Do the Broncos make the playoffs? It’ll be tight (column)
September 5, 2018
Happy football, everyone.
Yes, it was nice to see some college football, but this really is NFL country, and the show begins on Thursday, Sept. 6, with Atlanta at Philly and then a full slate this weekend.
Will the Eagles repeat? Nope. Will the Patriots still be good? Unfortunately, yes. Will the Browns win a game? We hope so. Will President Donald Trump exploit players kneeling during the national anthem for his political benefit? Of course.
And the most important question … Are the Broncos going back to the playoffs?
When training camp opened, we talked about what the Broncos needed to do and the same questions remain. The jury is still out on the offensive line and the running game, and that calls into question how effective new quarterback Case Keenum will be.
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Keenum was a solid QB in good system in Minnesota, backed by a ground game and an offensive line that kept him upright. His mileage may vary in Denver behind a line with only two players — Garrett Boles at left tackle and Matt Paradis at center — playing the same positions as last year.
Denver's depth chart at running back doesn't jump out at you either. Royce Freeman, a rookie out of Oregon, followed by Devontae Booker and Phillip Lindsey, another rookie from Denver South and CU, doesn't seem like the answer to the threat of a running game that will prevent the Broncos from becoming one-dimensional offensively.
On the other hand, no one thought much of Kansas City's Kareem Hunt at this point last year. You don't know what you have until you play real games. Fun trivia time: Freeman is the first rookie to start at running back for the Broncos since … some guy named Terrell Davis.
BREAKING DOWN THE AFC WEST
The good news, though, is that no one in the rest of it is running away with the division. The Raiders, being the Raiders, shot themselves in the foot for the purposes of 2018 by trading Khalil Mack to the Bears. One can understand taking two first-round picks from the Bears, who will likely continue to stink, so those are going to be high first rounders.
But the Raiders and Jon Gruden seem to be building for the move to Las Vegas.
Kansas City will have a new quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, but probably the best set of skill-position players (Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) around him to make the transition smoother. Plus, and this is a rhetorical question, is Alex Smith to Washington addition by subtraction?
Yes, the Chargers are the Chargers, but they were 9-7 and the last team out of the playoffs.
When I run through the Chiefs', Broncos' and Chargers' schedules, I have Kansas City at 10-6 and the Broncos and Chargers both at 9-7. (Rhetorical question No. 2: Aren't the Chargers always 9-7?)
If the Broncos can squeeze out a win during Week 4 against the Chiefs at Mile High, then that flips Denver to 10-6 and K.C. to 9-7, in my calculations.
The point is that there's a lot of margin for error. I'll still go K.C. by a hair with San Diego ahead of Denver, both at 9-7, on tiebreakers.
No Le'Veon Bell (holdout) will be an interesting situation in Pittsburgh, but who's challenging the Steelers in this division? Baltimore? How much does Joe Flacco have left? Cincinati? Nope.
If the Steelers, who have the Browns this week, can beat K.C. in Week 2, then Bell's holdout may not be as urgent a matter to this franchise.
And we're calling Week 3 — a Thursday nighter at home against the Jets — for the Browns to bust into the win column.
Jacksonville is a hot pick, and I love hit-you-in-the-mouth defense, but they're not going to sneak upon anyone this year. On the other hand, the Jags and the rest of the AFC South play the NFC East and AFC East, which helps in the W-L column, so Sacksonville, it is.
Houston gets Deshaun Watson back, and that could spell trouble for 9-7 teams such as the Broncos or Chargers getting a wild-card spot.
Yes, I keep waiting for Father Time to catch up with Tom Brady. Remember how Peyton Manning and Brett Favre just fell off the cliff when they got old? I hope we live long enough for see this with Brady.
Another trendy pick would be the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners dealt a second-rounder to New England for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and he led San Francisco to a 5-0 finish.
Before San Francisco proclaims the next Montana Dynasty, let's chill out. Going 5-0 for a team that's 1-10 at the time is called a no-pressure situation. Now, Jimmy G and the rest of the squad, which needs some work, truthfully, face pressure.
The Niners may be a contender for a wild card, but the Los Angeles Rams are the wise pick here. Jared Goff, freed from Jeff Fisher, looked like the No. 1 pick he was expected to be, and should be better with Brandin Cooks.
Todd Gurley in the backfield adds balance.
The Rams can play defense and they're back in L.A., which is good because I called them the Los Angeles Rams for the 20 years they were in St. Louis.
Vikings. Yep. I don't know how much of a difference Kirk Cousins makes. This is a solid football team all around.
Aaron Rodgers is back and so are the Pack, probably as a wild card team.
Probably the best division in football here, but it isn't the NFC West, so no one cares. The Saints can actually play defense and that's bad news for the NFC since Drew Brees is another ageless wonder.
Take the Falcons, though. They have a year's separation from the New England Super Bowl debacle and Matt Ryan should be able to figure out how to get the ball to Julio Jones again.
The most overrated and boring division. The Giants aren't coming out of nowhere with Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham because Eli Manning wasn't a very good quarterback when he was 27 and he's now 37.
The Cowboys are all sizzle and no steak and will go 8-8. The Redskins will find gruesome ways to lose because that is what they do. And that leaves the Eagles, who will win the division, but not repeat as Super Bowl champs.
By the way, the Eagles remind us of the merits of a backup quarterback, as Nick Foles saved their season when Carson Wentz went down.
I don't suppose that would maybe prompt someone to pick up Colin Kaepernick? Oh, never mind.
Rams and Jaguars. No, I don't feel confident on the AFC side picking against the Patriots, but who really wants the Patriots in the Super Bowl again?