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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos are finally, finally back.
On Sunday, the speculation will be put to rest as the Denver Broncos face their first test against the Seattle Seahawks in the oh-so-thin Mile High air.
With training camp and the preseason in the books, here’s the BSN Broncos’ predictions for the upcoming season.
Most Important Game
L.A. Chargers, Week 11 — Coming off of the Bye Week, the Broncos will have a shot to send a mesage to the likely leader of the AFC West at the time, “This won’t be easy.”
If Denver can go into Los Angeles, in what will likely feel like a home game, and take the first of their two matchups, they’ll have the upper hand if the division race gets interesting at the end of the season.
L.A. Chargers, Week 17 — As cliche as it seems, the Broncos season will come down to the very last game. In a tight AFC West race, this game could be for the division. If it’s not for the division, the final wild card spot could be Denver’s with a win.
A win-and-they’re-(likely)-in scenario.
Baltimore Ravens, Week 3 — Yes, it’s early, but the stretch from Week 3 through 9 is pretty rough, and winning in Baltimore could mean the difference between going 5-4 into the Week 10 bye or 4-5. Denver’s 1-5 all-time in Baltimore and traveling out east for an 11 am kickoff is always hard.
The Ravens don’t scare you on paper but they match up well against Denver’s offense. This is a winnable game that could mean the difference between making the playoffs or missing out. There are lots of implications here early on, winning in Baltimore will be key.
Most Difficult Game
L.A. Rams, Week 6 — If they can get out to a hot start, this will be the ultimate litmus test for the Broncos. The Rams are all in on winning the Super Bowl this year and they’ve backed it up by stacking their roster with talent.
On top of a great roster, they are extremely well coached and will likely have a little bit of extra juice with Wade Phillips and Aqib Talib making their return to the Mile High City.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 12 — Denver lucked out in 2018, drawing an incredibly favorable road schedule. Due to that, their toughest games come at home against some of the most talented teams in the NFL.
The Steelers take the cake over the L.A. Rams for one reason: They’ll likely have a refreshed Le’Veon Bell hitting his stride for a playoff push.
L.A. Rams, Week 6 — The Rams are scary defensively and will be tough to stop on offense, as well. They’re well coached and it’ll also mark Wade Phillips’ return to Denver, who knows this ‘D’ well and will be looking for revenge.
If Case Keenum and the offensive line can survive the test against Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and co., we might be in for a special season. This also feels like the first real test of 2018, so we’ll find out a lot.
Most Winnable Road Game
Oakland Raiders, Week 15 — The Raiders are not good, and at this point of the season, they’ll have packed it in, wondering why they gave $100,000,000 to a coach living in the stone age.
If the Broncos are still in the hunt, they’ll be on a mission while the Raiders attempt to muster up some motivation to play a spoiler role.
N.Y. Jets, Week 5 — Not only were the Jets a bad team last year, they’ll be starting a rookie quarterback.
Sam Darnold may have the biggest upside of any of the rookie quarterbacks, but Denver’s experienced defense should have no problem taking down the No. 3 overall pick, even on the road.
Cincinnati Bengals, Week 13 — This was a tough pick, because there aren’t many easy road games on the calendar. Traveling to Baltimore with an early kickoff is tough, the New York Jets are another 11 am game out east, against a well-coached defense who might be sneaky good—I’m also a Sam Darnold believer. Going to Arizona to face the Cardinals isn’t an easy task on Thursday night after the aforementioned big test against the Rams.
I almost settled on the Los Angeles Chargers who don’t have much of a home field advantage at all. Ultimately, though, I think its Cincinnati, who has a scary defensive front but little else, their back seven doesn’t scare me and the Broncos’ defense should be able to do damage against that offensive line.
Most Valuable Player
Case Keenum — For the Broncos, this is the guy it needs to be. Of course, Von Miller is going to get his, as Russell Wilson would say, but his value is almost assumed.
If Keenum can play up to his contract and lead this team to respectability on offense, his value to the Broncos will be off the charts. We’ve seen what the Broncos look like with Miller and no quarterback, Keenum needs to be the MVP and I think he will be.
Case Keenum — Easy, easy, easy. After terrible quarterback play last year, the Broncos will rely on their 18-million-dollar quarterback to take their offense from rubbles to.
For Keenum to be their MVP, he doesn’t need to be excellent as he was last year—22 touchdowns to seven interceptions. If he can be average, he will be the team’s most valuable player.
Von Miller — How could it be anyone else? Von has depth on the front line to keep blockers off him and he has edge rushers opposite him that’ll keep him fresh.
With more exotic blitzes and NASCAR formations, it’ll be harder for offenses to key in on Von, and don’t forget the Broncos should be more competitive, meaning No. 58 will have more opportunities to get after the quarterback late in games.
Still not convinced? Von will also face a good amount of bad right tackles, the stars just seem to align for him.
The former Super Bowl MVP is 29, he’ll only have so many seasons in his prime, and 2018 might be one of those special years for him.
Rookie of the Year
Courtland Sutton — This one is easy for me. The difference between what Sutton brings to the offense versus what the team has had at third receiver in the last couple years—nothing—is immense.
If Sutton can be anything like what he looked like in training camp—a dynamic playmaker and dominant receiver—he has the ability to lift this offense to new heights,
Royce “I like to punish people” Freeman — No. 5-overall pick Bradley Chubb won’t disappoint with Von Miller on the opposite side, but John Elway’s third-round pick will be allowed to run away with this award after being named the starter.
Freeman might not eclipse 1,000 rushing yards, but he should reach that number in yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving combined).
Courtland Sutton — So many choices! The mind was undecided between Sutton and Bradley Chubb, while the heart strongly considered Phil Lindsay. Seriously though, Chubb might be the most valuable rookie but I’m not sure he’ll get the production to warrant being Denver’s rookie of the year, and Lindsay isn’t even the top candidate to get the award in the running back room.
Denver’s been looking for a third receiving option like Sutton for far too long now, and with an accurate, smart quarterback like Keenum, he’ll get timely passes and be allowed to rack up YAC, where he’s an underrated threat. It helps that he’ll have a few highlight plays while Mossing DBs.
10-6 — Yep. I did it. I came into training camp sitting at 9-7 and said what I saw from the team could shift me one game either way.
Well, I saw enough from the offensive line, the quarterback and the receivers to make me think this team has the horses to get back into the contender conversation.
9-7 — This can be looked at one of two ways. The first, Denver is back to where they were in 2016, just above average.
On the other hand, however, it can be looked at as a four game improvement from last year and an organization trending in the right direction quickly.
A 9-7 record will keep the Broncos in the playoff, and the AFC West, mix deep into December and could be enough to let them sneak into the playoffs.
8-8 — Most sports books in Vegas say 7-9 and most of the offseason the thinking’s been between seven and nine wins. When filling out the schedule, .500 won out, with Denver going 3-and-3 in the division.
This would keep the streak alive of never having consecutive losing seasons since Pat Bowlen took over as owner.
With a missed field goal here, a gutsy fourth-down conversion there, Denver could easily go 9-7 or 7-9. Ultimately, they settle somewhere in between with a much-improved team from a year ago.
The real question is; is 8-8 enough for Vance Joseph to keep his job?
AFC West Position
First — While the Chargers look like the best team on paper, they’re still the Chargers, and they are going to find a way to Charger some games away.
Because of that, they open the door for the Broncos to stay in the race, and with a Week 17 victory to go with a Week 11 victory, Denver steals the division away from the favorites.
Also, the Raiders fall in last, by a lot.
Second — The Chargers will finally take the division despite numerous injuries that continue to plague them. The Chiefs will regress significantly with Patrick Mahomes giving out interceptions like they’re candy on Halloween.
And the Raiders? They just traded away a future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher. That shows you where they are.
The Broncos will ride a talented defense and a much improved, and consistent, offense to a second-place finish — something everyone in Denver should be encouraged by.
Third — Really tough to say. Ultimately, the Chargers are the most talented, which doesn’t mean they’ll win but they should be favored, and the Oakland Raiders are a dumpster fire, so there are your best and worst candidates.
It comes down to the Kansas City Chiefs who are as bad defensively, if not worse, then Denver is offensively, and it’ll probably come down to Patrick Mahomes versus Case Keenum. Keenum might have the edge but the talent on offense and on the sideline will carry the young Mahomes and the Chiefs to have a 9-7 record, just barely edging out the Broncos for second place and a potential wild card bid.
AFC Divisional Round — After getting a win on Wild Card weekend, the Broncos fall in the second round, missing out on a chance to get back to the AFC Championship.
The encouraging season is enough to get John Elway back into full Super-Bowl-or-Bust mode, his natural habitat.
AFC Wild Card — The Broncos cap off an impressive bounce-back season by sneaking into the playoffs where anything can happen. But the underdog story ends in the first round as the team has to travel on the road to a cold destination in January.
Week 17 — All it takes is for a few things to go their way and the Broncos could easily be 9-7 and into the wild-card round in an AFC that seems to send a so-so team to the postseason most years.
More realistically, Denver closes out strong going 4-3 after the bye but can’t overcome a tough stretch from Weeks 3-9 and just misses the playoffs.
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