The 12th man used to be Russell Wilson’s fans in the stands at Lumen Field in Seattle helping his Seahawks get wins, last night a literal 12th man helped his Denver Broncos go into Buffalo and beat the Bills on primetime television.
When the Broncos were 0-3 coming off a 70-point battering in week three no one would have seen this team turning their season around to win three straight games including wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and away at the Bills.
But here we are, the momentum is with the Broncos, even out of their bye week and they go into a stretch now with four winnable games and every chance of breaking into the playoffs in a strange AFC picture.
Three-game win streak
The Broncos went into their week seven game against the Green Bay Packers with a 1-5 record and everyone wanted them to ‘blow it up’ and trade away all their assets ready to rebuild for the future (again since their Super Bowl 50 win).
Instead, four weeks later they’re a 4-5 football team with 10 turnovers in three games, five against Andy Reid’s Chiefs and four against the Josh Allen-lead Bills.
The offence has ticked along well enough and the defence has played exceptionally well recently even in the week six loss away at the Chiefs before this run.
It’s somewhat of a cliche in the modern NFL but it’s true nonetheless, it’s all about getting hot at the right time and the Broncos are very much heating up at the right time in this season.
The Broncos didn’t just win, they were the better team, on the road at one of the AFC’s preseason favourites, in a primetime window!
The Broncos haven’t often had primetime games in recent years and it’s not a surprise when you look at their performances every season since they won the Super Bowl in 2016.
When they have had the opportunity to play on national TV they have performed awfully in that time, but under Sean Payton, they’re currently 1-1 in primetime and head into their first home primetime game of his reign next Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings who are on a hot streak themselves.
The performance deserved a win as well, despite the close scoreline, the Broncos recorded four takeaways and missed two extra-point tries, it was run closer than it should have been but the Broncos managed to get over the line nonetheless.
The more the Broncos can perform under the lights in primetime, the better, for their standing amongst those that drive the narratives in the NFL.
Defence playing lights out
In their first five weeks of the season, the Broncos defence gave up 181 points, at an average of 36 points per game (give or take).
In the following four games, including a doubleheader against the Chiefs and a trip to Buffalo, the Broncos have given up just 67 points at an average of just under 17 points per game.
The turnaround from Vance Joseph and his defensive unit has been almost unprecedented and they have been the lifeblood of the change in fortunes for this team, early in the season they were losing tight games because of defensive errors but now the defence is getting them over the line in tight games, like Monday Night Football.
Inconsistent special teams
Despite the feel-good factor around this team, they’re still a long way off, from being a contender and there is still a lot of work to be done before this team can pose a genuine threat to any of the AFC’s elite teams on a consistent basis.
On the one hand, the special teams are performing admirably, Marvin Mims had an excellent game with three really nice punt returns setting the offence up with great field position.
But conversely, Will Lutz missed two kicks (one which was brought back), in admittedly tough weather conditions, and they had one fumbled snap on an extra point try which ended up as a dead play.
Throughout the year Mims has been brilliant on kick and punt returns, averaging the highest yards per return in both categories with 20.7 yards per punt return (four yards more than the next best) and 33.6 yards per kick return.
As for Will Lutz, he overcame his disappointing field goal miss in week one against the Raiders, which cost the Broncos that win, and has had a pretty decent year up until Monday night.
Lutz has an 88.2 extra point percentage, the worst in the NFL by some margin out of 32 eligible kickers, while averaging a fairly middle-of-the-road, 89.5 field goal percentage.
If the Broncos can become more consistent in the kicking game then they might find themselves on the positive side of these tight games even more often down the stretch.
Need to be ruthless on offence
If this team is to reach the playoffs and then eventually go on to win a playoff game then they have to start being more ruthless off of takeaways on offence.
The Broncos didn’t score off of any of the four takeaways from the Bills last night and as a result, had to scrape past Buffalo in what should have been a routine and dominant performance like week eight against the Chiefs.
If the Broncos had played a more polished kicking game and been ruthless on even 50% of their takeaways we could have been looking at another blowout of one of the AFC’s poster teams from the last few years.
Week 11 preview
From being 1-5, down and out, ready to pull up mock draft simulators, all of a sudden, four weeks later, the Broncos are back in playoff conversations looking at a stretch of four winnable, but competitive games.
Next week the Broncos welcome the resurgent Minnesota Vikings, spearheaded by Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Joshua Dobbs who is having a stellar year.
The Vikings may be without star receiver Justin Jefferson, but rookie Jordan Addison has filled in for the former LSU star and he will be a threat for this Broncos secondary to try and shut down.
Defensively the Vikings have shutdown their opponents on the way to their five-game winning streak and they’re building up a head of steam in a bad NFC landscape, albeit against the Bears, Packers and Saints, as well as the Falcons and the talented 49ers (a feather in their cap).
On Sunday Night Football the nation, and the rest of the world, will be watching, as one of these teams’ playoff hopes takes a dent and someone’s streak ends, at Mile High.