History shows that preseason has mattered for the Broncos
The debate continues amongst everyone as to whether the Broncos should play their starters this weekend in a preseason matchup with the Buffalo Bills. There are arguments to both sides of the preseason debate. Preseason does matter, and the Broncos must figure out how much they want to find out about their team.
Valuable information beyond depth players can be taken from the preseason. The Broncos don’t have to win, but playing the starters can provide Nathaniel Hackett with insight into his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
In 1995, Mike Shanahan had his first preseason game as Broncos head coach. Denver started their preseason by playing the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers in Tokyo. The Broncos were destroyed by the 49ers the previous season, so it was going to be interesting how they stacked up.
The Broncos dominated the 49ers, 24-10. It was just preseason, but everything looked different. A rookie named Terrell Davis made a big tackle late in the game – a play that changed the course of the Broncos franchise forever.
It wasn’t the Broncos won the game; it was how they played that day in Tokyo. It was a sign of things to come. The Broncos starters were not blown off the field by the high-powered 49ers. Within two years of that game, the Broncos were 13-3 and once again one of the best teams in the NFL.
In 2013, the Broncos traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks in preseason. It was a preseason game that had terrible consequences for the Broncos.
The Broncos played their starters. The first-team offense was fine with Peyton Manning throwing a touchdown pass to Wes Welker, but the Broncos offense also turned the ball over twice with Julius Thomas and Ronnie Hillman each fumbling.
For a preseason game, the Seahawks played very physical and the Broncos felt it.
In the end, the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos 40-10. That preseason game gave the Seahawks all the confidence they needed when they blew out the Broncos six months later in Super Bowl 48.
What was worse for the Broncos is that they lost Derek Wolfe and Champ Bailey for the entirety of the 2013 season due to injuries sustained in that game. Bailey would return for the playoffs and Super Bowl, but Wolfe almost lost his career. In addition, starting offensive lineman Louis Vasquez was injured in that game.
The Broncos played their starters, got injured and gave their eventual Super Bowl opponent all the confidence they needed. There were lessons in that preseason game, but the Broncos apparently ignored them because that game was almost identical to the Super Bowl.
Given the injuries, it’s fair to ask if the Broncos should have played their starters that day.
In 2018, the Broncos began the Case Keenum era by playing their first preseason game against the team that didn’t want Keenum, the Vikings. Keenum’s 2018 season ended with a magical playoff moment and a trip to the NFC Championship Game. By 2018, Keenum’s career came back to reality and it started with that first preseason game. Against his former team, Keenum was a stellar 1-for-4 for five yards. In two drives, Keenum’s Broncos did not pick up a first down.
Keenum looked lost in his preseason debut and it carried over to the regular season. He was so forgettable in 2018, the Broncos moved on from him after just one season.
The final score of a preseason game doesn’t matter, but valuable information can be taken from the preseason.
The Rams were confident in their team last season and didn’t feel the need to play their starters. They were proven correct.
If Nathaniel Hackett is sure he knows what to expect from his team, then he should rest the starters. However, if Hackett is unsure of what his team will look like week one at Seattle, the starters should be on the field at some point in the next two weeks.