Not a single person at The Fan picked the Broncos to beat the Patriots on Sunday. No one was an outlier. No one went against the grain. No one was a homer.
So Denver’s 18-12 victory at New England should be trumpeted as a major upset. It was an unexpected win, a victory that few saw coming.
That celebration, however, can come in two forms. The optimistic viewpoint would suggest that beating Bill Belichick and Company in Foxborough is a sign that the Broncos have turned the corner; that type of win shows that a team is on the right track. The pessimistic stance would argue that the Patriots are a 2-3 team and aren’t the same without Tom Brady; beating them doesn’t mean that Denver is suddenly a contender in the AFC.
Which side is right? Well, they both have a point.
The Broncos have lost three games this season, but the teams that have beaten them are among the best in the NFL. The Titans and Steelers are both undefeated, while the Buccaneers are 4-2, fresh off a win over the previously unbeaten Packers. Collectively, those three teams are 14-2 this season, yet Denver was able to take two of them to the brink.
Vic Fangio’s team was a play or two away from beating Tennessee in the opener, as they lost in the final seconds 16-14. And the next week, despite losing Drew Lock early in the game to a shoulder injury, the Broncos were driving for the winning score before a Jeff Driskel-led drive stalled at the 15-yard line in a 26-21 loss.
That’s how close Denver is to being 4-1. They’re on the brink of being one of the best teams in the NFL. At least that’s the argument from the positive perspective.
On the other side of the coin, a case can be made that the Broncos haven’t really accomplished anything this season. Their wins aren’t exactly worthy of being saved in a time capsule.
Denver’s first W came 18 days ago at New York, as they beat the Jets on “Thursday Night Football.” As was apparent yesterday in a blowout loss in Miami, Adam Gase’s team is the worst in the NFL; they’re downright awful.
Yet the Broncos were trailing the Jets in the fourth quarter. If not for multiple personal fouls against New York’s defense, including one that kept the eventual game-winning drive alive, Denver probably loses that game.
Right now, the Patriots are almost as big of a mess. In addition to dealing with the transition from Brady to Cam Newton, a weird change after 20 years with No. 12 behind center in New England, Belichick’s team has also been dealing with all sorts of COVID-related problems.
It showed on Sunday, as the Patriots played sloppy football. They looked like a team that hadn’t practiced much the past couple of weeks. They played like a club that had bounced from one quarterback to another, as Newton was clearly rusty having not played in three weeks.
Nonetheless, New England had the ball in the final two minutes of the game with a chance to win. Despite being dominated for most of the day, the Pats were in it until the bitter end.
Both of these viewpoints are right. The teams that have beaten the Broncos are all very good, but Denver hung in there with two of them. And the wins that Fangio’s squad has posted have been against teams that are reeling, with neither victory being particularly convincing.
So what are the Broncos right now? No one knows for sure.
They aren’t awful, that seems evident. But they also aren’t a playoff-caliber team, at least not yet.
An answer to that question will come on Sunday, however. Denver will host Kansas City, taking on a Chiefs team that will be playing on a short week.
If the Broncos can get a win, then the optimists will be proven correct. Beating the defending Super Bowl champions will send a clear message that Denver is a good team.
If Fangio’s group loses, however, especially if it’s in ugly fashion, the pessimists will get to crow. They’ll be able to say that nothing has changed in the Mile High City.
Is Lock the long-term answer? Is Denver’s defense for real? Are all of the young pieces on offense ready to blossom? Are the Broncos veterans prepared to show the way?
A lot will be learned in six days. When the Chiefs come to town, answers will be provided.
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