The Denver Broncos are in an interesting position in the AFC West Division entering the 2021 season. A team on the rise, Denver has a solid defense and an offense with several talented, capable playmakers. However, with a major question mark at the quarterback position, it’s nearly as likely the Broncos go 11-6 as they could 6-11.
Beyond that, the talk in recent weeks has been whether the Broncos would swing a trade for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. As Denver seems to be a quarterback away from a deep postseason run, trading for the 2020 NFL MVP would make a ton of sense. But with Green Bay appearing to have patched things up to resolve a potentially toxic situation, it may be another year or two before the Broncos could swing such a deal.
For now, third-year vet Drew Lock will remain at the helm of the offense, with Teddy Bridgewater ready and able to jump in if things look shaky to begin the campaign. In a tough division with the Kansas City Chiefs and a pair of rebuilding clubs in the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers, Denver will need steady offensive production if they hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Here, we’ll take a look at the way the Broncos finished last season, recap the offseason, and focus on what’s ahead for Denver in the 2021 NFL season.
2020 Results and Recap
The Broncos finished the 2020 season with a 5-11 record, but that loss total doesn’t tell the full story. Seven of those losses came against teams that made the playoffs last year, showing promise despite the unfortunate outcomes.
Injuries came early and often, and in total, 28 Broncos missed at least one game. Elite pass-rusher Von Miller dislocated a tendon in his ankle and missed the entire season. Lock was hurt and missed two weeks with a bruised shoulder, pressing Jeff Driskel into service. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton tore his ACL in Week 2, ending his season. Phillip Lindsay, A.J. Bouye, and a slew of other starters missed time and well.
Still, the Broncos tried to make the best of it. The up-and-down roller coaster ride was a symphony of agony and ecstasy, with a walk-off win against the Chargers in Week 8 and a late collapse against the Raiders in Week 17, ending the season on a sour note.
Rookie Jerry Jeudy, selected 15th overall in the 2020 Drafted, represented a microcosm of the Broncos’ year. In Week 16, Jeudy had five drops in a 19-16 loss against the Chargers. The next week, he bounced back with a 92-yard touchdown reception, leading the team with five catches for 140 yards and a score. He also finished the season as the leader in receiving yards.
The offensive line took big steps forward. Lloyd Cushenberry had a solid season, playing every snap, and left tackle Garret Bowles was named Second-Team All-Pro.
With the odd season behind them, Denver will head into the 2021 season healthy and focused on a playoff return.
Conference and Divisional Outlook
At the risk of sounding cliché, Denver’s success or failure in 2021 will fall largely on Lock’s shoulders, and it’s time to put up or shut up. Lock has shown flashes of brilliance and a strong arm, but the inconsistencies in his game may be too much for the Broncos moving forward. After all, the Rodgers rumors would hold no water if Denver had full confidence in Lock for the future. He’ll have a shorter leash with Bridgewater behind him, and if things go south, the Broncos could look for a new quarterback in the 2022 draft.
While a division title is likely not in the cards, given the Kansas City Chiefs’ stranglehold on the top of the standings, finishing as a Wild Card team is still an outside possibility, especially if Lock takes a big step forward. The Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers are undergoing on-the-fly rebuilds of their own, and like Denver, there’s a strong degree of unpredictability to their upcoming seasons.
Looking around at the rest of the AFC, every division will provide some serious competition for Wild Card spots, as the AFC is objectively stronger as a whole than the NFC. The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts both finished with 11 wins last season, and both should be tough competitors again this year. In the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns all qualified for the playoffs last year, and the Cincinnati Bengals will be much improved with a healthy Joe Burrow and an excellent draft. The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins will be in the playoff mix as well, and it’s hard to count out Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
The Broncos went heavy on the defensive side in the draft, landing one of the top defensive prospects in cornerback Patrick Surtain II, whose father was one of the top defensive backs in league history. Denver also drafted safeties Caden Sterns (Texas) and Jamar Johnson (Indiana) and LSU cornerback Kary Vincent Jr.
Those rookies join a Broncos secondary with Ronald Darby (recently signed from the Washington Football Team), Kareem Jackson, and Justin Simmons. Denver also added former Chicago Bears All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller in free agency. Entering the season, the Broncos have the top-ranked secondary in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Running back Melvin Gordon has a history of injuries, so the team traded up to grab North Carolina running back Javonte Williams in the second round. While Williams will have to fight for touches early in the season, he could take over the starting job before the end of the season.
Going after former Minnesota Vikings, the Broncos also brought in defensive lineman Shamar Stephen, running back Mike Boone, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, all of whom used to wear the purple. Bridgewater was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers (for a sixth-round pick, which was later traded to the Philadelphia Eagles), while Stephen and Boone were free agents.
Running back Phillip Lindsay left the Broncos to sign with the Houston Texans, where he is expected to compete with David Johnson and Mark Ingram II for touches. While that’s a rather loaded backfield, Johnson and Lindsay are both injury-prone, and Ingram II will be somewhat limited to short-yardage situations as a power back. Lindsay will enter the season as RB2 on the depth chart.
The Broncos released cornerback A.J. Bouye to free up cap space, which they then used for signing Fuller and Darby. Bouye has since landed with the Carolina Panthers, but he will be suspended for the first two games of the upcoming season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy (he has already served four games of the six-game ban). Offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson and linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu signed with the Chicago Bears
Additionally, a pair of former Denver players went to the teams who competed in last February’s Super Bowl. Linebacker Joe Jones signed with the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers while safety Will Parks.
Several other members of the Broncos are still free agents, including cornerback De’Vante Bausby, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, linebacker Anthony Chickillo, tackle Demar Dotson, and defensive lineman Sylvester Williams.
2021 Schedule Breakdown
Based on their 2020 results, the Broncos have the fifth-easiest schedule in the upcoming season. This is particularly interesting given they are in a division with the Chiefs (who have been in back-to-back Super Bowls), the defending offensive rookie of the year (Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert), and the Las Vegas Raiders, who had a top 10 offense in yards and points a year ago.
The Broncos’ divisional schedule is as follows:
- WEEK 6: Sunday, October 17 vs Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 PM Eastern
- WEEK 12: Sunday, November 28 vs Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 PM Eastern
- WEEK 13: Sunday, December 5 at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00 PM Eastern
- WEEK 16: Sunday, December 26 at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 PM Eastern
- WEEK 17: Sunday, January 2 at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 PM Eastern
- WEEK 18: Sunday, January 9 vs Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 PM Eastern
Beyond the divisional games, the Broncos will play at the Cleveland Browns in primetime on Thursday Night Football in Week 7 (October 21 at 8:20 PM Eastern). They do not currently have a Monday Night Football game, though depending on their record, there is a chance for a flex game later in the season.
Denver Broncos Season Betting Breakdown
The Broncos are currently looking at the 15th-best odds overall to win the Super Bowl at +3500, trailing the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Browns, Titans, Colts, and Chargers among AFC teams, and behind the Buccaneers, Packers, 49ers, Rams, Saints, Seahawks, and Cowboys in the NFC. Denver is also tied with the Patriots.
The odds look a bit better in the AFC, where the Broncos are +1600. In that scenario, Denver is tied with the Chargers, Patriots, and Dolphins while trailing the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Browns, Colts, and Titans.
Denver is looking at the third-best odds to win the AFC West. Kansas City is the overwhelming favorite at -250, while the Chargers are +400. The Broncos are +550, and Las Vegas is the longest shot at +2500.
From a win/loss angle, the Broncos’ total is set at 8.5 wins, with the over at -130 and the under at +110. This seems like the best bet of the four to make, given Denver’s easy schedule. With this same logic, they should be in line to finish ahead of the Chargers as well. However, to get past the Chiefs will be a tall order, which makes a division title unlikely.
Sportsbooks offering a bet on whether or not the Broncos will make the playoffs have a line at +110 to make the playoffs and -140 to miss. This again is where Drew Lock will need to make the grade. If Lock plays to the level the Broncos believe he is capable of, they should be ok. If not, there will be more big offensive changes to come in the 2022 offseason.