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Head coach Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos watches as his players take on the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Is Broncos HC Vance Joseph a legitimate coach of the year candidate?

You may have been laughed out of the room if you suggested a month ago that the Denver Broncos, coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Houston Texans, would:

» Win three games in a row — two against top-tier AFC opponents,

» Have a .500 record at 6-6,

» Be within striking distance of the postseason,

» And have a head coach as a legitimate candidate for NFL Coach of the Year.

With the first three items above coming to fruition, “Stokley and Zach” co-hosts Zach Bye and Brandon Stokley made the case for Vance Joseph being a legitimate coach of the year candidate on Thursday.

“If the Broncos go 10-6 and make the playoffs, Vance Joseph will be right at the top of a very short list for coach of the year,” Bye said.

Coming into the season, Bye said Joseph had the “hottest seat in the league” after general manager John Elway had to sleep on whether or not to dismiss the first-time head coach after his first year.

And after 2-0 start, Joseph and the Broncos lost six of their next seven games as well.

“He was almost fired after his very first season. On several occasions, we expected him to get fired, including midseason this year after losing six of seven games,” Bye said.

Bye also pointed to the litany of injuries Denver has suffered of the past few week, which includes six offensive and one defensive starter.

“If Vance Joseph doubles his win total after John Elway had to sleep on it and you lose 30 percent of your starting lineup and you win out and go to the playoffs, it will probably be Vance Joseph,” Bye said.

Though the only way Joseph wins the award, Stokley said, is if the Broncos win out.

“Obviously, they’re probably going to be favored in these next three games. So, you should be able to get six in a row,” Stokley said. “Can you get that last one, the Chargers at home? They beat them on the road.”

Aside from Los Angeles in the season finale, the Broncos take on three sub-.500 squads in the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns the following week, and the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Eve.

“… You’ve got to give credit to Vance and what he’s been able to do with this football team. All you have to do is think back to three weeks ago,” Stokley said, referring to the last-second loss to the Texans.

At that time, Stokley said the thinking was “they were done,” that it was “only a matter of weeks.”

“They could have fired Vance that week, that bye week. They could have fired him,” Stokley said. “So, it’s pretty impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish here the last three weeks considering where they were after that Texans game and how they lost that game.”

Follow digital content producer Johnny Hart on Twitter: @JohnnyHart7.