It’s been seven years since the Broncos have played a meaningful game in January.
The last time the team reached Conference Championship Weekend they hit Tom Brady over and over and over again on their way to a 20-18 win over the Patriots, earning them a trip to Super Bowl 50. Two weeks later, Peyton Manning was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
But those days are long gone in the Mile High City. This year, the final four teams are the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers.
Which of those four successful teams should the Broncos try to resemble the most to make it back to contending for Super Bowls?
The DNVR Broncos Crew debates.
All odds below are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Which of the four remaining playoff teams should the Broncos try to resemble moving forward?
Zac: Eagles — All four of these teams have unquestionably the most important piece to sustained success in the NFL. They all have young quarterbacks that they drafted, developed and that are playing extremely well.
Obviously, Russell Wilson is neither of those. He’ll turn 35 in November, the team traded multiple valuable picks for him and he’s breaking the bank with his contract.
However, the Eagles have the most similar quarterback situation to Denver and that’s why the Broncos must try and replicate what they’ve done over the past two years to become a championship contender. It’s not that Russell Wilson is Jalen Hurts or capable of playing at his level in the future. Not at all.
But the way Nick Sirianni and the Eagles adjusted their offense midway through the 2021 season and built it up around Hurts in the offseason is exactly what Denver needs to do for Wilson.
In the first seven games of 2021—Sirianni’s first year as Philadelphia’s head coach—the Eagles only averaged 117 rushing yards per game and just over 21 points. Before Week 8, the Eagles made a drastic change and seriously committed to running the ball. It worked as the rest of the way they averaged nearly a touchdown more a game along with nearly 190 rushing yards per game.
In less than a 12-month span, the Eagles loaded up on offensive weapons for Hurts, using a first-round pick on DeVonta Smith and trading a first for A.J. Brown.
The combination of all of that has helped turn Hurts from a second-round pick to an MVP candidate.
For Denver to have any hope at competing for a Super Bowl with Wilson, they have to drastically change their offense—which they showed the final two games of the season—and need to surround No. 3 with as many offensive weapons as possible just like the Eagles did.
The most ideal solution for Denver would be for them to draft the next Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow. But that’s just not in the cards with Wilson under contract. So the most realistic option is following the Eagles’ path.
Hank: 49ers — It’s tough to look at any of these four teams and see a clear path for the Broncos to steal their secrets to success. The gap between the 2022 Broncos and the Final Four is massive.
But the 49ers found a way to succeed with a question mark at quarterback, making them best-suited to be Denver’s role model.
How did the 49ers do it? They built from the trenches out and tried to minimize the importance of quarterback play.
San Francisco has the best defensive line in the NFL, whether you’re only looking at the starting four or through the depth behind them. They invested a high draft pick almost every year for half a decade.
Offensively, the 49ers added the best offensive lineman in the game in Trent Williams, and added more pieces around him. They traded for Christian McCaffrey, giving the running game a needed boost to keep the pressure off of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. They also have some of the best skill-position players in the league, who specialize in creating yards after the catch.
Essentially, the 49ers gave their rookie quarterback a top-10 running game by total production and efficiency, an all-star left tackle to protect his blind side and weapons that are No. 2 in the NFL at creating after they get the ball in their hands. And it worked.
The Broncos might not be able to build all of that quickly, though. At least five 49ers would be the top player on the Broncos’ roster (Nick Bosa, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Trent Williams, Fred Warner). Others could make a case, too.
Unless the Broncos can add a few superstars to their roster, making the jump from 5-11 to the AFC Championship Game is very unlikely.
RK: Eagles — You almost have to immediately remove the Chiefs and Bengals from this conversation because of their quarterbacks. Though, you could make the argument that Andy Reid’s offense can work for most any QB.
The Philadelphia Eagles have done an incredible job of adapting to the 2023 way of playing football in the NFL. They utilize a mobile quarterback efficiently, keep the defense on their toes with RPOs and run the ball extremely well. All the while, the conbination of A.J. Brown adn Devonta Smith is a bit of a rich man’s Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
On the defensive side of the ball, they play complimentary rush & cover football led by a strong secondary, something the Broncos can and have emmulated.
Philly didn’t need a homerun hire or a first-round QB top get where they are. They established strong systems and got the entire organization bought in to them. Denver can make that happen.
Picks Picks Picks
49ers-Eagles total points over/under (45.5)
49ers @ Eagles (-2.5)
Bengals-Chiefs total points over/under (47.5)
Bengals (-1) @ Chiefs