Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams find a way to lose.
Especially in close games.
The Denver Broncos have been on the bad side of the coin for years. They’ve found ways to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory, especially the last few seasons.
In 2021, the Broncos went 1-5 in one-score games. In 2020, they were better in those close games, but still had more losses than wins at 4-6. And in Vic Fangio’s first season, they were 4-5 in one-score games, giving the team a 9-16 record in those close contests during his tenure as head coach.
And if we focus back in on 2021, Denver got unlucky in those one-score games. According to Pro Football Focus, they should have won two more contests during the regular season:
when looking at win totals for next season it's important to think about which teams overachieved and underachieved in winning one-score games last season pic.twitter.com/pDx0sjcoUh
— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) March 25, 2022
Even at 9-8 overall, the Broncos would have been on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and really, they didn’t deserve to make the postseason anyway.
Much of the blame lies on Fangio, that’s for sure. He made many questionable decisions in terms of personnel (some wanted Drew Lock over Teddy Bridgewater), coaching (Pat Shurmur’s playcalling was sub-par) and in-game decisions. Fans were rightly upset about Fangio’s lack of clock management skills, his weird coaches challenges in which he seemed to only hope they would work, and his wasting of timeouts, too.
Of course, some of those losses were due to poor coaching. And others could have been overcome with better quarterback play.
That’s where Russell Wilson comes in, along with the much-improved playcaller Nathaniel Hackett (we’ll have to evaluate his in-game coaching as the games roll on).
Last year, Seattle went 3-5 in those close games, but the superstar quarterback was injured for two of those losses. In his last completely healthy season, Seattle went 8-3 in those crucial, one-score games.
That’s not to say Wilson is Superman, and that he’s going to carry the Broncos to victory in close games. Quarterback is certainly the most-important position in American sports, but even the QB is limited on a team which features 53 different individuals combining their efforts on Sundays.
However, the flip side of that coin is, oftentimes a team is only one or two plays away from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, instead of the other way around. And Wilson is certainly the kind of player who knows how to make the big play at the right time.
With free agency basically over and the NFL Draft still upcoming, there’s still a lot to be decided in Denver.
What we know for certain is the Broncos’ offense will be much improved this year compared to the last six seasons. That’s not only going to be true due to Wilson — though he’s a major reason why — but because of Hackett’s playcalling, too.
What we don’t know is how good the defense will be. They almost certainly won’t be top-5 again this year. And what about the special teams? They must improve from bottom-third in the league if Denver does want to win more close games and ultimately make the postseason for the first time in ages.
Over the last two years, the Chiefs went 13-4 in those close games, and the Packers went 10-5. Possessing an elite quarterback definitely helps teams win those contests, and it’s all but certain Denver will win more one-score games starting this season.