Hold off on the “playoffs or bust” expectations for the Broncos in 2022
The smile has not come off my face. The pleasant buzz continues. Russell Wilson is a Bronco and life is good. But that doesn’t mean life is perfect.
The assumption is with the arrival of Wilson it means a Broncos return to the playoffs. That was my immediate reaction, too. But as time has gone by, I’m having second thoughts.
By my count, 13 of the 16 AFC teams have fanbases who right now expect their team to be in the playoffs. Outside of the Jets, Jags and Texans, every other AFC team can realistically think they’re playoff worthy. Of course, there’s only seven playoff spots. So a lot of lofty expectations are going to be dashed.
I’ve been a football fan my whole life and have been covering the NFL for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen a division and conference as loaded top to bottom as we’re getting ready for in the AFC West and the AFC in general.
So why are the Broncos not a lead pipe lock for the playoffs? Why should we have some doubts?
Let’s start with all this newness. New head coach. New coaching staff. A head coach and staff that are all mostly doing something they’ve never done before at the levels they’re at.
The NFL doesn’t make it easy for new situations. Really, the players are to blame. Less practices. Less practice time. Less hitting. A pathological obsession with not playing starters in preseason games to avoid injuries. It all adds up to making it difficult for a team like the Broncos to hit the ground running.
Then, there’s the Wilson/Hackett dynamic. I am confident these two will get on the same page eventually. But, Hackett is doing this for the first time. He has ideas of what he wants to do on offense, but now he’s got a force of nature in working with Wilson. Wilson is going to get the kind of involvement in the offense he’s been craving and what led to him wanting out of Seattle. Hackett is openly enthusiastic to this working relationship, but it only makes sense it will take some time. Remember, Peyton Manning was given a green light to do what he wanted to do when he got to Denver and he and the offense scuffled for the first few weeks.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Wilson/Hackett dynamic will work, but can it click fast enough in a division and a conference where slow starts may put you in a hole too deep to dig out of? That’s another question.
On defense, I see the same issues. The Broncos have a brand new, first-time coordinator in Ejiro Evero. How quickly does he figure it out and adjust to the speed of the game and the on the fly adjustments that need to be made? How do the new pieces fit? Again, it’s not a question of if everything works out, it’s a matter of how quickly?
There are AFC teams with new quarterbacks and there are AFC teams with new coaches, but how many AFC teams are there with both new coaches and QBs? The Broncos are the only team in the AFC with this kind of “newness.”
It’s not a fatal flaw, but it is a real challenge to be sure. Enough to pump the brakes on automatically making the playoffs.