The ’85 Bears. Ray’s Ravens of 2000. John Lynch’s plundering Bucs of ’02. Wade Phillips’ 2015 version of the Orange Crush.

The 2023 Denver Broncos?

Okay, now that you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, recovering from that hearty belly laugh or brief black out, get ready to consider the unthinkable. Admittedly, comparing the current Denver Broncos defense with any of the great defenses in NFL history – especially the Denver D that won Super Bowl 50 – might seem foolish, irresponsible or implausible. After all, a team that gave up 70 points in Week 3, captained by none other than Vance Joseph, widely considered one of the worst head coaches in Broncos history, surely shouldn’t wiggle into that conversation.

But, somehow, they have.

“Our defense has been amazing, the past seven weeks or plus, I think they’ve been unstoppable,” said Russell Wilson after beating the Chargers last weekend after the Denver D offered up another masterpiece.

Joseph was as close to getting canned as any coordinator in Week 3 could possibly be. But his defense has made such a furious comeback, he might soon be interviewing for head coaching jobs.

“I think his name will come up,” NFL master prognosticator Adam Schefter told Mark Schlereth and Mike Evans on Thursday.

Former head coach Vic Fangio had some pretty good defenses – none of them as good as Wade Phillips’ 2015 bunch – but even Grandpa Vic’s 2021 unit might not be this good. That defense was ranked eighth in yards and 3rd in points given up – and was really the only watchable component on a team that ultimately went 7-10 and led to Fangio’s firing – but it couldn’t win games like this year’s Orange Crush.

If rankings is the metric, there’s no point in comparing the 2015 Super Bowl champs to this year’s defense, which is hoping simply to get into the playoffs to see what might happen. Phillips’ 2015 defense ranked first in yards and fourth in points allowed; currently, the Broncos are sitting at 30th and 22nd respectively. But, you know… Miami.

On that front, it’s practically pointless to compare the 2015 defense to the Broncos “2023” defense; it’s more appropriate to compare the Broncos defense “on 12.15.23” to the one Phillips took to Super Bowl 50. After all the defense now is not the same one that was blown out by the Dolphins.

This year’s defense is forcing an average of 1.84 turnovers per game, and for reference, the 2015 D forced 1.69. But in the last six games, they’ve been on another level, causing 17 turnovers at a rate of 2.83 per game. Interestingly enough, the 2015 defense jumped out of the gates, creating 17 turnovers in their first six games. En route to the Super Bowl, Von Miller and Co. caused seven turnovers in a postseason alone, a three-game stretch that ended by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The No Fly Zone was red hot during that time, but even that math shows just 2.33 turnovers per game.

Since Week 6, the Broncos defensive stats are insane. They’re first in 3rd down percentage (27.7%); second in points per game (16.0); first in takeaways (19), second in touchdowns per game (1.5) and rank sixth and eighth in opposing passer rating (77.0) and completion percentage (60.5) respectively.

The current defense is made up of young and rising stars; the 2015 bunch was made up of a bunch of guys who’d been there and done that.

Patrick Surtain II is the closest thing to Aqib Talib Aqib Talib, who had an edge that can never be replicated. Justin Simmons is as good as they get, but he and P.J. Locke may not yet be on the level of Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward. Then again, Locke just racked up three straight games with a sack, something that only five other safeties in the history of the NFL have ever done (none of which were Broncos).

Is undrafted Ja’Quan McMillian on the same trajectory as undrafted Chris Harris Jr.? That’s a big ask considering that Harris Jr. had a career worthy of Canton, but McMillian’s play has yet to disappoint. His stats, including 42 combined tackles, are handy, too. He’s got a pair of interceptions and back-to-back games with a sack, something only Ray Crockett did as a Broncos cornerback. Harris’ second year as a Bronco yielded 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions.

There are no Von Millers or DeMarcus Wares on the current Broncos – but Joseph’s defense is gaining on that front, especially considering that the Broncos have tallied 15 sacks in their last three games. And maybe Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell will never be held in the same regard as Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathon, but it’s impossible not to notice their handwork. Singleton is a tackling machine; in fact he’s one of just 18 players in NFL history to record 10 or more games with double-digit tackles. Like him or not, that’s pretty historically significant.

Are there really Shades of Wade in Denver’s D this year?

If examined properly, the stats are certainly intriguing, if not telling. The end result is still far from determined, however.

“The playoffs are just the bare minimum, though. We trying to make a Super Bowl run,” Broncos running back Javonte Williams said earlier in the season.

At one point, we’d have all told him to pump the breaks. But sitting at 7-6 with a legitimate shot at making the playoffs – and behind a defense that’s becoming more and more reminiscent of Wade Phillips 2015 iteration – are Williams’ remarks really that unreasonable?

That’s tough to say, but if an old adage – “Defense wins championships!” – applies, then Williams may be onto something.