MERILATT MONDAY

Why can’t the Broncos go on a playoff run after the bye week?

Nov 7, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:53 am
Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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The bye week came at a perfect time for the Broncos. It fell after eight games, as close to the midway point of a 17-game season as possible. It arrived after a trip to London, giving the team the chance to recuperate from two nine-hour flights. And it occurred after a win, allowing Denver to enjoy their time off instead of lamenting a loss.

Those are the easy reasons to spot. The reality, however, is that the bye week provided the perfect time for reflection. It allowed the Broncos to recharge, regroup and reset.

Hopefully, that involves some self-evaluation. Clearly, Denver needs to improve a lot of their operation. They’re the most-penalized team in the NFL. They have one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the league. Clearly, they need to tweak their plan.

That’s hard to do in the midst of a season, especially one that has featured as many weird weeks as the Broncos had in through the first eight weeks. They had short weeks after Monday night and Thursday night games, plus the travel associated with the trip to London. There wasn’t a ton of time to make changes on the fly.

But the bye week is the perfect opportunity to make those adjustments. The break provides the breathing room needed to figure out what needs to be fixed, as well as put a plan in place to correct those problems.

If the Broncos don’t make any changes, if they remain “status quo” as has been the norm under Nathaniel Hackett, it’ll be a golden opportunity missed. Not only will they have squandered the bye, but they’ll have punted on the remainder of the season.

Denver sits at 3-5, a disappointing record through eight games. But things aren’t as bad as they seem.

There is no such thing as a moral victory, but evaluating how the losses came to be does provide a reality check. It offers a road map for how to turn losses into wins.

The Broncos aren’t giving up 50 points every week and getting blown out. Quite the contrary. Through their first eight games, the team is consistently playing in one-score games. They’re repeatedly involved in contests that come down to a play or two.

The opening night loss in Seattle? That was two fumbles at the goal line, something that hasn’t happened since 1987 in the NFL, and a 64-yard field goal that barely missed.

The defeat in Las Vegas? The Broncos were about to take control of that game before Melvin Gordon put the ball on the ground and gave the Raiders a scoop-and-score touchdown that swung the momentum.

The inexplicable loss to Indianapolis? Five drives into field goal range in the second half netted a grand total of three points, in a game that Denver lost by three in overtime.

A second-straight overtime defeat, this time in Los Angeles? The Chargers won without getting a first down in the extra period after Montrell Washington muffed a punt.

And the loss to New York? That was a seven-point setback to a pretty darn good Jets team with Brett Rypien at quarterback.

In other words, the Broncos could easily be 4-4, 5-3 or 6-2. They’re playing coin-flip games, but have had it land wrong more often than not.

Over the course of 17 games, playing that brand of football should yield an 8-9 or 9-8 record. That would mean the Broncos going 5-4 or 6-3 after the bye.

Is that possible? Well, a weekend of watching the rest of the league provides a simple answer: Why not?

It’s a league where anything can happen on any given Sunday. The Jets beat the Bills. The Lions beat the Packers. It’s craziness. Every week.

Thus, there’s not a game on the Broncos schedule that is impossible for them to win. Not one.

The Titans are a one-trick pony, even with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The Raiders are circling the drain. And the Panthers have already punted on this season.

The Cardinals aren’t very good. The Rams have a major Super Bowl hangover. And the Chargers don’t scare anyone.

That’s six very winnable games right there. The Broncos also play the Chiefs twice and at the Ravens. If they can steal one of those games, getting above .500 is very realistic.

And if Denver can get to that point, there’s no reason that they can’t earn a playoff berth. Currently, there are nine teams with winning records in the AFC. In order to earn a wild card spot, the Broncos would need to track down the Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, Bengals and Chargers; those are the five non-division-leading teams currently in their path. Those teams will have their own share of struggles down the stretch.

Is it likely? Well, that’s debatable. But the answer will become clear really quickly.

If the Broncos can find a way to beat the Titans on Sunday, they’re right back in the mix. If they lose and fall to 3-6, they’re probably in too big of a hole.

Thus, the Tennessee game is the tipping point of the season. It’s the game that everything hinges on.

Which brings everything back to the bye week. Did the Broncos make the necessary adjustments to correct the things that have plagued them through their first eight games?

If so, they can salvage their season. If not, they’re likely toast and Hackett will be a one-and-done head coach.

As the Broncos get back to work, here’s hoping they put their time off to good use.

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