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The Broncos have 'sucked in September.' If they do again, their season is likely shot. Here's why:

Andrew Mason Avatar
September 2, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Shelby Harris is tired of the Broncos dooming themselves at the start of the season.

But he knows that the questions about the team’s poor starts in the Vic Fangio era will persist until he, his teammates and coaches can do something about it.

“We’ve talked about it before because we’re like, ‘How are we going to change it?’ It’s not a secret. We’ve sucked in September, so we have to get better,” Harris said. “There’s no other way about it.

“We have not won a game in September in the last two years. We have to be better, and we have to come out of the gate faster. That’s something that we’ve all emphasized, and we want to fix and correct it.”

Denver went 0-4 in September in 2019 and 0-3 last year. Certainly, the schedule didn’t help. Last year, they opened with three teams that would finish a combined 34-14.

In 2019, the Broncos started with their final trip to Oakland, then played a Bears team coming off of a 12-4 season before heading to Green Bay. A Week 4 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars to close the month offered a chance at a reprieve, but an exhausted defense collapsed in the final moments, allowing Jacksonville a quick march to a game-winning field goal.

Suck in September, and you stare down the barrel of a lost season.

During the 16-game-schedule era — 1978 through 2020, with the exception of strike-shortened seasons in 1982 and 1987 — a single defeat in a team’s first three games dropped a team’s projected average win total from 10.7 to 9.1.

A second loss in the first three games represented a further two-win drop, as teams that opened 1-2 had an average record of 7.1 wins and 8.9 losses. A third loss dropped the average by 2.2 more wins, to 4.9 over 16 games.

Getting to 0-3 meant that the Broncos had a better chance of finishing 2-14 or worse than having a winning season; just 5.8 percent of teams in 16-game schedules from 1978-2020 finished above .500, while 18.3 parent of those 0-3 teams won two or fewer games. The Broncos’ 7-9 and 5-11 finishes were both above-average for teams that lost their first three games.

All of this can probably be placed in the “no kidding” file.

But when you have a team coming off of a three-month quarterback competition that sees its schedule become considerably tougher after the first three games, September becomes essential.

Suck in September, and you’ve blown your final exam on the first question.

Consider this: Much has been made of the Broncos having one of the league’s easier schedules, based on the previous year’s records.

Just four teams have a lower collective 2020 winning percentage for their 2021 opponents than the Broncos, whose 17 foes had a collective .471 win percentage last year. All four of those teams with easier slates are in the NFC. (Miami of the AFC East also has a schedule featuring foes who had a collective .471 percentage last year.)

But after the first three games — against teams that were a combined 9-39 in 2020 — the Broncos’ schedule strength becomes the league’s seventh-toughest.

Their opponents from Weeks 4-18 went a combined 119-105 last year — a .531 winning percentage.

Rarely has a fast start been more important to an organization, to its coaching staff … and to a lineup whose projected primary packages — 3-wide on offense and nickel on defense — feature 10 players in contract years, a group headlined by Von Miller, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Kareem Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater.

Suck in September, and the consequences are dire. Because the road gets bumpy in October, and if the Broncos can’t navigate the freshly-paved surface of the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, their season is likely to be another agonizing one.


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