ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos enter the final stretch of the 2023 season, the stakes are clear.
"We're in that last quarter pole, and there are a lot of teams that are kind of sitting where we are," Head Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "This stretch will be important, and it's pretty obvious."
Denver sits at 6-6, just one game back of four 7-5 teams that will jockey for playoff positioning over the final five weeks of the season. And while the Broncos dropped their most recent contest, they're still approaching a Week 14 matchup with the Chargers (5-7) with plenty of confidence.
"We've been 5-1 the last six games," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We can't forget that, too. … We've got five games to go. ... We've got a lot of confidence in this locker room in who we are, what we're going to do and how we can go about it. I believe that's the team we are — the [one from the] last six games — and I think we can even be even better, and that's the best part about it."
Wilson acknowledged the cluster of teams that currently populate the AFC playoff race, and he said it's the Broncos' job to "come [out] on the other side of it."
As the Broncos approach a crucial five-game slate that features a trio of division matchups, Wilson said the nature of the playoffs should influence the Broncos' current mindset and approach.
"When you get to the playoffs, it's always a one-and-done," Wilson said. "Every game should always be that mentality anyway, just that every game matters. I think that's the mentality. You should always have that sense of urgency — a sense of urgency for our fans, a sense of urgency for us as players, this organization. We have that sense of urgency. We've got a lot of great confidence, too. I love the tough moments. I love the adversity. I love the opportunity. … I think challenges and obstacles are just a beautiful time to have great opportunity to overcome it and be successful. We're not going to blink. We're not going to flinch."
Safety Justin Simmons called the upcoming matchup with the Chargers a "huge must-win" for Denver, and he said it shouldn't be a challenge for the Broncos to move past a loss in Houston and fight for another win.
"I think for our group, we don't need to look at it as being difficult to reset," Simmons said. "I think just as easy as it was to go on a five-game streak, you need to be able to have that same confidence moving forward, week in and week out. It's the NFL. You're not going to win them all. You're going to lose close games. The fact of the matter is, … as poorly as we played at times, we were eight yards away from winning that football game and sitting here talking about another win. Football's a game of inches, and those four or five plays that I talk about [that] win or lose you the game, we just didn't find ways to make those plays. But we should be confident."
The Chargers are the latest in a string of talented teams the Broncos have faced this season, and tackle Mike McGlinchey said Denver must "answer the bell with a mindset to win."
Ultimately, though, the Broncos' end-of-season playoff push must begin with one game — and it's counterproductive to look too far ahead.
"I've said this for the last couple weeks now: It's not about projecting five weeks into the future," McGlinchey said. "Our focus is solely on the Los Angeles Chargers and how to beat these guys. We know that [at] the end of this thing, if we control what we can control and take care of our business the way that we need to, it'll all shake out OK."
ON THE ROAD
Broncos fans turned out in large numbers in Houston, and they could play a role again on Sunday in Los Angeles. Denver's faithful have consistently shown up for Denver's road matchups with the Chargers, and Payton expressed his appreciation on Wednesday for the support.
"It's nice when you travel like we do," Payton said. "That's something. Even last week in Houston. When we have gone on the road this year, you've always felt a strong presence with our fan base. It'll certainly matter again on Sunday. It's nice to have."
A VOTING UPDATE
Fan voting for the Pro Bowl Games began on Nov. 27, and several Broncos are among the top vote getters through Dec. 5.
The following players are among the top 10 vote getters at their respective positions: safety Justin Simmons (third-most votes), kicker Wil Lutz (eighth-most), fullback Mike Burton (eight-most), return specialist Marvin Mims Jr. (ninth-most) and center Lloyd Cushenberry III (10th-most).
Social voting begins Dec. 11 and runs through Dec. 25. During that time, fans can post on X (formerly known as Twitter) with the first and last name of the player, the player's handle or a hashtag with the player's first and last name. The post must also include #ProBowlVote.
Ballot voting also continues through Dec. 25, and fans may vote as often as they'd like.
The fan vote will be combined with the votes from NFL players and coaches to select the Pro Bowl Games rosters.