Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is king of the NFL world, ruling from his throne right down the street from where the Broncos reside in the AFC West.
But think Denver is afraid of the big, bad Chiefs? No way.
Full of bold intention to make Mahomes uneasy wearing that crown, the Broncos have big plans of their own. This team has the unmistakable swagger of youth, full of the ambition and talent evident in quarterback Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton, his No. 1 receiving target.
“We have goals we want to achieve as a team,” Sutton said. “We want to build a dynasty.”
A dynasty? Wait, there’s more.
Although more than four years have passed since the Broncos dared to tug on Superman’s cape while dismantling Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, veteran defensive lineman Shelby Harris insists the sun hasn’t set on that brilliant, dominant defense.
“We should be the best defense in the league, no question,” Harris said. “I feel like we have the players and the pieces to really go out there and dominate every game.”
While I admire the confidence exuded by Sutton and Harris, the Broncos think more highly of themselves and their chances to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season than do the Las Vegas bookmakers, who set the over/under on Denver victories at 7½.
Wanna bet? Well, you can now do that legally in Colorado.
In the newly expanded NFL playoffs, where seven teams from each conference will advance to the postseason in 2020, a record of 8-8 just might get the Broncos in the tournament.
While a stout defense is considered a birthright in Broncos Country, the high hopes of loyal fans are largely based on the additions of rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, as well as first-year center Lloyd Cushenberry, from the NFL draft.
After Lock took over last season as the starting quarterback, the Broncos averaged 21.4 points during five games in December. If you can promise me Denver can improve its production to 25 points per game this season, I’m willing to guarantee this team will be in the playoffs. (But if you want to bet on it, that’s your business, not mine.)
In a young man’s sport, the potential of Broncos still shy of their 25th birthdays give a legit reason for optimism on the offensive side of the football. There is, however, one big reason for concern. It’s a by-product of the coronavirus, which has impacted how nearly every business in Colorado, from your neighborhood pub to your local NFL team, must conduct itself in 2020.
Training camps throughout the league have been forced to compress preparation time to no more than 18 practices prior to roster cuts. The limited schedule presents a much steeper learning curve for the young Broncos than what coach Andy Reid must deal with in Kansas City, where every snap starts with Mahomes and the Super Bowl champs.
Although enthusiastic about the infusion of talent to his roster, Broncos general manager John Elway issues this warning:
Temper expectations for Lock. Don’t count on fireworks from the young offense.
“I don’t think we can expect, with no offseason for us, to come out and be hitting on all cylinders,” Elway said.
“It’s going to be a slow build. The expectations of Drew? I mean, he did play well for five games, but that was only was only five games … He didn’t have the offseason this year, which for young football players is always very, very important.”
Hey, we all love that new-car smell. But it usually takes time to get an offensive bandwagon rolling. The challenge for Denver? New players, new offensive coordinator, new concepts.
I can envision the Broncos as an offensive juggernaut in December.
But when they kick off the season at home Sept. 14 against Tennessee? Not so much.
OK, it’s not entirely out of the question that the Broncos could light up the scoreboard on opening night. But that’s not the way to bet.
Lock’s mistake-filled performance the first time this new collection of offensive talent assembled at Empower Field at Mile High for a scrimmage during training camp was a gentle warning to slow the roll on any notion Denver’s second-year QB could challenge Mahomes for league MVP honors.
“We’re all going to have to grow,” said Pat Shurmur, hired as offensive coordinator in January.
With the full realization, Broncomaniacs want to win now every bit as much as Elway, I asked Shurmur if patience would be required for this offense’s inevitable growing pains.
“By nature,” Shurmur replied, “I’m not a very patient guy.”
The Broncos tell us they’re going to be good. Real good.
After three consecutive losing seasons, can we take them at their word?
In Denver, it’s playoffs or bust in 2020.
Same as it ever was.
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