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Why Sunday's game against the Jets could make or break the Broncos' season

Zac Stevens Avatar
October 5, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Monday night’s primetime showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs was monumental for the Denver Broncos if they wanted to chase down the AFC West title.

There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.

But after seeing the way the Kansas City Chiefs played through the first quarter of the season, it’s hard to ignore the signs that the Chiefs are already on their way to the division crown.

After the Chiefs’ 27-23 victory, that’s even more clear.

But even before Monday night’s game, it was clear Denver’s Week 5 matchup against the New York Jets, not Week 4 against the Chiefs, was the turning-point game of the first half of their season leading up to their Week 10 bye.

The Broncos enter Sunday with a 2-2 record — the same record the New England Patriots had at this point last year on their way to the Super Bowl.

A victory for the Broncos on Sunday propels them to a winning record — the same 3-2 record that four of the six 2017 AFC playoff teams started off last season with — while, clearly, a loss puts them below .500 for the first time this season.

Falling to 2-3 isn’t the end of the world as the Tennessee Titans started last year with that record and still found a way to turn their season around and snag a trip to the playoffs.

However, the issue for the Broncos falling to 2-3 this year is what’s on the docket after Week 5 and what it would mean for the rest of the season.

After facing the 1-3 Jets, the Broncos come home for potentially their most difficult game of the season against the undefeated, star-studded Los Angeles Rams.

Then, they turn around and play the most challenging game there is in the NFL, a Thursday night road game.

But that’s not it.

The following week — although it is an extended week due to the Thursday night game the week before — Denver heads out on the road to play the currently undefeated Chiefs in the daunted Arrowhead Stadium.

A loss on Sunday to the Jets wouldn’t just hand Denver a three-game losing streak, it would give them a probable path to a four-game slide, that could conceivably turn into five, and if it gets to that point, the odds would say it would hit six-straight losses.

A win, however, puts a kibosh on the losing streak at two games, gives the team a winning record and gives legitimate belief they can beat an 0-4 Cardinals team on the road, despite that game falling on a short week.

Those two wins alone will have Denver at least at .500 entering their final week before their bye week, in which they host the 1-3 Houston Texans.

As it currently stands, the Broncos are just one game out of the two wild card spots. However, they’re also just one game up on the bottom feeders in the entire AFC, including their opponent on Sunday.

Sunday’s game against the Jets carries even further importance than just how it impacts their immediate future, too.

A win against the Jets in New Jersey on Sunday can eliminate two things for the Broncos.

The last time Denver had a losing streak that went longer than two games, it turned into eight-straight losses. A win on Sunday can prove to the team they can break losing streaks before they get out of control.

A loss against the Jets would make it three-straight.

The second demon they can eliminate is conquering the road.

Not only are the Broncos 1-8 in road games under Joseph, they’re winless in 11:00 AM MST games played on the east coast.

In 2017, Denver went 0-4 in those early games, losing by an average of 20 points per game.

This year, they’re 0-1, falling to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 by 13.

A win wouldn’t just break down the East-Coast barrier they’re currently face-to-face with, it would even their road record in 2018 and give Joseph the second road win of his tenure.

A loss on Sunday, however, wouldn’t help the team believe that this year’s team is drastically different than last year’s, while bringing back memories of their 5-11 season.

Pulling off the upset — in terms of recent history and the fact the Jets are favored by one point — on Sunday is simple, according to the people faced with the task.

To Case Keenum — who went 5-2 on the road as the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback last year — it comes down to efficiency and not turning the ball over.

To Chris Harris and the defense, it comes down to not beating themselves with penalties and undisciplined football.

To the head coach, well, he and his boss, John Elway, constructed this team for this exact purpose.

“Our team is built to win road games,” Joseph stated without hesitation. “We’re averaging right now 5.6 yards per carry, that’s huge on the road. We can stop the run. Those two things are huge on the road. Rushing the passer is huge on the road. Those things, we can do.

“Running the football and taking shots on offense with our skill guys and playing great defense. That wins road games.”

Essentially, the Broncos just have to play Broncos football. According to them, they don’t have to do anything extra.

But that was the case — without Case — many times last year as well, going up against the likes of the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins on the road. Neither of those turned out the way Denver had planned.

“This team is just better period from a year ago,” Harris Jr. said vehemently when asked if the 2018 team is better equipped to win road games this year compared to last. “We’re mentally tough, every game has been a dog fight, we’ve been right there just a couple plays, a couple little minor things that we can fix, and we’re going to be alright.”

On the east coast on Sunday, they can prove just that in their all-important, season-defining game for the 2018 season.

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