It’s a bittersweet Ultimate Fan Guide this week as this is the final one of the 2023-24 season.
Being denied a post-season run for the eighth time since the Super Bowl win in 2016 stings, but at least the Broncos have a chance for a winning record if they can pull out a road win against the hated Raiduhs.
And that is improvement, which is all you can really hope for in sports (well, you can definitely hope for a lot more, as I always do, but the reality this season is that getting nine wins is about the best we should have hoped for given such a rocky start).
This week’s ultimate fan is the perfect 2023-24 UFG send-off author as he grew up a fan from afar, lured by the magic of Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas but captivated by the precision of Peyton Manning. And when COVID shut the country down, our fan did a deep dive on the Broncos “with the magic of YouTube” as he said, to “get a proper Broncos education.”
And that’s how you do it, kids!
Week 18: Broncos at Raiders
MHR - The win over the lowly Chargers was a good check in the W column, even if a little underwhelming. But how did you feel about the game and Jarrett Stidham’s first start?
KY Broncos Fan: A win’s a win, but being eliminated from playoff contention simultaneously made it difficult to celebrate much. Stidham looked nervous, but he had some nice throws over the course of the game and I’m excited to see if he can settle in and improve against the Raiders. You can tell a lot about Sean Payton’s assessment of a player from his play calls, and I thought Stidham throwing north of 20 passes in the first half despite Denver leading was a vote of confidence for him.
MHR - Both the Raiders and Broncos look a lot different in Week 18 than they did in Week 1 during their first matchup – different QBs for both, and the Raiders have an interim head coach. Both have had some big wins and ugly losses and overcome a lot of team adversity and/or drama. What kind of game do you expect this to be - a typical knock-down, drag-out fight between hated rivals? A low-scoring affair with good defense or a high-flying passing attack with quick scores and lots of points on the board?
KY Broncos Fan: My gut tells me this is going to be a low-scoring affair, but I’d love to be wrong. Stidham winning a shootout to end Denver’s losing streak and ensure a winning record would be thrilling, but something about rivalry games tends to make them ugly. I think both teams will hover in the high-teens to low-20s.
MHR - The Raiders have had a weird year. Even weirder than the Broncos if that’s possible. Head jackass coach Josh McDaniels was fired six games into the season and quarterback Jimmy Garropolo was benched for 4th round pick Aidan O’Connell. In the past month, they lost by a baseball score of 3-0 to the ailing Vikings then steamrolled the Chargers, beat the Chiefs then lost to the Colts. Will this game also be a rollercoaster?
KY Broncos Fan: It would not surprise me to see two completely different halves. In Week 1, Denver seemed to be in the driver’s seat going into halftime, but then the agony of the long second-half drives happened. Both teams will be looking to control the time of possession, and I think this game will be the kind of matchup that comes down to a couple of plays one way or the other. I’m expecting this game to be a pretty uneventful roller coaster save for a couple of big hills that determine the outcome.
MHR - Jarrett Stidham didn’t light the world on fire, but he did secure the ball and a win - which is all you can ask for. He could have Courtland Sutton back on the field, which will be a boost for the offense. What are your expectations this week against a much tougher team than the Chargers?
KY Broncos Fan: Last week, we saw Stidham air it out with success a few times, and Courtland Sutton will only enhance that. I think Stidham will likely end up with a similar stat line to last week, but I’m hoping he doubles his touchdown count and gets at least one of those to Sutton. Stidham having another full week to settle into the starting role will benefit him immensely.
MHR - Speaking of quarterbacks, O’Connell’s stats are even more up-and-down than the team’s record - shut out by the Vikings but then four touchdown passes and a team-record 63 points against the Chargers; no completions after the first quarter against the Chiefs; and 299 yards and two TDs against the Colts. How should Vance Joseph and the Broncos’ defense attack the QB?
KY Broncos Fan: I’ll admit I haven’t watched a ton of Raiders games this season, but from his game logs I can tell the Raiders struggle when they have to lean on O’Connell. He has had a serviceable rookie season, but throwing 47 passes against the Colts and only scoring 20 points as a team does not scream efficiency. Vance Joseph’s game plan should be similar to what it seems the Colts executed last week, which is to shut down other aspects of the Vegas offense and force them into must-pass situations. Denver has to make O’Connell play hero ball instead of allowing him to hide behind the ground game (easier said than done for Denver’s leaky run defense).
MHR - Jaleel McLaughlin had some bursty runs last week while Javonte Williams continued to plod along despite not adding those “angry runs” like last year. Will Payton lean on the run game this weekend and which running back will have the best day?
KY Broncos Fan: This team is not built to win through the air alone, so Payton will have to lean on the run game whether he wants to or not. I love Javonte Williams, but his season has reinforced the notion that running backs take about two years to fully regain their playing form after an ACL tear. Javonte’s 3.6 yards per attempt on the year has been disappointing, but I’m optimistic that he’ll look more like the battering ram of a running back we’ve seen in the past by next season. As for Sunday, I’d expect McLaughlin to have the most productive day even if he doesn’t receive the most usage. His speed and ability to make guys miss in space makes him dangerous in the run-and-pass games, and he’s quite simply the most electric option the Broncos have at running back right now. If it’s a tight game in the second half, I’d look for Perine to get plenty of usage on first downs and in the passing game. His experience in the league makes me trust him more than the other backs in late-game situations, especially in pass protection.
MHR - With Sutton out last week, Jerry Jeudy seemed like the obvious wideout to have a big day, but instead it was Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Could this be Jeudy’s week or will the former first-round draft pick continue to be outshined by others? What do you think the Broncos should do with Humphrey, who is just on a one-year contract, after the season is over?
KY Broncos Fan: Jerry Jeudy confounds me. I was ecstatic when Denver drafted him, but it has been very disappointing to see his stat line year after year stay below 1,000 while Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb (both drafted after him) establish themselves as two of the best wideouts in the league. Even more baffling is that despite his underwhelming stats, he averages more yards of separation per route run than players such as Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Jaylen Waddle, and Ja’Marr Chase. The statistical fact that he is getting more open than those all-world talents gives me hope that with the right QB and right offense (which I hope we ultimately have with Payton) he can still be one of the best receivers in the NFL. However, that problem is not being fixed this season, and I’m expecting Jeudy to deliver his usual stat line of about 60 yards and no touchdown receptions. Lil’Jordan Humphrey is exactly what you want in a backup wide receiver, and he proved last week he can deliver when his team needs him to. I’m excited to see how he does this week, and I would hope that one of Denver’s top priorities is re-signing him. As Broncos fans know all too well from the last few injury-ravaged seasons, wide receiver depth doesn’t grow on trees!
Poll time:— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 5, 2024
What outcome would you prefer for the Denver Broncos against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday?
MHR - Maxx Crosby is always a problem - and certainly was during the first outing between these teams. Do you expect the offensive line to hold up better or worse against him this time around? What will be the key for Stidham to avoid sacks and move the ball against the Raiders?
KY Broncos Fan: Maxx Crosby is an absolute game-wrecker, and as much as it pains me to say it, the Raiders have a worthy franchise cornerstone in him. Beyond regular tight end chip-blocks and sending play calls away from his side of the line of scrimmage, there’s not much more to do schematically. Payton is a worthy opponent for the chess match with Crosby, but the single biggest factor in limiting his impact is quick, decisive throws. When Stidham has to scramble, he needs to know exactly where Crosby is on the field, and when Denver has to dial up a longer-developing pass play, the offensive linemen responsible for Crosby need to protect Stidham like he’s their own grandmother.
MHR - Josh Jacobs tends to be another problem, but the Broncos mostly kept him in check during Week 1. However, Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers put up over 140 receiving yards combined, making our secondary look rather silly. Since then, the Broncos defense has tightened up quite a bit. Who has the better day - the Raiders WRs or the Broncos’ secondary?
KY Broncos Fan: I’m taking the Broncos secondary in this one. The Denver defense is night-and-day different than Week 1, and I’m confident Pat Surtain will be up to the challenge of limiting Davante. More importantly, Ja’Quan McMillian has been a revelation at corner, and I’m expecting him to have a great day.
MHR - What concerns you the most about this upcoming game?
KY Broncos Fan: Josh Jacobs hasn’t practiced all week so his game status is questionable, but if he plays, look out. When he plays Denver he does his best Bo Jackson impression, and I’m worried he’ll embarrass our run defense on Sunday if he’s active. On the other side of the ball, our run game is not efficient enough to put away games. If Denver has a lead in the second half, my biggest concern will be giving the Raiders too many chances to come back due to not being able to control the time of possession.
MHR - Justin Simmons, Pat Surtain and rookie Marvin Mims made first-team Pro Bowl selection with Quinn Meinerz and Mike Burton as third team alternates. Do you agree with the selections? Do you think Sutton deserved to be a Pro Bowler?
KY Broncos Fan: I agree with all of the Broncos selections. I’m really hoping Mims continues to develop as a wide receiver and earns a bigger role in Denver’s passing game next year, but he is already one of the most electric returners in football and his selection is well-deserved. Surtain and Simmons are self-explanatory, and while I think Sutton has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league, Denver’s passing game as a whole has not put up big yardage this year. Sutton is a Pro Bowl-type talent, but when you look at the stats of the AFC selections above him, it’s understandable why they were picked instead of Sutton.
MHR - Is a winning record and beating the Raiders better - or would losing for a higher draft pick ultimately be better as this Denver team will be a looking for a QB in the offseason?
KY Broncos Fan: To quote former Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby!” If Denver wins, they will finish with their first winning record since the 2016 season. Regardless of missing the playoffs, this is still a huge step forward for the franchise. The guys in the locker room deserve to be called winners for once in their careers (namely Justin Simmons), and they have a chance to prove it on Sunday. One game isn’t going to make a huge difference in the draft standings, and even if Denver was in line for the No. 1 pick, I’d still want them to win. When you play the Raiders, you play to win, no matter what the records or external ramifications are. Ending the losing streak to the Raiders would be the perfect way to begin the new year.
"You always want to receive those accolades for your play, but it's a huge honor to be recognized as such."— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 5, 2024
Newly minted Broncos Pro Bowlers reflect on what their selections mean to them » https://t.co/a2gRr78lYg pic.twitter.com/L46KCCr6p3
Stats for Jarrett Stidham? 24-35; 268 yards, 2 TDs
Stats for each Broncos RB? Williams: 17 attempts; 58 yards. McLaughlin: 11 attempts; 62 yards; 1 TD. Perine: 3 attempts; 16 yards.
Number of yards receiving/TDs for the receivers? Sutton: 90 yards; 1 TD. Jeudy: 63 yards. Humphrey: 43 yards; 1 TD. Johnson: 17 yards.
Longest FG for Lutz? 52 yards
Number of sacks to Aidan O’Connell? 3
Broncos player with the most tackles? Alex Singleton
Who gets the first sack of the game for the Broncos? Nik Bonitto
How many times will the announcers talk about the Russell Wilson/Sean Payton “relationship” for a second week??? Too many. At least 3 separate segments on it. If they show the Broncos “QB carousel” graphic that’s been going around the league for almost a decade I might scream.
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Raiders D? 0 INTs/1 FF/1 FR
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos’ D? 1 INT/1 FF/1 FR
How many false start penalties for the Broncos? 2
Final Score? 24-20 Broncos
Favorite John Elway win outside of the Super Bowls? Broncos-Chiefs: October 4th, 1992. Denver trailed 19-6 with under two minutes to play and won 20-19.
(*editor’s note: A fantastic game that was captured so well by UPI sports writer Davide Kelley:
DENVER — Magician John Elway worked his sorcery again Sunday to keep the Denver Broncos atop the AFC West with an act that would have done Houdini proud.
After going more than 12 quarters without a touchdown, the Broncos scored twice on Elway passes in the final 1:55 to give the Broncos a 20- 19 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
...Defensive end Neil Smith, who chased Elway all afternoon, said of the Broncos signal-caller: ‘No matter how hard you hit him, he just gets up and wants more. Elway is the best two-minute quarterback that I’ve played against.’
Favorite Broncos win ever? 2015 AFC Championship Game
Favorite Peyton Manning win? 2015 AFC Championship Game
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? Raiders
Coach you laugh at the most in the NFL? Arthur Smith
Coach you most want to throw an egg at? Nick Sirianni
Team you hate to lose to the most in the rest of the AFC? Patriots
NFC team you could cheer for in the Super Bowl? 49ers, aka Team Shanahan
NFC team you want to face more than any other in the Super Bowl? Eagles, shutting Philly fans up would be a dream come true.
Favorite game so far this season? Ending the losing streak to the Chiefs
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Justin Simmons
Favorite Broncos player of all time not named John Elway? Demaryius Thomas
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? Jaleel McLaughlin
Food/Snack you have to eat on game day? Popcorn
Favorite game analyst/commentator? Jim Nantz
Who do you highlight in the Ring of Fame?
It all starts with Floyd Little. Karl Mecklenburg is unbelievably disrespected in NFL history too, so I’d have to give him his flowers. Coach Red Miller is another underappreciated guy Broncos fans don’t know enough about, and Rod Smith’s dominance at wide receiver doesn’t get talked about enough by modern fans. No member of the Ring of Fame is worth skipping over, but as a Louisville Cardinals fan, I’d have to show extra love to Cardinals and Broncos legend Tom Jackson.
How did you become a Broncos fan?
As a Kentucky native, there is not an obvious NFL team to cheer for (the state is split between the Bengals, Colts, and Titans). The first football season I was old enough to fully appreciate was the Tebow season. I grew more and more attached to the Broncos as the season went on, and I still remember watching that Broncos-Steelers wild card game like it was yesterday. I was watching in a hotel room on vacation with my family, and as Demaryius Thomas sprinted down that sideline, he made me a Broncos fan for life. My grandparents bought me a Tebow jersey the next day (poor investment in retrospect), and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Choice - beat the Raiders and have a winning record OR lose and move up from 14th to possibly 11th in the draft?
This poll is closed
Stop it. Win the f-ing game
Don’t be dramatic - a few spots up could change the future of the team