Setting realistic expectations for these Denver Broncos

Von Miller. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Von Miller. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

It’s finally here, the 2019 NFL season and the 100th in the history of this storied league kicks off tonight with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football.

And with the excitement of the new season, fans are pumped to see what will happen with their favorite team, the Denver Broncos.

Ever since John Elway took the reins of the Broncos in 2011, he’s been in a “win from now on” mode, and moves for Joe Flacco, Bryce Callahan, Kareem Jackson and Ja’Wuan James proves just that. But, where those signings, coupled with losing key players like Matt Paradis and Brandon Marshall, enough to get the Broncos back into the playoffs for the first time in four seasons?

Let’s take a look at that as well as some other expectations for the season:

Denver’s Defense will be a Top-5 unit

Vic Fangio, Von Miller, Chris Harris, Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris and the list goes on. Denver’s defense is unarguably one of the most talented in the NFL, and with Fangio coaching the group, the expectations are a mile high.

Not only do fans think Denver’s defense will be a Top-5 unit, but that the orange crush will be the best in the entire NFL.

Hey, they possess arguably the best dynamic duo of pass-rushers in the league in Miller and Bradley Chubb, and Harris proved last year he’s one of the best interior linemen in the league. On the back end, Denver’s secondary is also one of the deepest in the NFL. Chris Harris is still elite, Kareem Jackson will be a deft cover safety who also loves to hit and Justin Simmons seems primed to make a breakout. Callahan, if healthy, is one of the best slot men in the game.

But, the one weak point of the defense is the inside linebacker position. Todd Davis and Josey Jewell are only fringe starters, and that’s when they are healthy. Davis has been out since the first training camp practice of the year and even when he returns to the field, it will likely take a game or two for him to adjust.

Denver will be a Top-5 defense, but that weak spot will probably keep them from being the best in the NFL.

Conclusion: Realistic

Joe Flacco will reignite the offense

Quarterback, the most important position in the game of football, and the Broncos landed a stud in Flacco. At 34 years old, he’s not in his prime anymore like John Elway said he was, but Flacco can still sling the football and experience is incredibly valuable for a QB.

He put that on display in the third game of the preseason, the one in which he played nearly an entire quarter, stepping up in the face of pressure to deliver passes for third down conversions. As bad as Trevor Siemian and Case Keenum were overall, what they really lacked was poise in the face of pressure and an ability to gain first downs when the team needed them to most.

Stepping into the face of pressure is something Flacco will have to do a lot this season because the offensive line will be mediocre at best. Connor McGovern is still an unproven asset at the vastly important center spot, and he’s a huge downgrade from Paradis. Dalton Risner has to play well from jump, Garett Bolles is in a make-or-break year, and Ron Leary is still trying to come back from injury. The major bright spot may be James, though he was graded out at the same level as Bolles last year.

If the O-line can’t protect Flacco, there’s no way the wily, old veteran can ignite this offense and make them produce more points.

Conclusion: Optimistic

Phillip Lindsay will hit 1,000 yards again

Lindsay was the feel-good, breakout star of 2018 and it seemed like nothing could derail him until he was injured late in the year with that broken wrist. And that, coupled with his slight size, will keep him from hitting 1,000 yards once again in all likelihood.

Lindsay may be all healed up, but fans have to expect opposing defenders to karate chop relentlessly at his wrist while he’s holding the ball. Even if the wrist holds up, which hopefully it does, there’s good reason to believe the Broncos will mix in a heavy dose of big back Royce Freeman.

Lindsay only averaged 13 carries a year last season but still hit the 1,000-yard mark, so it’s still possible even if Freeman takes some of those handoffs again, but it’s not likely.

Conclusion: Optimistic

Expectation: The Broncos will make the playoffs

This is the most difficult prediction to make, but let’s take our best shot. For the Denver Broncos to make it back into the postseason for the first time since they won Super Bowl 50, basically everything must go right for the team.

First and foremost, they must have that Top-5 defense. In 2015, when they won the Super Bowl, Denver’s defense was No. 1 in the league in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed (18.5 PPG). Wade Phillips’ defense carried that Peyton Manning/Brock Osweiler-led offense to the playoffs and dragged them through to a Super Bowl win.

What Flacco and the offense must do is back that defense up by putting some points on the board. Last year, Denver was 24th at 20.2 points per game; the Broncos need to score at least three touchdowns per game to win enough games to make it back to the postseason.

Can Flacco remain poised and also make plays while likely be rushed with reckless abandon? Can the completely new group on the offensive line step up, grow together and protect him? Will Emmanuel Sanders and Lindsay stay healthy after their offseason injury recovery?

And what will Rich Scangarello’s offense look like in his first year as offensive coordinator? There are more questions than answers currently on offense.

Then, there’s the special teams, which head coach Vic Fangio has been rightfully upset with and critical of all preseason long. Denver was in the bottom-third of the league in punting, punt return average and kickoff return last year; they can’t be that terrible again in all those categories and make the playoffs.

Finally, don’t forget about the rest of the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs are vastly favored to win the AFC West, and the LA Chargers are thought of as a playoff team, too. That means Denver would have to make it as a wildcard. The Patriots, Colts (even without Andrew Luck), Browns, Steelers, Ravens and even Texans will all be in the hunt for the playoffs this season, with only six getting in.

Denver will have to take care of business against worse teams, and then steal some games they shouldn’t win against the tough NFC North. Overall, the ceiling for this Broncos team in 9-7, and that’s if everything goes right.

Conclusion: Wildly Optimistic