2018 projected win total (per bovada): 7
2017 record ATS: 4-11-1
Optimist view: The window of their Super Bowl-winning 'D' remains open, even following the trade of Aqib Talib. Bradley Roby is ready for full-time CB duty, and a motivated Shane Ray-Shaq Barrett battery has the juice to weather Bradley Chubb's likely growing pains and supplement Von Miller in what should be the NFL's deepest edge stable.
In Case Keenum and Royce Freeman, John Elway might have found the backfield boost needed to ease his star-laden defense's burden. Arguably no team outside of Minnesota was more familiar with Keenum than the Broncos, whose staff includes former Keenum coaches, Vance Joseph and Gary Kubiak, to name a few.
They'll have to prove it, but Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders get a chance with Keenum to show they're not in decline after two tough seasons following Peyton Manning's retirement. They're joined by sky-walking second-round WR Courtland Sutton and a trio of intriguing former Big Ten tight ends, led by Jake Butt coming off a redshirt rookie season.
Perhaps no group, though, is more integral to a possible revival on offense than a line bolstered by new RT Jared Veldheer and returning Matt Paradis, Garett Bolles and Ronald Leary. This is as promising of a group as Denver has had since Evan Mathis arrived as the duct tape for a front wall that wasn't great but good enough en route to a Lombardi.
Pessimist view: Joseph barely survived his rookie coaching season, in which Denver dropped 10 of its final 12 games, and he enters 2018 on shaky ground. Keenum surely was delighted to see Denver pass on drafting a quarterback, but there are still two higher-pedigreed passers behind him on the depth chart, and his contract structure suggests that he's still in prove-it mode this season.
Freeman arrives from Oregon with a ton of mileage and some pressure to ensure the run game's arrow remains pointing up after C.J. Anderson's sneaky-solid season wasn't good enough to secure his post. Devontae Booker and De'Angelo Henderson remain largely unproven commodities, like Denver's collective O-line until further notice.
Is the "No Fly Zone" still impenetrable? Denver was susceptible to big plays through the air a year ago (53 completions surrendered of 20-plus yards) and must establish roles for a new CB3, Tramaine Brock or rookie Isaac Yiadom, and sub-safety, trade acquisition Su'a Cravens.
On schedule: In the first five weeks, they'll see three new offenses — Seattle, Oakland and the Jets — and one new quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. The only exception is the Ravens, so the stage is set for Denver to dominate early defensively. With all the changes to the Seahawks', Raiders' and Chiefs' defenses, Keenum and a new Broncos offense getting them early also is preferable.
In the final five weeks, Denver hits the road three times, including non-division trips to Cincinnati and San Francisco — teams with improved outlooks. In between, a Week 10 bye flanks a visit from Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Co. and a trip to the Chargers and home tilt with Pittsburgh — this could be the make-or-break portion of Denver's slate.
I watched a lot of Keenum's Vikings snaps, and with all due respect, his success was largely dependent on ascending skill-position playmakers, sensational defense and coaching around him. But I only readily see one of those elements in Denver — a great 'D.'
This looks like a 7-9 club, and though the odds of it going over are more enticing (-155 vs. +125), Denver's and the division's vast moving parts, like Mahomes' learning curve, Jon Gruden's return from a long layoff and seemingly only the Chargers standing in the Chargers' way, provide sufficient reasons to lean under.
Previous projected win total breakdowns