Vegas thinks they’ll be mediocre. Some football analysts believe they’ll be bad. It’s hard to find anyone out there besides Terrell Davis who’s predicting the Denver Broncos will be a good team in 2017.
The start of the NFL regular season is nearly upon us. Six days from now, the Broncos face the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football.
The Broncos haven’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back years since they went 8-8 in 2009 and followed that up with a 4-12 record in 2010 — the Josh McDaniels era. Is missing out on the postseason consecutive times in play again? Sure looks that way.
There’s the issue of the schedule. Denver might have the most difficult regular-season path to traverse of any team in the NFL. There’s a first-time head coach in Vance Joseph involved. And there’s also the world’s saddest three-headed hydra the Broncos have at quarterback.
Even with a devastating defense, it feels like there’s some disaster potential. Here are five questions about the 2017 Denver Broncos to get you ready for the regular season.
Will Trevor Siemian make it through the season as the starter?
Look, I don’t dislike Siemian. I felt bad for him at times last year having to operate behind a woeful offensive line. And I don’t think his game’s as vanilla as some say. He can be elusive behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s hard to imagine him developing into anything better than a low-end starting QB, though. He lacks arm strength, which contributed to accuracy issues last year. There are also questions about his durability. He missed two games last season after separating his non-throwing shoulder. Can he take the pounding that comes with being an NFL starter?
It’s not hard to see the Broncos going away from Siemian if things get ugly. The problem is the options behind him don’t look very appealing.
Brock Osweiler got his first chance to be a team’s full-time starter last year, and that went so poorly that the Houston Texans had to include a second-round pick to send him and his enormous contract away. Paxton Lynch, who’s expected to miss at least five games with a shoulder injury, couldn’t win the starting gig even though the Broncos stacked the deck in his favor with their coaching moves this offseason.
We’ll see how it shakes out. I imagine Lynch gets at least a start or two somewhere along the way.
What will the revamped offensive line look like?
The Broncos’ offensive line was pitiful in 2016. The unit finished 27th in adjusted sack rate and played a part in a rushing attack that Football Outsiders ranked the fourth-worst in the NFL.
To fix it, Broncos brass threw a bunch of resources at it this offseason. Denver gave right guard Ronald Leary $24 million in guaranteed money and then inked Menelik Watson, who will start at right tackle, to a less lucrative deal. The Broncos also plugged a hole at left tackle by taking Garrett Bolles 20th overall in May.
Can this group keep Siemian upright and open up a few more lanes for the stable of guys Denver has at running back?
Is Vance Joseph ready for this?
The Broncos chose Joseph over Kyle Shanahan as Gary Kubiak’s successor this spring. In doing so, Denver handed the keys to a man who’d just wrapped up his first-ever season as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. How will Joseph perform with even more responsibility heaped on his plate?
An NFL head coach must be A Leader of Men™. Elway clearly believes Joseph possesses this quality. Being a head coach is also about the little stuff, too. Lane Kiffin recently complained that Nick Saban had a 15-minute meeting dedicated solely to all possible outcomes after the pregame coin toss. Will Joseph master the minutiae that comes with the job?
Is the defense due to take a step back?
Playing defense at an elite level year after year is a difficult thing to do. Guys get older. They break down. They go somewhere else for a bigger pay day. We saw Denver’s run defense slip a little last year after the departures of Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson. Still, the Broncos managed to finish as Football Outsider’s top-ranked defense for the second season in a row, joining the 1993-94 Steelers and 2013-14 Seahawks as the only teams to rank first in Defensive DVOA in consecutive years.
No team has ever finished first in Defensive DVOA — Football Outsider’s all-in-one defensive metric — three years in a row. I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to become the first.
Denver decided not to bring back Wade Phillips, who pulled the strings as defensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016, and promoted Joe Woods into that role instead. Woods, the Broncos defensive backs coach for two seasons, is well respected and has been successful in Denver. But Phillips is a legend. Filling his shoes won’t be easy.
What about the rest of the AFC West?
The AFC West was either the toughest division in football last season or the second-toughest depending on how you felt it stacked up to the NFC East. The Chiefs and Raiders both won 12 games. The Chargers, who were 1-8 in one-score contests, were not as bad as their 5-11 record suggested.
This year, I think there’s a case to be made that any of the four AFC West teams could win the division. The Raiders figure to be dynamic on offense. The Chiefs will probably finish with a winning record because that’s what Andy Reid-coached teams do. And history tells us that the Chargers’ woeful record in one-score games the last two seasons (4-16) should normalize.
I could see a scenario where the Broncos win 10 games and finish first in the AFC West. It doesn’t feel terribly likely, though. Oddsmakers put Denver’s over-under win total at 8 1/2. I’d take the under if I was betting on it. It just feels like the quarterbacks aren’t good enough, and the schedule’s too difficult. At least we get another year of prime Von Miller. Dude spent the whole offseason running up and down sand dunes and posting pictures of turkey sausage to Snapchat. Look out.
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