Youmans: Wilson bounce-back year would put Broncos in hunt

July 27, 2022 11:52 PM

A quarterback who’s looking to bounce back from arguably the worst season of his long career is expected to be the savior for his new, success-starved team. In most cases, that description of the situation would be a tough sell, but not when the quarterback is Russell Wilson.

It also helps that the Broncos are built to win yet have been missing the most important piece to the puzzle.

“I’ve been liking the Broncos for three years, but they haven’t had a quarterback,” said Michael Lombardi, VSiN analyst and former NFL general manager.

Denver, which finished 7-10 and last in the AFC West last season, also made another significant change.

“The Broncos really addressed their two biggest needs and that was quarterback and head coach,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “Everywhere else they are a pretty solid team.”

It’s easy to predict the new-look Broncos, coached by Nathaniel Hackett and energized by Wilson’s arrival, will be hyped by the media and supported by the betting public. It would be corny to proclaim there are Mile High expectations, but it’s true, and much of that is due to Wilson being the long-awaited sequel to Peyton Manning.

Denver has endured six seasons of misery since Manning retired following a Super Bowl win in the 2015 season. The post-Manning era has produced 11 different starting quarterbacks, 6.5 wins per year, two failed coaches and zero playoff appearances.

Manning compiled a 45-12 regular-season record in four years with the Broncos, who are 39-58 in the subsequent six years while finishing either third or last in the division five times. Denver has had a few elite defenses and good draft classes in the meantime, but a quarterback carousel brought the team down.

Clumsy coaching was to blame, too. After two hopeless years under Vance Joseph, the Broncos’ head-coaching search targeted Vic Fangio, a career defensive coordinator who proved clueless about critical game-management decisions. Fangio and his offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, became a clown show.

“You should not lose games because of your coach,” said Micah Roberts, a professional handicapper and former Las Vegas bookmaker. “Now there’s a new coach, Wilson has a new system and it’s exciting. I think the Broncos possibly win the division.”

The Broncos hit the reset button in March and traded five draft picks (two first-rounders) and three players to the Seahawks for Wilson, who beat Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. Now, after sulking his way out of Seattle, Wilson immediately turns Denver into a title contender.

DraftKings has posted the Broncos at 16-1 odds to win the Super Bowl — behind only six other teams — and set their season win total at 10.

It’s important to note Denver is the third choice to win its division, which is the NFL’s toughest top to bottom. DraftKings favors the Chiefs (+ 175) ahead of the Chargers (+ 220), Broncos (+ 260) and Raiders (+ 650). The projected last-place team, Las Vegas, is off a 10-win season and made significant offseason improvements.

Wilson is a good bet to be the answer in Denver, yet he also comes with concerns. At 33, some doubt if he’s still the dynamic playmaker he was for 10 years in Seattle. He missed three games with a serious finger injury on his throwing hand last season, when the Seahawks went 6-8 in his starts, the first time in his career he won fewer than nine games.

“There’s a lot of skepticism,” Kornegay said. “I know some people who are not 100 percent in on what Wilson is going to be able to do this year. Is he just not at the level that he was?”

The Seahawks’ problems on the offensive line had something to do with Wilson’s decline. A dangerous runner throughout his career, Wilson totaled a career-low 183 rushing yards.

“He’s got to play better,” Lombardi said. “He can’t play like that. He’s got to move better because if he doesn’t move, he can’t see. He was so (bad) last year, I think he has to play better. The Broncos were so poorly coached offensively, and I can’t believe they can’t be better.”

In Denver, Wilson steps in behind a stronger offensive line with two quality tight ends. He also inherits four wide receivers (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler) and two running backs (Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III) with big-time ability.

“The Broncos have weapons all across the board,” Kornegay said. “All the weapons are there to be one of the better offensive teams in the league.”

There also will be questions about Hackett until he proves otherwise. Hackett spent the past three years as the Packers’ offensive coordinator, but it was coach Matt LaFleur who called the plays when Aaron Rodgers won two MVP awards. Hackett will call plays for the Broncos.

“Aaron Rodgers can make any offensive coach look good,” Kornegay said.

Circa Sports is offering better odds than DraftKings on the Broncos to win the AFC West (+ 320) and Super Bowl (22-1), but oddsmaker Chris Bennett said Circa has seen “very little interest” in Denver futures.

“We took a sharp bet Under 10 (wins) about a week ago, and that’s the only notable bet since the Wilson trade,” Bennett said.

Circa took a sharp bet, Bennett said, on the Broncos -4 in their Week 1 game at Seattle, moving the line to -5. It’s a homecoming game for Wilson on “Monday Night Football.”

At the Westgate, where Wilson is posted at 12-1 odds to win league MVP, Denver is favored in four of its first five games — the Broncos are in a pick’em spot at Las Vegas in Week 4.

Kornegay said his book took a play from a “sharp group” on Denver to miss the playoffs at + 140, but Kornegay said there has been and will be plenty of public money backing the Broncos.

“Wilson could be good but not great and get them to 10 wins,” Kornegay said. “I think the Broncos will land right on 10, but I would bet Under before I would bet Over.”

Manning went to two Super Bowls with the Broncos, who finally won a title in his fourth and final year. Wilson finally puts them back in contention.

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