BRONCOS

The Broncos have a chance to prove that they’re ready for primetime

Nov 29, 2021, 6:00 AM
Pat Surtain...
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Back and forth. Round and round. On it goes.

That’s been the conversation all season in Broncos Country. The debate has raged since training camp, rolled into the preseason and continued through 11 games. And a verdict is finally about to be revealed.

On one side, the positive crew has preached that the Broncos are a playoff-caliber team. They simply needed a competent quarterback in order to get there.

On the other side, the naysayers have argued that Denver isn’t going anywhere so long as the current leadership is in place. They aren’t a postseason-worthy team with Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater.

Well, it’s about time to find out who was right. Next Sunday night in Kansas City, it’ll be determined.

The NFL announced last week that they were flexing the Broncos-Chiefs game into the primetime slot. They imagined a battle for first place, something that has come to fruition.

Thanks to their victory over Los Angeles on Sunday, Denver will enter next week’s showdown with a 6-5 record. They enter the contest just one game behind Kansas City for the top spot in the AFC West.

It creates the perfect scenario for them to prove they’re legitimate. Quite literally, it’s an opportunity to show that they’re ready for primetime.

If the Broncos go into Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs, a team that has been to the last two Super Bowls, there will be no doubt that they’re squarely in the playoff hunt. It’ll also show that they have the ability to make some noise if and when they get there.

If Denver goes into Kansas City and gets beaten, however, it’ll show that the naysayers were right all along. They have a talented roster, but aren’t good enough in key positions to truly be a contender.

Yes, there will still be five games remaining on the schedule after next week. But there’s no reason to believe things will be dramatically different in the final weeks than they were in the first 12.

A loss would drop the Broncos to 6-6. That puts them on pace to finish 8-9 or 9-8. In the AFC, that won’t be good enough to earn a playoff berth.

A win would propel Denver to a 7-5 mark, however. That would put them on track for 10-7, with an outside shot at 11-6. That puts them squarely in the hunt, with arguably the inside track to the AFC West title.

The scenario that comes with a defeat is the worse-case scenario for the Broncos. It’s the purgatory that the naysayers warned about at the beginning of the season.

Bridgewater might be an improvement over Drew Lock, but he wasn’t enough to lift Denver into the playoffs. So his presence in the lineup would simply hurt the team’s draft position in 2022, while also squashing the development of a young quarterback.

That would make the choice to go with the veteran a mistake. It’s a choice that would’ve been about the short-term rather than the long-term.

If the Broncos can’t make the playoffs with the schedule they had this season, it’s hard to imagine a scenario with Bridgewater, and/or Fangio, that would result in a trip to the postseason. It’s only going to be more difficult next season, when the docket isn’t littered with the Giants, Jaguars, Jets and Lions.

The goal isn’t to get to 8-9 or 9-8. Despite what George Paton said before the season, playing meaningful games in November and December isn’t what the Broncos are striving for, even after four-straight losing years.

Getting to that point, however, might cause Denver to think they’re tracking in the right direction. It might cause them to think they’re on the right track with Fangio and Bridgewater.

That would be foolish. A non-playoff season would be a mirage.

Getting to the postseason, however, is a different matter. That would justify the decision to bring back Fangio, trade for and start Bridgewater, and retain a lot of veteran players on defense.

That’s only truly possible if Denver wins in Kansas City. That’s a victory that would demonstrate that things have changed.

A win against the Chiefs means the Broncos are legit. A loss would most likely put them on track for the worst possible outcome in ’21.

The franchise likes to tout that they have “everything in front of them.” Their general manager made that point at the trade deadline and the organization has reiterated it ever since.

It’s finally true. It’s in front of them on Sunday night.

Win in Kansas City and Denver is legit. Lose and they’re nothing more than a pretender.

The debate has raged for months. It’s time to get a final answer.

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The Broncos have a chance to prove that they’re ready for primetime