Many of us said prior to the beginning of the season that the Denver Broncos would be a .500 team this season.
After 12 games, they’re a .500 team.
The schedule appears reasonably soft over the final four games. The Broncos are home against Cleveland and the Chargers and at San Francisco and Oakland. But because the injury bug has stung the Broncos, they still will likely finish at or near .500, just as predicted.
Would that be good enough to make Broncos Country happy again?
For the three other Denver major professional sports franchises, merely earning a spot in the playoffs has been the mark of a successful season. Not so for the Broncos. They’ve always been different. For the Broncos, it’s never been about just making the playoffs; it’s been about winning in the playoffs. Super Bowl or bust.
Those standards are a big part of why the region’s sports fans are so obsessed with the Broncos even during the times when the team was scuffling while the baseball, hockey and basketball teams were on the rise.
We’ve expected the other three teams to give us some thrills and then fall off in the face of superior competition. We’ve never expected the Rockies to beat out the Dodgers. We don’t expect the Nuggets to compete for the NBA title. Most of us think the Avalanche’s glory days of Stanley Cup wins are ancient history.
Not so with the Broncos. We continue to expect the Broncos to deliver us parades.
During the two seasons prior to this one, the Broncos have been nowhere near parade caliber. It’s been physically painful for the fan base. Now that the Broncos are showing signs of life after a bad first half of this season, the fan base has been gripped by hope.
Which brings us back to the question: Would just making the playoffs — and getting bounced early — suddenly be enough to make Broncos Country happy? Have things changed that much?
If you’re a fan just hoping the Broncos make the postseason, you do have hope. At 6-6, they trail the Baltimore Ravens by one game, although the Ravens beat the Broncos so it’s effectively a two-game lead. The Broncos are tied with Miami, Indianapolis and Tennessee, although Denver does trail in tie-breakers.
They won their third straight over a bad Cincinnati Bengals squad Sunday, and they do have momentum for the homestretch. An educated guess says they aren’t likely to overtake Baltimore given the tie-breaker situation and the recent play of the surging Ravens.
On the flip side, it’s a stretch to think the suddenly depleted Broncos will win every one of their remaining games.
If you’re a Denver fan who still clings to the notion that the Broncos should be aiming for more than just the final playoff spot, then you’re in a bit of a quandary. Making the playoffs would likely mean head coach Vance Joseph remains. It also means success on draft day is a tougher task.
This Broncos teams is reminiscent of the 2011 team, led by Tim Tebow. They found ways to win games they probably shouldn’t have. They went 8-8 and made the playoffs. They did many unexpected and exciting things, especially at the end of games. They even upset the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. Then reality struck. The New England Patriots dismantled the undermanned Broncos in the next round and Broncos Country was unhappy again.
A repeat of that postseason scenario is quite possible.
If you’re still a Super-Bowl-or-Bust fan, you know that Joseph isn’t a Super Bowl coach and there are other upgrades his team badly needs. These Broncos do not currently pass the eyeball test when you compare them with better teams in the AFC.
If squeezing into this year’s playoffs means no significant changes or upgrades during next off-season, the Broncos could be better off in the long run by not sneaking in.
Listen to Mark Knudson at 12:30 p.m. Mondays with Brady Hull on “The Hull Show” on AM 1310 KFKA Greeley, and 8 a.m. Saturdays on AM 1600 ESPN Denver.