The Broncos will have a win streak of at least four games this season
After going through the 2020 schedule, I have the Broncos at 9-7 or 10-6. That should be good enough to make the playoffs, but I just don't see a four-game winning streak. With the way the opponents are stacked, every time there is a stretch of very winnable games, up pops the Chiefs or the Saints or Tom Brady. Their best chance at winning four in a row might be Weeks 14-17 (at Carolina, vs. Buffalo, at LA Chargers, vs. Raiders). I expect Drew Lock and the Broncos offense to be humming by then, and there is no better time to be on a roll. Maybe that Bills matchup will be a postseason preview of things to come?
Denver won't accomplish this until late in the season, but I think it is possible during the final stretch of the year. The Broncos face a rebuilding Panthers team on the road in Week 14, get the Bills at home in Week 15, travel to see the Chargers in Week 16 and finish the regular season at home against the Raiders. Buffalo likely presents the biggest challenge in that four-game stretch, but home-field advantage could be enough to help Denver grab the win. I also suspect the Broncos may need all four of these wins to reach the 10-win mark. A difficult middle stretch of the season could put the Broncos at 6-6 and in need of a late-season run.
The hardest three-game stretch for the Broncos is Weeks 11-13 (vs. Chargers, vs. Saints, at Chiefs)
We will know a lot more about this season's Broncos team after this stretch, which includes two division foes and perhaps the best team in the NFC. This trying trio will challenge the Broncos both physically and mentally.
Mentally – the Broncos will face former friends Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders. Then they will attempt to beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead for the first time since 2015. The fourth-quarter gift from Jamaal Charles seems like a lifetime ago. Plus, this will be Lock's second go-around at trying to beat his hometown team and could redeem last year's snowy performance.
Physically – the Chargers feature one of the best defenses in the NFL. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas are quite possibly the best QB-WR tandem in the league. And the Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champs.
If the Broncos win two of the three, I will buckle up for what could be a busy January in Denver!
I see Phil's point about this middle-of-the-season stretch, but I look at Weeks 3-5 (vs. the Buccaneers, at the Jets, at the Patriots) as a tougher three-game test because of the pressure that goes along with that gauntlet. I think it's entirely possible the Broncos win their first two games of the season against Tennessee and Pittsburgh, but if they lose either one — or *shudder* both — the Broncos will be in desperation mode to avoid last year's 0-4 start. That's why winning two of three against the Bucs, Jets and Patriots is so important — because of the chance a bad performance in that stretch could sink the season. That won't be easy, as the Bucs appear to be loaded on offense, the Broncos have to travel on a short week to New York and New England is always a difficult place to win. That later stretch against the Chargers, Saints and Chiefs is tough, but the Broncos could lose two of three and still be OK in their pursuit for the playoffs. I don't think they can afford to drop two during this earlier three-game slate.
Drew Lock will throw more touchdowns than the opposing quarterback at least ten times this season
There are a lot of layers to a statement like this, so I will do my best to unpack it all.
First of all, I think the Broncos offense will be more explosive this season but will still use the running game a fair amount in the red zone. Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay had eight and seven rushing touchdowns last season, respectively. Also, Pat Shurmur's offenses the last two years in New York scored 31% of their touchdowns on the ground.
Second, it might take some time for the offense to click. Installing Shurmur's offense in virtual meetings over Zoom doesn't concern me, but the lack of on-field time together does. Lock will most likely still be getting his timing down with rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler over the first few weeks of the season.
Third, Lock will be going head-to-head with the likes of Brady, Brees, Mahomes (twice), Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and more. That is stiff competition! Even with a new arsenal, the odds seem low that Lock throws more touchdowns than the opposing quarterback at least ten times.
Let's lean into the Drew Lock hype. This seems possible to me, even if there's no room for error. I mention the slim margin because Lock will see Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes (x2), Matt Ryan and Drew Brees this season. That means he'll have to either outduel one or two of those guys or run the table against the other quarterbacks on the schedule.
But I still think it's doable. He'd have to throw more touchdowns in matchups against Ryan Tannehill, Sam Darnold, Jared Stidham (probably), Tua Tagovailoa (probably), Derek Carr (x2), Tyrod Taylor/Justin Herbert (x2), Teddy Bridgewater and Josh Allen. None of those guys are at a level that would preclude Lock from throwing more touchdowns in a head-to-head matchup. In fact, Allen may be the only player from that group who I would expect to have more touchdown passes than Lock across the full season. Lock's limited 2019 experience shows he's capable of getting this done. He threw more than Deshaun Watson in the Broncos' game vs. the Texans, equaled Philip Rivers, David Blough and Derek Carr and couldn't match Patrick Mahomes. If he improves a bit in Year 2, he should be able to meet the mark.
Will it take consistency on Lock's part to get this done? Sure. But that's what the Broncos are hoping they'll get from their second-year quarterback. And if he can outplay the opposing QBs, Denver's chance of a playoff bid should increase drastically.
The Broncos will be flexed into another "Sunday Night Football" game
The Broncos will be featured in three prime-time games this season, including a Sunday-night showdown with the Chiefs. Not a bad haul for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50. When I look at the schedule, the only other game I could potentially see being flexed to "Sunday Night Football" is the finale against the Raiders. That is a slot reserved for a game with playoff implications, so it is possible the Raiders and Broncos could be fighting for seeding for a final spot. The only other matchups that feature serious national intrigue are against Brady and Brees. The Bucs game cannot be flexed since it will be played Week 3. And the Saints game seems unlikely because the Broncos are scheduled to play on NBC the following week at Kansas City. So unless it's the finale, it won't happen this year, IMHO.
During Weeks 5-16, this would require a Sunday night game to suddenly lose its luster and for the Broncos' matchup to then be the most enticing option on the Sunday afternoon slate. In that case, it could be flexed into prime time. After surveying the Sunday night games, I don't think that's likely. In each matchup, at least one of the two teams would provide a draw — based on either talent or fan base. The only exception could be in Week 12 (Bears at Packers), if the wheels fall off for both teams. The Broncos play in an intriguing matchup that week (vs. Saints), but I would expect FOX to try to hold onto that game. Plus, it seems unlikely the Broncos would play on "Sunday Night Football" in back-to-back weeks. That means the only other chance would be in Week 17, and I think this bears watching. If most of the divisions are sewn up, a Broncos-Raiders matchup with a wild-card spot on the line would be enticing. The odds, though, don't make this particularly likely.