From the brink of elimination at 1-5 the Denver Broncos have managed to rally and all of a sudden find themselves at 6-5 and only sitting outside of the playoff picture due to an in-conference tie-breaker with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
The win streak has now extended to five games and those five have come against teams in or around the playoff hunt in each conference. Sunday’s win was perhaps the most impressive of the bunch and here are my takeaways from it.
Most complete game of the season
Sunday was the first time this season that it felt the Broncos had played four quarters of well-executed football in all three areas of the game.
The performance was polished and the football on each side of the ball was complimentary, the offence had an identity and rhythm that it set early, while the defence continued its trend of bruising play forcing turnovers regularly.
In the games prior to this one in the winning streak, we had seen glimpses of what this team could be if they were able to glue everything together and play complementary football for an entire game, and on Sunday we were able to see the closest thing to that, that we have seen all year against one of the AFC’s best teams this year in the Cleveland Browns.
This team can be a playoff team
When the Broncos began their run of wins they seemed like they’d be a team that would eventually fall away when it got to crunch time due to a really difficult run of games that looked too much for the side we had seen so far in 2023.
In reality, the team have completely turned their fortunes around and they are deservedly in the playoff hunt and being brought up in meaningful playoff conversations for the first time since Peyton Manning retired.
Not only are they in the conversations surrounding playoff contention but they are also playing football that could well see them sneak into the playoff back door, they control the time of possession, and take the ball away frequently. A recipe for success it seems.
A poor in-conference record hampers their projected chances of getting into the playoffs but there isn’t a more in-form team in the NFL right now than the Broncos and they have all the momentum in the AFC heading into a crucial December which will define the AFC playoff picture.
The blueprint for Sean Payton’s Broncos has been laid out
Sean Payton’s objective wasn’t to make this team a playoff team overnight, after last season’s horrendous year the expectations were understandably low for this group.
Payton was tasked with managing Russell Wilson, bringing him back up to a respectable level of quarterback and laying down a blueprint for his Broncos going forward.
It’s safe to say he has done both of those and then some only twelve weeks into his competitive Broncos tenure.
Wilson is looking like a good quarterback again (not to his Seattle Seahawks levels but good enough), and the blueprint is laid for this team.
This team will outwork their opponent, they will hustle and fight on every down for every yard of the field. When on offence they’re going to bruise you in the run game and open up the field in the passing game after establishing a run game behind a dominant run-blocking offensive line.
Defensively they will rough you up and knock you off your stride, resulting in takeaways like we’ve seen in the last five weeks.
Still not killing off teams, especially on turnovers
I said before that the performance was as close to complete as we had seen, but it wasn’t quite perfect and there are still kinks that need ironing out.
Namely, the lack of points off of takeaways, when the offence can’t score meaningful points off of turnovers, it allows opponents to hang around and in the playoffs, it will always come back to bite you.
If the offence can become more clinical when the defence gives them the ball with favourable field positions this team could be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
The lack of a vertical threat
In the opening two weeks, it looked like rookie Marvin Mims Jr. would play a big part in Payton’s offence as a vertical threat taking the top off of the defence after the run game draws the defenders in.
Through 12 weeks we’ve rarely seen Mims used in that role and he plays primarily as a return man at current in this structure.
Jerry Jeudy has been used mainly as the deep target but often it feels like the Broncos lack the vertical threat to truly stretch a defence and Mims feels like he has the potential to be that man.
Week 13 preview
In week 13 the Broncos enter playoff football territory and it starts an incredibly tough run of three straight road games.
The stretch kicks off as the Broncos travel to Houston to face Demeco Ryans’ Texans led by rookie sensation C.J. Stroud.
Stroud is a shoe-in for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year and he has lead the Texans to an improbable playoff-challenging run.
Last week they suffered a costly loss to their division rivals so will be looking to get their playoff surge back on track this Sunday.
This game could prove to be pivotal for both teams’ playoff hopes acting as a big tie-breaker for playoff seedings come early January.
For the Broncos their poor in-conference record also adds extra pressure to this game and it feels like the Broncos are in must-win territory now.
After Houston they travel to the Los Angeles Chargers before jetting back across the country to face the Detroit Lions in week 15, so a win for the Broncos could just give them an extra push to get them over the line in this tough road stretch and the playoff race in general.
For the UK Broncos fans, they can catch the game live on Sky Sports NFL on Sunday with the team going on air at 5 pm and kickoff at 6 pm.