Thanksgiving marks the start of a favourite past time for NFL analytics, columnists and experts. The sports media begin the conversation of ‘under the radar’ teams, their ‘dark horse’ choice to take on the Vegas favourites and upset the odds so to speak, especially teams in the wild card race – like Denver.
Over the past few years the then San Diego, and now L.A Chargers have earned the crown for Wild Card experts. They are always the team starting slowly before making a strong push for the playoffs.
In fact, I’d be making this argument for the chargers to be ‘the team to avoid’ in the playoffs if it wasn’t for the mini-resurgence taking place in Colorado.
The mini-resurgence which has lead to victories over LA – in LA and a home victory over a Super Bowl favourite Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver. Couple that with close losses against the Texans, Chiefs (twice) and Rams and a clear image starts to emerge. Denver really is the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
Digging into that record a little more and you can start to see just how well Denver has matched up against quality opposition.
- Week 1 started out with an entertaining victory. A 4-point victory over a slow-starting Seattle.
- Week 4 presented viewing that many are yet to do. Going into the 4th quarter Denver are up by 2 scores against the free-scoring Kansas City, only to be undone by a Tebow-esque late showing from Pat Mahomes.
- Week 6 would see the LA Rams come to Denver – There was no close contest to be had as the Rams took the victory although Denver did show patches of a comeback in the 2nd half.
- Week 8 was the reverse of week 4 as Denver visited Kansas. The game would follow a similar script to the week 6 encounter vs LA Rams with Denver showing glimpses in the 2nd half although the scoreline told a different story. In 3 fixtures against 2 of the leagues best ever scoring teams Vance Joseph’s men only lost by a combined 13 points.
- Week 9 was an emotional week for the Denver Broncos. A few days earlier the Broncos traded their former star man Demaryius Thomas to the Texans – who they were facing that week.
None the less, it was only a boneheaded series of decisions from Vance Joseph and a missed 51-yard field goal that prevented Case Keenum and co from a W.
- Weeks 10 & 11 saw the scoreline match the performances. Case Keenum stopped giving away amazing field position and Vance stopped making stupid decisions. The results were W followed by a W. Interestingly enough the Steelers and Chargers are a combined 15–2–1 in the games they played against non-Denver teams this season.
The thing giving Denver a saving grace this season is that ‘washed-up’ defence.
Against the Chiefs they held them to their 2nd and 3rd lowest scoring totals of the season (most notably holding them to 13 points with 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter before Mahomes went apeshit on Monday Night in week 4)
Against the Rams in week 6 they held Goff’s gang to a season-low in points scored with 23. In every other game this season the Rams have scored at least 29.
Against the LA Chargers, Von Miller and co held the Chargers (7th highest ranked scoring offence) 8 points below their average on the season with 20 and recently they held the 6th highest rank scoring offence to their lowest point totals of the season with 17.
Admittedly this Denver defence isn’t quite on the same level that dominated Carolina in the superbowl. However, that does not change the fact that this is one of the most fearsome defensive units in all of football and it appears that the offence is starting to at least prove competent…
After starting the season with 10 picks and 6 fumbles (5 recovered by Denver) in his first 8 games as a Bronco, Mr Keenum has now gone 3 straight games without so much as a turnover.
Accompany that with the 3rd best rushing attack in the NFL (according to the Touchdowns), and the 2nd strongest run offence in yards per carry then Denver should be successful. All it will take is for Keenum to limit the amount of times he gift wraps the opposition a free scoring opportunity.
Part of this is on the playcalling however, it’s clear that Case is better out the pocket so we need to see more bootlegs and play-actions. Case is not a shotgun QB, yet Bill Musgrave is hell bent on making him into one.
This year the AFC is stocked full of playoff calibre teams that can’t stop the run. So, if at some point the Denver staff actually ride the hot hand and run the ball 70% of the time then Lord Lindsey and Rolls Royce Freeman will give the Broncos the offence edge they need to get points on the board.
Also, lets not forget denver’s roster is stacked with experienced play-off talent despite the 2018 rookie class running the show.
- Case Keenum – played well as the Vikings went deep into the 2018 playoffs
- Emmanuel Sanders – Attached to resume are 8 play-off appearances and 2 super bowl appearances.
- Von Miller has a Superbowl MVP to his name.
- Derek Wolfe, Brandon Marshall, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby and Darian Stewart all played their parts as Denver went on to win SB50.
The remainder of the Broncos schedule pits them against 4 teams with losing records (Bengals, 49ers, Browns and Raiders) before a week 17 match-up at home against the LA Chargers in a divisional game likely for the final wild-card spot.
And if by some miracle the Denver Broncos end up in the playoffs, well I guarantee they’ll be the team that nobody wants to face.