rises to game manager level. the team still has a strong group of young and talented offensive skill players, a young and talented defense that was one of the league’s best last season, a revamped offensive line, and a Super Bowl winning and future Hall-of-Fame winning head coach.
The only issue? Kansas City has unfortunately not reached its peak yet. Maybe Andy Reid retires sooner than later and the team is left in disarray. Maybe Pat Mahomes has a Spider-Man 2 like mental crisis that sets him back. Maybe Travis Kelce decides to act full time. All unlikely, and therefore, the challenge ahead of the Broncos is steep.
For Broncos Country, while the PFF assessment may produce stars in some eyes, it’s best to still take a steady approach. Can this team, nay, SHOULD this team be in playoff contention this coming season? Based on the moves made this offseason, the answer to that should be a resounding yes.
Unseating the current juggernaut of the NFL? That may take some time.
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