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Mile High Morning: AFC playoffs illustrate top challenges for Denver's next head coach

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The Lead

As the postseason continues for a handful of NFL teams, the Broncos are continuing their search for a new head coach. After missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, Denver is looking for a new leader who can return the Broncos to be contenders in a competitive AFC.

Regardless of who takes the reins, the opening holds an immense opportunity because of the roster and an equally immense challenge because of the competition, as The Athletic's Nick Kosmider writes.

"[T]here's another question to ask about the job, its importance crystallized by the results of these thrilling NFL playoffs," Kosmider wrote. "Could the most attractive opening also be the most challenging job?

In the AFC West and the conference as a whole, the Broncos must contend with some of the top quarterbacks in the league. Sunday's incredible duel between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen appears to show exactly what the Broncos (and other AFC teams) must overcome to reach the ultimate goal, and finding a quarterback who can trade blows with them is obviously key.

"Finding a long-term answer at quarterback is the mission for any NFL franchise," Kosmider wrote. "But it's an especially critical mission when you play in a division loaded with opposing talent at the position."

That includes Los Angeles' Justin Herbert and Las Vegas' Derek Carr in the division, but it also extends further with the likes of Joe Burrow in Cincinnati and Lamar Jackson in Baltimore as the Broncos hope to return to postseason contention with those kinds of teams.

"While the stranglehold Kansas City has on the AFC West has removed one portal of entry to the playoffs for the Broncos the past six seasons, the wild-card path is only getting more treacherous," Kosmider wrote. "Herbert was a drive away from making the playoffs as a second-year starter and Carr figures to keep the Raiders in the hunt as long as he's the quarterback there. The Bengals and Ravens appear poised to battle for the AFC North for the foreseeable future behind Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson. The Colts and Titans have created consistent, winning programs even without elite talent at quarterback."

While the Broncos face some tough questions at QB and in their division moving forward, they also have one of the most complete rosters of the available head coaching vacancies, along with plenty of cap space and a hefty amount of draft capital. The vacancy in Denver is one of the best opportunities available for a new head coach, but whoever lands the job will have a big obstacle to overcome as they look to return the Broncos to the postseason.

Below the Fold

As the Saints join the eight other teams looking for a new head coach following Sean Payton's decision to step down, CBS Sports has ranked Denver's head-coaching vacancy as one of the best available.

The Broncos earned the No. 2 spot on the list, with CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani and Bryan DeArdo citing a roster of talented young playmakers as the primary draw.

"The Broncos have an incredibly talented roster," Dajani and DeArdo wrote. "All they are missing is a quarterback."

Denver has stacked playmakers on defense, and locked up many of their offensive weapons for the future.

"Denver has a young and talented wide receiving corps, a young offensive line, a formidable defensive front when the linebacking corps is healthy and a future NFL star cornerback in Patrick Surtain II to go along with safety Justin Simmons," Dajani and DeArdo wrote.

Despite playing in the ultra-competitive AFC West and facing a trio of talented QBs twice each season, the Denver job opening still boasts plenty of upside.

"Battling Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert a total of four games a year isn't a fun prospect, but if the Broncos get a franchise quarterback, they should be ready to compete," Dajani and DeArdo wrote.

The Unclassifieds

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