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Sacco Sez: As the NFL enters the 17-game era, worth reflecting on Broncos' success in the 16-game era

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One of the things that really irritates me is the general statement that the Denver Broncos have not had a superior history.

Of course, this is a low ebb in that history: four straight losing seasons for the first time in nearly five decades. And most fans only look at the immediate moment.

What happened several years ago is often forgotten as soon as what we had for breakfast. But that does not mean the stats are not there.

Most fans realize that the NFL is going to a 17-game schedule this year, which means there will never again be one of 16 games. But once upon a time, there was a 12-game slate, then 14 and, as of 1978, all NFL teams played 16 games.

From 1978 through 2020, the era of the 16-game schedule in the NFL, the Broncos had the third-best record in pro football. During that 43-year time frame, Denver trailed just the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots in winning percentage. The Steelers won 413 games and had a winning percentage of .609, while the Patriots won 410 games and had a percentage of .603.

The Broncos had a win-loss record of 394-285-1 and a winning percentage of .580.

Only two people were present for every game: Director of Sports Medicine Steve Antonopulos and myself.

Everyone in pro football can testify that it is not easy to win a game in the NFL.

The Broncos averaged 9.2 wins per year in that period. By comparison, the rest of the AFC West had the Kansas City Chiefs with the 12th-best record, the Chargers 18th, and the Raiders were 22nd.

And of course Denver went to seven Super Bowls in that time and is one of just nine franchises to win the ultimate championship game three times.

When one considers the major events of pro football, we take for granted that the games are televised in color. Naturally, how could they not be. But every game was televised in black and white until 1965, when NBC began broadcasting more than half the AFL games in color. So the 1978 season was just 13 years removed from that momentous moment in sports history.

The Detroit Lions, by the way, were dead last in that 43-year period with a record of 268-410-2, good enough (or bad enough) for a percentage of .396.

They had a lot of quarterbacks and a lot of coaches in that time. In the 1950s, the Lions won the NFL title three times. It was then not imaginable to Detroit fans that they could have such decades of misery in the future.

The stats never lie, so the next time you hear someone talk about how miserable they are as Broncos fans, how much they wish the Broncos were as successful as some other NFL team, you can have the knowledge that unless the other team mentioned is Pittsburgh or New England, the Broncos have had a superior record from 1978 until now.

And that record, by the way, is the standard to which the team is once again trying to attain.

Hard to do, but we did it before and made it last 43 years, and Broncos Country should never forget.

Here's hoping the 17-game schedule creates the same moments and memories.

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