Denver Broncos 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Matt Youmans: There is a seven-year itch in Denver to end the losing and finally return to the playoffs. It’s easy to explain why the Broncos have been so bad — doomed head-coaching hires and poor quarterback play. After the mess created by former coaches Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett, Denver’s big-spending new owners have turned to Sean Payton to bring credibility and professionalism to the organization and the offense. Payton’s plan is already getting the Broncos, who slipped to 5-12 last season, more respect in the betting market. Is his quarterback in shape for a comeback?
Rewind to last summer, when the hype about Russell Wilson’s arrival created mile-high hopes in Denver. In reality, the veteran quarterback appeared old, out of shape and slow, and the Broncos scored a league-low 16.9 points per game. The franchise traded five draft picks and three players to Seattle in March 2022 for that? And don’t forget the $245 million contract extension. Wilson finished with 16 touchdown passes and was sacked 55 times. Hackett, fired with two games remaining, was worse than Wilson. Payton wants to instill a power-rushing attack to help Wilson, who claims to be in much better physical condition. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey was signed from San Francisco and left tackle Garett Bolles returns from a broken ankle. Payton signed running back Samaje Perine and will be counting on more production from receivers Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, rookie Marvin Mims and an impressive group of tight ends. The potential is there for this offense to be explosive if Wilson does not implode. Payton will probably fix what was broken.
Joseph, 11-21 as Broncos coach in 2017-18, is back as defensive coordinator in what should be a positive move. Denver’s defense declined from third in scoring (18.9 ppg) in 2021 to 13th (21.1 ppg) last year. The secondary features corner Pat Surtain II and free safety Justin Simmons, two of the league’s best in coverage. Zach Allen and D.J. Jones anchor the front, and inside linebacker Josey Jewell is a high-motor run-stopper for a defense with strength in the middle. Denver has had a playoff-quality defense for a few years, and that’s still true.
If Wilson has something left at age 34, Payton will find it. In 15 years with the Saints, Payton’s offenses scored more than 25 points per game 12 times and never averaged fewer than 21 points. Peyton Manning posted a 45-12 regular-season record as a four-year starter for the Broncos, who were 44-70 in the subsequent six years while finishing either third or last in the division six times. Payton has finished below .500 only four times, with 7-9 being his worst record. Denver spent a league-high $140 million in free agency this offseason to boost Payton’s rebuilding plan. A year ago, DraftKings set the Broncos’ season win total at 10, making the Under a relatively easy call. Denver won five games, four of them by one score, and lost all three times in games that went to overtime. It’s tough to bet against Payton so this is a much more difficult call and a lean Under 8.5, with a forecast for an 8-9 finish.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: There are no magic wands when it comes to rescuing football teams or players. New Broncos head coach Sean Payton is viewed as the man who can save Russell Wilson and get him back into cooking gourmet meals. So far this summer, Wilson looks the same as he has the last two years — more line cook than top chef. He is uncomfortable in the pocket, unwilling to climb the ladder and look down the field, and most of all, not as quick or explosive to escape the rushers.
Payton will do everything in his offensive play-calling power to help Wilson with easy throws, but there will be a point when Wilson must excel on his own. If the Broncos offense struggles, which it could, then Wilson won’t be the 17-game starter. What might save Wilson and the Broncos offense is their running game, where they have looked good this summer, averaging over six yards a carry. We know Payton will call runs which will keep his defense off the field.
Are they good enough on defense? They held 10 teams to under 20 points last year, finishing 4-6 in those games. Payton’s play-calling and managing of the game will help, but don’t count on a miracle.
Player to Watch: WR Courtland Sutton
My VSiN colleague Zach Cohen wrote about Sutton’s potential upside long before Jerry Jeudy suffered a hamstring injury on August 24. Now it seems as though Sutton will have to fight with rookie Marvin Mims Jr. for receptions, but Sutton did lead the team in targets last season, even if Jeudy had more yards and more touchdowns. Options are good and Sutton may fit more into a possession receiver role than a big-play threat this year as a big body to get open across the middle in Payton’s offense. Michael Thomas got open a lot for Drew Brees at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds. Why can’t Sutton at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds? - Adam Burke
VSiN NFL Betting Tools:
NFL Odds | NFL Betting Splits | NFL Matchups | Parlay Calculator