The Broncos want to get back to the playoffs in a bad way. They have not returned to the postseason since they made a run to Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season.
This team is used to being in the playoff conversation almost every year since John Elway was playing quarterback. The last three seasons have been out of the ordinary for this team, but there might be hope for the future.
The Bills have not won a playoff game since 1995. They are a team that is not used to being in the playoff conversation and have not had great success since Jim Kelly was their quarterback.
However, Buffalo moved up in the 2018 NFL Draft to get a franchise quarterback, and have built a strong defense and a strong rushing attack to help them get back to the playoffs. The Bills won 10 games this year (including one against Denver) and made the Wild Card Round of the playoffs as the second-place team in the AFC East.
Are the Broncos following the Bills plan? Let’s take a look.
Sean McDermott and Vic Fangio were both former defensive coordinators when they got their chance to be head coaches in the NFL. From 2009-16, McDermott was a defensive coordinator for the Eagles and Panthers before getting his opportunity with the Bills in 2017. Fangio was a long-time defensive coordinator before finally getting a shot to be a head coach with the Broncos in 2019.
In a league that is filled with offensive coordinators getting head coaching positions, these two teams went in a different direction. They both went against the trend and hired defensive-minded coaches. That’s a bold move, but one that could perhaps pay off as playoff football is all about heightened defense and running the ball.
So, what’s the main difference between the two? The easy answer would be age, with McDermott at 45 and Fangio at 61, but I’m not talking about that. The main difference is one is in love with his quarterback and one is not.
My sources with the Bills tell me quite a bit about McDermott behind the scenes. First, the guy took over immediately and showed a more dedicated and professional attitude than former Bills coach Rex Ryan. Second, McDermott was “all in” on the team drafting Josh Allen. During the last two seasons, the Bills head coach has gone out of his way to find ways to make Allen more comfortable and to get the most out of his skill set.
Compare and contrast that to Denver where Fangio has been slow to warm up to anybody, but especially rookie quarterback Drew Lock. While Fangio “is not going to put him in the Hall of Fame” after just five starts (nor should he), it would be nice if he showed a little more excitement about Lock.
If Fangio wants his head coaching career to have great success, it will likely be with Lock running the show. McDermott understands that notion and knows he’s tied to Allen. Fangio likely knows that too but he just seems slow to warm up to the idea.
Josh Allen and Drew Lock are similar prospects, but perhaps one has greater upside. Allen was a first-round pick for the Bills in the 2018 NFL Draft, and they had to move up to get him with the No. 7 overall pick. Coming out of Wyoming, Allen wowed NFL scouts with his rocket arm and rare athleticism for a 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback. In college, Allen was not an accurate passer and showed mechanical flaws that still need to be cleaned up.
Lock was slated to be a first-round pick, but he fell to the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, where the Broncos scooped him up with the No. 42 overall pick. He was a four-year starter in college and threw about 900 more passes at the FBS level than Allen did in only two years of starting. Coming out of Missouri, Lock wowed NFL scouts with his rocket arm and athletic arrogance – showing he had plenty of “moxie” for the position. Lock was much more accurate than Allen in college, but he ran a different system that didn’t take as many deep shots. Like Allen, Lock had mechanical flaws as a passer that still need to be corrected.
Both have strong arms but having scouted both on field level during the Reese’s Senior Bowl, I can tell you with great certainty that Allen has the stronger arm. In fact, Allen’s arm strength is elite and very rare in the NFL. Lock’s arm strength is very good, but not quite the same as Allen. At the Scouting Combine, Allen threw at 62 miles per hour while Lock threw at 54 miles per hour.
As a rusher, Allen is the better athlete. In his rookie season, Allen broke the Bills record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback with 631 yards amassed on the ground. Lock is an athlete and can keep plays alive with his feet, but I don’t see him having the same success as a runner. Allen is bigger, faster and more explosive as a ball-carrier.
Lock does grade higher than Allen when it comes to accuracy as a passer and this is where I think he could have more upside in the long run. Scrambling quarterbacks are great, but eventually Allen will need to be better from the pocket as a passer. Lock is already better than Allen as a passer, but both still have plenty of work to do.
It’s worth noting that both quarterbacks struggle with footwork and have a tendency to throw off their back foot when under pressure. Lock’s passes can be wild at times, but he does a better job with pass placement on short-to-intermediate throws than Allen does. These quarterbacks are similar, but Lock’s accuracy as a passer could help his NFL future greater than Allen’s elite arm strength and athleticism.
The Bills are in the playoff hunt because of their young quarterback, but also because of their defense. In 2019, the Bills had the No. 3 defense in terms of yards allowed per game (298.3), while the Broncos (337.0) ranked No. 12 in the league. The Bills were better at both rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game last season, and they featured a balanced defense with playmakers at all three levels.
The front seven for the Bills is better than the Broncos – especially at the middle linebacker position. The Bills have a super-freak athlete and playmaker in second-year pro Tremaine Edmunds. He’s a rare athlete who plays with explosiveness and power that few in the league can match.
The Broncos have better outside linebackers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb but that’s it up front. The Bills defensive line, especially in the middle with guys like defensive tackle Ed Oliver, is much stronger and much more dangerous.
The secondary for the Bills features one of the best young cornerbacks in the league in Tre’Davious White. A first-round pick out of LSU in the 2017 NFL Draft, White is strong, fast and plays a physical style on the outside. Last year, Chris Harris Jr. didn’t have the season that we are used to, but he’s still one of the top corners in the league.
The Broncos do have an edge over the Bills defensively when it comes to the safety position. Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons form arguably the best duo at the position in the NFL. The Bills meanwhile get by with guys like Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Both teams have to keep key free agents and make good decisions when adding talent in the draft. However, the Bills tend to be ahead of the Broncos when it comes to overall talent on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Bills have already made the postseason with McDermott and Allen, the Broncos are hoping to get there in 2020. Quite frankly (and obviously), the Bills are ahead of the Broncos in terms of team development.
The Broncos could have the better passer in the end and they have a tradition of winning and being playoff contenders, while Buffalo is trying to engrain that in their franchise.
In 2018, Allen’s rookie season, the Bills finished the year with a 6-10 record. In 2019, Lock’s rookie season, the Broncos finished with a 7-9 record – but they went 4-1 with Lock as the starter. The Bills finished the 2019 season with a 10-6 record and the Broncos are hoping to get to 10-plus wins in 2020.
As you can see, these two teams have quite a few similarities in structures and goals. The Bills are ahead of the Broncos right now, but with another good draft and good decisions in free agency, the Broncos could quickly make up that ground.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams in the 2020 playoffs – the Bills as AFC East champions and the Broncos as the No. 2 seed in the AFC West. No matter what happens, at this time the future seems bright for both teams.
- Champ Bailey talks infamous pick play, recent civil unrest
- One-On-One: DMac has day of reckoning with English teacher
- Broncos fantasy football outlook 2020: Running back Phillip Lindsay
- Timeline 25: Remembering the Broncos wideout who couldn't catch the ball
- Former Broncos running back Clinton Portis thrived under pressure
- Are the Broncos focused on loyalty over productivity with Von Miller?