Our 2019 NFL Preview takes us to the Rocky Mountains, where we check in on the Denver Broncos, who are hitting the reset button yet again in an attempt to return to the Postseason. Since winning Super Bowl 50, Denver has been a team mired in mediocrity, going 20-28 since hoisting the franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy, with a proverbial rotating door at the game’s most important position, Quarterback, serving as a prime culprit. CEO, John Elway, is under serious pressure to set things right at the club that he enjoyed a Hall of Fame career at, bringing in a new regime spearheaded by first-time Head Coach, Vic Fangio, and Quarterbacked by veteran signal-caller, Joe Flacco, with his potential heir, Drew Lock, waiting in the wings. Putting it all together, the Broncos wear the visage of a team in transition, with a myriad of variables making it difficult to discern what to expect from them in 2019. Will Fangio and Elway hit it off? Will Flacco rediscover his Super Bowl form? Will Lock eventually get his chance? Read on and find out…
Getting a Fresh Start
Since Peyton Manning retired following their triumph in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have gone through more Starting Quarterbacks than just about any other team in the league, and have yet to find an answer for their efforts. Let’s take a moment to run down the list of names, shall we? Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, and Case Keenum have all suited up at varying times for Denver, and all have more or less bombed in that role. The next man up is none other than Joe Flacco (61.2%, 2,465 YDS, 6.04 NY/A, 12 TD, 6 INT, 58.7 QBR), who was traded to the Broncos after a largely successful eleven-year stay with the Baltimore Ravens. In comparison to those other Quarterbacks that have succeeded Manning, Flacco is easily the most decorated, having gone 96-67 as a Starter in Baltimore, taking them to the Playoffs six times in which he’s earned a 10-5 record, highlighted by a magical run in 2012 where he threw Eleven Touchdowns and Zero Interceptions, culminating in Super Bowl glory. Now, with that out of the way, the question is which Joe Flacco will be arriving in Denver, for since hoisting that Lombardi Trophy, this guy hasn’t done much, going 42-41 as a Starter, with just one Playoff Win to his credit, while also dealing with a number of injuries ranging from knee and hip maladies to most recently undergoing back surgery two years ago. Furthermore, the Ravens’ Offense was rather rudderless under his lead last season, with their fortunes changing for the better once he was replaced by the younger Lamar Jackson. At 34-Years Old, he’s very much found himself at a career crossroads, with his long term future in Denver an open question. Is he supposed to be their answer at Quarterback for the foreseeable future, or is he simply serving as a bridge to the younger Drew Lock, whom the franchise selected in the Third Round of the NFL Draft? Ultimately, his play will dictate the answer to that question, but given his surroundings it’s almost impossible to predict how he’ll perform in 2019.
Getting a Late Start
Replacing the incumbent Vance Joseph after a two-year reign in which the team struggled to go a miserable 11-21, the Broncos’ Coaching Search led them to an interesting hire: Vic Fangio. At 60-Years of Age and spending the last twenty-eight years as an Assistant Coach for a variety of teams, the longtime Defensive Coordinator was as unlikely a choice for Denver as anyone, particularly given his profile and the man he was replacing. With hiring the young, bright offensive guru being so en vogue these days, it was certainly a shock to see Elway settle upon the veteran, who despite a number of assorted past interviews wasn’t necessarily even on the radar of most teams. However, as it’s been said, there may indeed be no time like the present. In Fangio’s defense, there are few defensive minds in the NFL more decorated than his; he has served as a Defensive Coordinator for a number of teams, with his most recent (and successful) stays coming with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-2014) and the Chicago Bears (2015-2018). During those stretches, his unit finished in the Top-5 in Points Allowed and Total Defense on five occasions, including last year’s Bears, whom allowed the fewest Points in the league (17.7). There is still plenty of talent leftover on that particular side of the football in Denver, where Von Miller (48 TKL, 14 TFL, 26 QBH, 14.5 SK, 4 FF, 3 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD) remains a nightmare off the Edge, with Bradley Chubb (60 TKL, 14 TFL, 21 QBH, 12.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD) wrecking havoc on the opposite end of the Line as a rookie. With that said, what will ultimately make or break his time with the franchise is how they perform offensively, particularly at Quarterback. Fangio hired Rich Scangarello as his Offensive Coordinator, hoping that he’ll bring some of Kyle Shanahan’s magic with him after serving under the offensive maestro in San Francisco for the past two years. The Broncos have been lacking on this side of the football ever since the aforementioned Manning retired, and Fangio will be counting on Scangarello to cultivate a group with an aging, injury-prone Quarterback, an Offensive Line full of holes, and a Receiving Corps, whose top threat, Emmanuel Sanders (71 REC, 868 YDS, 12.2 Y/R, 4 TD), is coming off a torn Achilles.
Running Out of Time
While nobody will question John Elway’s career with the Broncos as a player, his follow-up as Chief Executive is much more of a mixed bag. Yes, he was ultimately the decisive factor in coaxing Peyton Manning to come to Denver back in 2012, leading to a massively successful four-year run in which the franchise went 50-14, including four straight AFC West Titles, two trips to the Super Bowl, and a Championship in 2015. With Manning pulling the trigger, the Offense was explosive and at one point record-setting, while the Defense gradually evolved into arguably the nastiest unit in the league. Furthermore, he proved ambitious in adding talent via Free Agency and Trade, securing key veteran acquisitions such as Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and the aforementioned Sanders, while drafting standouts such as Demaryius Thomas, Chris Harris, and Malik Jackson. However, since adding that last Lombardi Trophy to his CV, it’s been a different story altogether, for Elway has spent the last three seasons largely under a veil of criticism. Vance Joseph proved to be a major bust in following the venerable Gary Kubiak, failing to build a cohesive attack and squandering what remained of a very talented Defense. He missed in the Draft too, with his most egregious error being trading back into the First Round of the 2016 Draft to select Paxton Lynch, who in two years started just four games under Center, and was eventually cut shortly before the 2018 campaign began. Seriously, how else was a competition between Lynch, Siemian, and Osweiler supposed to end? His decision to bring in Case Keenum (62.3%, 3,890 YDS, 5.39 NY/A, 18 TD, 15 INT, 47.9 QBR) with the hopes that the journeyman would replicate his success in Minnesota also ended in flames, with the veteran Quarterback throwing nearly as many Interceptions (15) as Touchdowns (18), hastening his exit after just one season with the club. And it’s been his shocking inability to properly evaluate the Quarterback position that will likely define his time as Denver’s Football Czar; for a guy that played the position at such a high level, he’s proven utterly unable to find an even remotely worthy successor to his throne. While he was coming off a serious neck injury, Manning was a future Hall of Famer with plenty of gas left in the tank, making that choice a no-brainer. But the rest of the Quarterbacks that he’s settled on have left much to be desired. Maybe Flacco will rejuvenate himself much in the same vein as Manning, or perhaps Lock will emerge to carry the torch, but there is a greater chance that neither happens, and if that’s the case then Elway may not be around to hit the reset button once more…
2019 Forecast: 8-8
Ask around about the Denver Broncos’ prospects in 2019, and you’re likely to get a wide range of answers. To some, this is a group that under new leadership with a veteran Quarterback at the helm could easily win ten games and return the Playoffs after a three-year hiatus. However, you’re just as likely to be told that the aforementioned Flacco is no longer a quality Starter, and while Fangio has proven to be one of the better defensive minds over the last two decades, his team’s real issues have persistently originated on the opposite side of the football. The AFC West figures to be treacherous sailing for a team that must face a pair of Super Bowl contenders, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, along with what should be an improved Oakland Raiders twice apiece. This team doesn’t necessarily have boom or bust potential, but their ceiling caps them out at being simply a good, but not great, football team, while their floor is no worse than where they’ve been in each of the past two seasons. Expect the Defense to return to prominence, but unless Flacco regains the touch that has eluded him for a quite a while, it’s hard to see the Broncos making the kind of progress that the Front Office is demanding.