Broncos ride (too?) high into 2020

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) celebrates defeating the Oakland Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“We’re done with this losing $*@!. Next year is going to be our year.”

That’s what Von Miller said following the 9-7 Denver Broncos finale, a 16-15 wild win over the rival Raiders in front of 67,000, give-or-take, did-shows. Turns out, the result of this one only mattered to the 2020 NFL Draft, as evidenced by Oakland’s decision to go for two with :07 on the clock. An extra point would have sent things to overtime; a two-point conversion successful or not, put an end to two seasons ready to be put out of their misery.

The Raiders, it seemed, were over it.

In Denver – reflective of Miller’s postgame comments, it seems – things are looking up. The vibe in the Mile High City is one of hope, optimism rarely seen following a 7-9 season.

Here’s the question: Are you buying it?

Attendance of late – or perhaps more accurately, a lack thereof – suggests that somewhere near one-in-seven Broncos fans might not be. More than one-in-seven fans holding a ticket chose not to go to the Broncos final three home games. A lot more than that chose not to buy tickets they could have.

There are reasons for hope, though, no doubt.

For starters, in a league where a championship requires one of the world’s top, oh, let’s say 10, quarterbacks, the Broncos may finally have found their man. After some embarrassing experiments, rookie Drew Lock looks like he at least has the potential to be a bona fide franchise quarterback. Don’t mind Lock’s stats (on the surface, they’re nothing special); just look at his record as the Broncos starter – 4-1. Look at his arm strength and his quick feet and his swagger. Look at the way his teammates have responded. Lock isn’t a lock just yet, but there’s not a soul in Denver opposed to following him into battle.

And there’s a young core to go right along with him, too.

“I can tell you one thing right now,” Miller added, “we’ve got a good team, we’ve got a great quarterback, running backs and receivers. Noah Fant is going to be in his second year, we’ll get [Bradley] Chubb back and we’re going to get [Kareem Jackson] back.”

Add to Miller’s list names like Dalton Risner, Alexander Johnson and (hopefully) Justin Simmons, and there’s a foundation to build upon.

But, at 7-9, there’s always a but.

As 9-year veteran Chris Harris Jr. (who feels as good as gone) pointed out after the team’s loss to Kansas City, “We ain’t got just a missing piece. We need a lot of pieces.

As good as the Broncos defense was statistically this season, there are plenty of holes. Assuming Harris Jr. departs, there’s not a single, dependable cornerback on the roster at current. The oft-injured Derek Wolfe was excellent in 2019, but enters the offseason as a free agent, as does Shelby Harris, who knocked down Derek Carr’s two-point conversion for yesterday’s win. And whether or not Todd Davis returns (there’s an option in his current contract), the inside linebacking crew needs both quality and depth.

On offense, there’s the issue of O-line. Save for Risner, there’s room for improvement everywhere. Courtland Sutton proved to be a solid No. 1, but there are questions after that at receiver.

On the sidelines, Vic Fangio will undoubtedly get another shot. It’s not that he was perfect – he still has plenty of room to grow, too – but he does seem to have the support of both his players and the organization. But “the offensive coach” (as Fangio once called O-coordinator Rich Scangarello) was the subject of great controversy this season, and special teams coach Tom McMahon miraculously kept his job despite having a mostly-dreadful special teams unit for most of the season.

When you’re 7-9 and have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, there are plenty of reasons why. Hope is great, but reality lies in the standings.

Beating the soon-to-be Vegas Raiders to cap an otherwise forgettable season was nice. But are the Broncos riding too high given the real life challenges that face the team this offseason?

Come August, optimism will fill the warm air of Dove Valley. But it’s the cold air of December that tells the story.

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