Denver Broncos 2022 Season Preview and Win Total Prediction

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The Denver Broncos are hoping to end their longest playoff drought in 45 years after trading for quarterback Russell Wilson, a future Hall of Famer. This has been the position that has challenged Denver the most since winning Super Bowl 50 and seeing Peyton Manning retire.  

Manning had the first significant injury of his career to end his time in Indianapolis a decade ago, before joining the Broncos in 2012. He had a very successful four-year run. Now, the Broncos are hoping that lightning can strike twice as Wilson just had his first real injury in 2021 and needed a new setting as things soured with the Seahawks. 

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Many of the top-rated sportsbooks have the Broncos with an over/under of 10 wins, which puts them on par with the Chiefs (10.5) and Chargers (10) in the difficult AFC West. Could Wilson be the third-straight prolific quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his first season with his new team after seeing Tom Brady (Buccaneers) and Matthew Stafford (Rams) do it the last two years? 

One thing we know for certain: the Super Bowl is not being played at Mile High this season so let’s preview the 2022 Denver Broncos and take a peak at the NFL odds for them. 

Notable Changes for 2022 

Out of the 12 teams with an over/under of at least 10 wins this season, Denver is the only one to make the two pivotal changes at head coach and quarterback.  

Russell Wilson: Let’s Ride? 

Moving a future Hall of Fame quarterback while he is still in his prime is a rarity, but we are starting to see it more in the NFL. Everyone knows the Broncos have struggled to fill the quarterback position since Peyton Manning retired in 2016.

  • Trevor Siemian
  • Brock Osweiler
  • Paxton Lynch
  • Case Keenum
  • Joe Flacco
  • Drew Lock
  • Teddy Bridgewater

Those are the names that had a shot, but no one could get this team back to the playoffs. 

Better Days Ahead?

That nightmare should be over. Last season was the last straw after the Broncos wasted a good defensive effort by going 0-9 in games where they allowed more than 16 points. With talented, young playmakers on offense, Denver had to make a blockbuster trade to get a quarterback like Wilson. It was rumored in 2020 that the team was going to get Aaron Rodgers, but the younger Wilson – he turns 34 this season – may prove to be a more valuable move in the end. 

Wilson is, technically, coming off the worst season of his career, but it was his first injury in the NFL that threw a wrench in his 2021 performance. An ironman for nearly a full decade, Wilson was hurt in one of the most innocuous ways one could have predicted. In Week 5 against the Rams, Wilson threw a pass on time, but his follow-through led to his finger hitting Aaron Donald, resulting in a broken finger. 

Healing Time

Wilson rushed back from surgery and those first three games back looked like someone who should have taken his time for a team that wasn’t going anywhere. In his last six games, Wilson was closer to normal with:

  • 13 touchdowns
  • 3 interceptions
  • 103.7 passer rating

But the 6-8 record Wilson finished with in 2021, is the first losing season of his career.  

It only took a decade for that to happen to him. Now Wilson joins a tough division, but he is better prepared for that than anyone in the NFL free agency market. 

What to Expect from Wilson in 2022? 

Wilson’s addition to the AFC West makes this one of the best divisions on paper for quarterback play with:

  • Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
  • Justin Herbert (Chargers)
  • Derek Carr (Raiders)

Those teams all have lofty expectations this year, and the Broncos are no exception now that they have Wilson. 

From NFC West to AFC West

But Wilson has seen this before in the NFC West, home to some of the best coaching hires and multiple Super Bowl teams in the last decade. In fact, Wilson is the first quarterback in NFL history to play in a division where every team actively won 13 games in a season.  

He is used to these big-division showdowns, and one of the main reasons to bring Wilson to Denver is to end embarrassing streaks like losing 13 straight games to Kansas City. That one needs to end this year. In his only meeting with the Mahomes-led Chiefs in 2018, Wilson outgunned the young superstar on Sunday Night Football in a 38-31 win. 

Why is a game like that important to highlight? Since 2016, Denver is 1-19 when allowing more than 28 points in a game. You do not win those games with Drew Lock, but you might get one with Wilson on your side. Denver may not even need to win shootouts against Mahomes and Herbert as the defense could still be the best in the AFC West. 

His New Teammates

As for his offensive teammates, Wilson is taking a downgrade at wide receiver after having DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but we’ve seen him elevate those players and others in the past such as Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. The Broncos still have their own impressive duo in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. They just have to stay healthy and on the field. 

Unfortunately, Tim Patrick tore his ACL in practice this week and will miss the season. Patrick was, arguably, the most impressive Denver wideout in 2021, so this is a considerable loss. But it does open the door for KJ Hamler, a second-round pick in 2020, to step up in his third season. 

Wilson should enjoy the duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon in the backfield. The offensive line is not going to get much Pro Bowl attention, but it should at least be adequate. Wilson certainly overcame worse in some of his Seattle seasons.  

The fact is that, due to his playing style, Wilson is going to take his share of sacks this season. His sack rate has been at least 7.0% during his 10 seasons in the NFL. He will escape sacks and make breath-taking plays, but sometimes he will get caught holding the ball too long.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. There may come a time in Denver when he has to start getting rid of the ball faster and limiting the sandlot plays, but 2022 is unlikely to be that year as Wilson can still move. 

What the Broncos Are Getting

The Broncos are getting a leader and a player who lives for having the ball in his hands with the game on the line. It doesn’t always work out, and Wilson has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since the 2014 season. But Wilson’s 27 fourth-quarter comeback wins and 36 game-winning drives are tied with Matt Ryan for the most through a quarterback’s first 10 seasons in NFL history. 

Fangio’s Broncos were 3-15 (.167) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities during his tenure, one of the league’s worst records since 2019. With Wilson at quarterback, enough of those close losses could easily become close wins, turning a 7-10 disappointment into a 10-7 playoff year. 

Infamously, Wilson has never received a single NFL MVP vote in his career, he has had half-season runs that would have won him some hardware if they handed out the award twice a year. After what the Broncos have trotted out at quarterback since 2016, that should be a welcome sight even if Wilson were to finish as the third-best quarterback in the division this year.

Mahomes and Herbert are just that good, but Wilson will be up to the challenge.  

Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett: The Right Hire? 

A big reason to like the Wilson trade in Denver is that he won’t be going from one Grumpy Old Coach (Pete Carroll) to another after the team parted ways with Vic Fangio.

Insert 42-year-old Nathaniel Hackett, who served as Matt LaFleur’s offensive coordinator for Green Bay the last three years, helping Aaron Rodgers reclaim his MVP level the last two seasons. Hackett was also the play caller for the 2017 Jaguars, who got within a drive of the Super Bowl with Blake Bortles at quarterback. 

For once, Wilson will have an offensive-minded head coach in his ear. Hackett’s offense should make good use of Wilson’s mobility and accuracy on the deep ball. The rest of the staff is a bit green.

New offensive coordinator Justin Outten comes from Green Bay too where he served as the tight ends coach. New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was on Sean McVay’s Super Bowl staff where he coached the safeties for four years before moving up to the whole secondary for last year’s title run. 

Coaching Tree

This is very much a coaching staff with roots in the McVay and LaFleur coaching trees, which is what the league is looking for these days. Hackett himself is the son of a former coach as Paul Hackett coached college football with Pittsburgh and USC in addition to successful offensive coordinator stints with the Chiefs (1993-97) and Jets (2001-04).  

Finding an NFL coaching staff that is not filled with nepotism hires would be an insanely difficult task. Denver’s new passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach is Klint Kubiak, the son of former Denver coach Gary Kubiak. Klint replaces Mike Shula, who is the son of former coaching great Don Shula. You see how this works? 

But Hackett and his new staff just feel like a group to be more optimistic about than when the Broncos hired Fangio in 2019. 

The Other Player Moves 

There were more than just two first-round picks and two second-round picks sent to Seattle in the trade for Wilson. The Broncos also gave up backup quarterback Drew Lock, which they should have been ecstatic to do since he is clearly not the guy. But they also gave up defensive end Shelby Harris, who led the team with 6.0 sacks in 2021 as well as starting tight end Noah Fant. 

Both moves are more than replaceable. For one, getting Bradley Chubb back healthy as the team’s top pass rusher is crucial for Denver. Chubb has been injured every other year so far and 2021 limited him to just seven games. He needs to be a star again, especially after the team traded away Von Miller last season. 

As for the tight end position, Fant was never more than just a solid, unspectacular player. Wilson has been comfortable at throwing to anyone Seattle gave him at that position. He never had a Travis Kelce or Darren Waller type at tight end, and the Broncos still have quality wide receivers to feed more as well as Williams out of the backfield.

Besides, Albert Okwuegbunam has already shown some potential for the Broncos, and just in case, they drafted UCLA’s Greg Dulcich in the third round this year. 

Denver’s Draft Picks

Denver’s highest draft pick this year was Oklahoma linebacker Nik Bonitto with the 64th pick. He is small and speedy, so he could get some pass-rushing downs this season. That athleticism could help when dealing with the Mahomes and Herberts of the league. 

On the offensive line, Billy Turner could be the new starting right guard this season. He used to play for Denver in 2016-18 before moving on to start for Hackett’s Packers the last three years. He should know the system well, which is good since he started camp on the PUP list. 

Denver’s other big-money signing was former Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory, who managed to snag a five-year deal worth $70 million after a tumultuous career. Between injuries and off-field issues, Gregory has played just 50 games since being drafted in 2015.

Last year, he made 11 of his 12 career starts and tied his career high with 6.0 sacks. As a smart move, the Broncos set up his contract as one that will be easy to get out of after 2023, if not sooner. Gregory is already starting on a sour note with having to begin camp on the PUP list. But if Gregory ever lives up to his potential, then this could turn out to be a good move for the defense.  

Prediction for the Season

If you were trying to realistically sell the Wilson-era Broncos to the fanbase, you would say it will land somewhere between the success of the Jake Plummer era (2003-06) and the record-setting Peyton Manning era (2012-15). Anything like that certainly beats the malaise of the last six years of Denver football. 

The presence of the Chiefs and Chargers in this division will make it difficult for any of these teams to win more than 10 games this season. They will rough each other up and it is realistic that Denver ends up splitting with all three division rivals. The AFC West also plays the NFC West, a difficult division that Wilson knows well.  

The Broncos should be right around a 10-7 record, good enough to put them in the mix for the division title, and almost certainly enough to make the playoffs with seven teams now qualifying. But since I do not see 11-6 or better, I am going to take the under 10 wins for my NFL picks.  

NFL Pick: Under 10 Season Wins (-110) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.

On the Last Season of “The Broncos”: Clean the House, Then Ride 

There were two times when the 2021 Broncos flirted with relevancy, and both times they immediately went on a four-game losing streak to finish 7-10, last place in the AFC West. 

The first was the 3-0 start when the defense was generating buzz for allowing just 26 points. But while some fans hate to hear this, sometimes a 3-0 start is simply fool’s gold created by a weak schedule. This was one of those times. The Broncos beat up the Jaguars and two New York teams, three of the worst offenses in the league. 

Real Challenges

When they faced the Ravens in Week 4, they were pushed around 23-7. They also fell to the:

  • Steelers
  • Raiders
  • Browns

There was a stunning win in Dallas in Week 9 when the Broncos led 30-0 at one point, but that was one of the biggest outlier games of the season. 

Second Chance

Entering Week 15, the Broncos were 7-6 just like their next opponent, Cincinnati. Hard to believe, right? While the Bengals pulled out a 15-10 win in Denver and went on to play in the Super Bowl, Denver never won another game.

The Broncos lost three division rematches to end the season, including a 13th-straight loss to Kansas City in the finale after a terrible Melvin Gordon fumble was returned for a game-winning touchdown.  

The Good News

On the plus side, safety Justin Simmons continued to show that he is one of the best in the league at his position. The Broncos also should feel very confident about their first two draft picks. First-round corner Patrick Surtain II was targeted often, but he picked off four passes and only allowed 5.7 yards per target in coverage.

Running back Javonte Williams was impressive when given more opportunities, and he could easily clear 1,500 yards from scrimmage in his second season.  

In the end, head coach Vic Fangio was fired, and the Broncos opted out of quarterback roulette by trading for Russell Wilson. A new era of Broncos football is upon us finally, but time will tell if Wilson goes down as one of the all-time great quarterback trades or if it’s just more missed potential.