DENVER — The Broncos' playoff hopes ended in Week 15 against the Chiefs, but Head Coach Vic Fangio's crew will aim to finish the season on the right note.
And to Fangio, that means only one thing.
"Winning," said Fangio on Wednesday when asked what would constitute a strong finish. "Really, that's it. It's all about winning."
If the Broncos can earn two wins, they would secure their best record since the 2016 season and provide plenty of reason for optimism in 2020.
"We are definitely trending forward," Von Miller said Thursday. "In other years, it was just me being optimistic and hoping, but the reality is that we do have a good team — rally around Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton and who knows what types of players we'll [get] in the offseason. We're just one or two players away, one or two plays and one or two games away from being where we need to be."
These are the questions that define whether the Broncos can keep the arrow pointed in the right direction during their Week 16 matchup with the Lions:
HOW DOES LOCK RESPOND?
In his third start, Drew Lock finally faced some adversity. The rookie quarterback completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and led the offense to just three points in a blizzard in Kansas City in Week 15.
Those types of games are likely to happen as part of a young quarterback's development. Now, Lock will prove how he can respond to last week's struggles.
"We had two games that worked," Lock said Wednesday. "We won both of those games and we rolled a little bit on offense. We had a certain defense thrown at us. We saw things that worked a little bit and we saw things that didn't work to where we can come in and play a team like that again and go into it with a little different mindset and know how to attack it. I think it was good for us to see and good for us to feel defeat a little bit. We'll see how we bounce back from it."
Against the Lions' 31st-ranked passing defense, Lock should be able to find some success; he threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans' 28th-ranked passing defense in Week 14.
Perhaps this is the week that Lock avoids throwing an interception after tossing one in each of his first three starts.
"I think it's his nature to be fearless, and that's what you like about him," Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said Thursday. "… Again, it's not too big for him in these situations, which you appreciate about him. I think that's part of the gunslinger mentality. I think if he makes a mistake and if he shows in this league that he can continue to fight back from that, I think that proves you have that mentality. I think as a person, I think he's got the right temperament and it's always finding that balance between being a playmaker and being dynamic in that way, and then playing within the system that you can make people around you better. I think so far he's done a good job of that and we've got to continue to see that the next two weeks."
If Lock replicates his performance against the Texans, the Broncos would be able to live with another interception — and they'd also likely earn another win.
WHAT DOES MILLER HAVE IN STORE FOR A ROOKIE QB?
With two weeks to play, Miller needs a strong finish to record his sixth consecutive season with at least 10 sacks. After dragging Patrick Mahomes down once in Kansas City last weekend, Miller needs three sacks over the season's final two games to reach the mark.
The Broncos' star defender certainly has the potential to reach that mark, even as he continues to battle a knee injury. In Week 4, Miller had a pair of sacks, and he added 1.5 sacks against the Colts in Week 8. During his nine-year career with the Broncos, Miller has recorded at least 1.5 sacks in 24 different regular-season games. Miller, of course, also had back-to-back games with 2.5 sacks during the team's 2015 playoff run.
Against rookie quarterback David Blough, Miller could record another multi-sack game that puts him in position to reach double digits. The rookie from Purdue has taken nine sacks in his three games as a starter, and the Lions offensive line has given up 38 sacks this year, which ranks 18th in the NFL entering Week 16.
Even if Miller isn't able to get Blough on the ground, he can still impact the rookie's ability to throw the ball. In a Week 14 win over Houston, Miller recorded a pair of quarterback hits on Deshaun Watson and also pressured the Texans' quarterback to throw the ball away on several occasions.
Blough's quarterback rating has dropped each week as a starter, so it's possible Miller could find more success this weekend. If he can force Blough to throw an interception or record some timely sacks, the Broncos should be poised to earn another win.
Perhaps Miller can even pull out his patented strip-sack against Blough. Miller has yet to record a forced fumble this season, which would mark the first year in this career that he'd gone without at least one.
Miller constantly talks about his ability to make game-changing plays. Can he make one against the Lions?
HOW DO THE BRONCOS' PRO BOWL SNUBS RESPOND?
Wide receiver Courtland Sutton and safety Justin Simmons seemed like prime candidates to make their first Pro Bowl. When the rosters came out this week, though, Sutton was named an alternate and Simmons was left off the list in its entirety.
During his weekly media availability, Sutton didn't have much to say about the snub.
"It is what it is," Sutton said to repeated questions about the Pro Bowl.
Will his play do more talking on Sunday? Sutton already has a pair of two-touchdown games this season, and there's little doubt another one would help prove he deserves to be recognized as one of the league's best.
Similarly, if Simmons is able to add another interception to his season total, he'd send a message to the Pro Bowl voters.
More importantly, if either of the two Broncos stars have big games, Denver should find itself in good position to beat Detroit.
There's nothing wrong with a little added motivation. Will the Pro Bowl snubs provide it?