The Broncos record is a mirage that could prove to be a dangerous one
The Broncos 2021 season is a mirage. And it’s going to lead the franchise further into the desert in a hopeless and futile search for water.
That might sound like a wet blanket. It could come across as Debbie Downer raining on the parade. But it’s just a reality check.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some positives this season. After four-straight losing seasons and five-consecutive non-playoff years, being 6-5 in December, getting flexed into “Sunday Night Football” and playing meaningful games in the last month of the season are a nice change of pace.
There have also been some nice wins. No one expected the Broncos to beat the Cowboys, but they dominated in Dallas. And few saw them winning on Sunday against the Chargers, a game they won by 15 points.
But that doesn’t mean all is right in Broncos Country. Far from it.
The reality is that Denver has played an unbelievably friendly schedule. The first three games of the season – at the Giants, at the Jaguars and at home against the Jets – got a lot of attention, but the entire slate has been littered with cupcakes.
The Broncos have enjoyed the triple whammy. They’re playing a last-place schedule, are facing the NFC East and earned a 17th game at home against the Lions. That’s about as easy as things can come in the NFL, as they’ve played a lot of teams who had a losing record last year and are well on their way to another one in 2021.
If the Broncos can’t make the playoffs via that route, it’s hard to imagine one in which Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater can get them there. It’s been the easiest road possible.
In addition, this suggests that wherever the Broncos end up in 2021, it’ll be the peak with this head coach / quarterback combo. Their final record this year is as high as they’re going to get.
A look ahead to next year’s schedule explains why. It’ll be much more daunting.
The Broncos will play their normal six games against the AFC West. They’ll also take on the AFC South and NFC West. And if they finish second in the division this season, they’ll play the Bills or Patriots, Ravens or Bengals, and Buccaneers or Saints in 2022. Oh, and they’ll play nine games on the road instead of getting the extra game at home.
So instead, of the JV schedule they’ve played this season, the Broncos could be facing:
It’s difficult to see the Broncos improving on their record next season. It’s hard to find many games on that list where Fangio will have the advantage at head coach and Bridgewater will be the best quarterback on the field.
The Texans and Jaguars are gimmes. The rest will be toss-up games, at best.
That’s why getting too excited about the Broncos current success is a dangerous proposition. Yes, it’s nice to win. But only if it’s getting the team somewhere.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to make the playoffs or the Super Bowl. At least most of the time.
Going 8-9 or 9-8 can be a good thing, if it’s a spot on an upward trending graph. It’s hard to see that happening with the Broncos.
Hovering around .500 could lead them to retain Fangio. It could make them decide to bring back Bridgewater. Both might even get long-term deals for 2022 and beyond.
It’s hard to see that combination getting 10-plus wins against the opponents outlined above. That’d be a major surprise.
But the current roster with a better coaching staff and a top-tier quarterback? That’s definitely doable. The 2021 season has proven that the Broncos have a lot of talent.
Understanding that is a good thing. Getting excited about that is worthwhile.
But letting the 6-5 record, and whatever mark the Broncos finish with, serve as evidence that Fangio and Bridgewater are in any way the “answer,” is foolish. Getting caught up in the year-over-year improvement is bad proposition.
Are the Broncos better this season? Of course.
Has Fangio learned on the job. Somewhat, but there have still been a lot of stinkers this season.
Is Bridgewater the best QB in Denver since Peyton Manning? Probably.
But that doesn’t mean either is good enough. Both are a mirage that thirsty wanderers are falling for.