8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Broncos -2.5, Over/Under: 40.5
While some teams are still jockeying for a spot in the Playoffs, there are many more that would simply love to get the season over with, which is precisely what we have with tonight’s matchup as the Denver Broncos travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Indianapolis Colts, as these two struggling teams head into the Offseason in search of answers. A new year and a new Coaching Staff hasn’t changed much of anything for the Broncos (4-9, 4th in AFC West), who after renovating their sideline have endured a disaster of a season that has been eerily similar to the one that preceded it, though far worse. Just as they did in 2016, Denver got off to a hot start, winning three out of their first four games before heading into an early Bye Week, only to follow that respite with eight consecutive losses, their worst losing streak since 1967. The problem in Mile High for first-year Head Coach Vance Joseph and his Staff has been the same one that ushered the previous regime out the door, and has only been magnified this season: the Offense, or to be more specific, the Quarterback position. So let’s take a moment to run down the numbers, shall we? Simply put, this unit has been very disappointing, and at times dreadful, averaging 17.6 Points (26th Overall) on 333.2 Total Yards (22nd Overall), including 227.7 Yards via the Pass (25th Overall) on 5.2 Net Yards per Attempt (29th Overall), along with another 105.5 Yards via the Run (19th Overall) on 3.9 Yards per Carry (21st Overall), while consistently coming up short in the Red Zone, where they have scored a Touchdown on a scant 40.0% of their trips to that area of the field (31st Overall). Turnovers have absolutely killed this group, with a whopping Twenty-Seven charged to the Offense (31st Overall), all but two of which can be attributed to the carousel of Quarterbacks that have lined up under Center this season. With John Elway calling the shots in the Front Office, a Hall of Fame Quarterback in his own right, how the hell has it come to this in Denver? None of the likes of Trevor Siemian (59.1%, 221.8 Y/G, 5.41 NY/A, 12 TD, 13 INT), Brock Osweiler (53.0%, 140.2 Y/G, 5.36 NY/A, 3 TD, 4 INT), or Paxton Lynch (64.3%, 41.0 Y/G, 1.00 NY/A, 0 TD, 1 INT) have proven remotely effective, with the three Signal-Callers combining to complete just 57.7% of their Attempts for an average of 227.7 Yards per Game with Fifteen Touchdowns (25th Overall) in comparison to Eighteen Interceptions (31st Overall), while taking Forty-One Sacks (T-3rd Overall), and losing Seven Fumbles. Needless to say, it’s been a mess for anyone that has worked out of the Broncos’ pocket this season. Siemian, the afterthought of a Seventh Round Pick, has been a proverbial Turnover Machine (Seventeen), while Osweiler has struggled to rekindle the spark of success that he enjoyed in a brief starting spell with the team two years ago, and Lynch, whom Elway traded back into the First Round to select a year ago has yet to make any of the necessary steps in his development, appearing in just four games in nearly two seasons. So with all that said, it was obviously Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy’s fault, who was fired after a dreadful 5-Turnover Performance on a Monday Night at Kansas City, right? I mean, that guy rode Tim Tebow to the Playoffs, but he can’t fix any of these three Quarterbacks? This position has been continuously mismanaged and misevaluated since Peyton Manning’s departure after Super Bowl L, neutering one of the better Receiving Corps in the league, while spoiling the play of what remains one of the nastiest Defenses the NFL has seen in years. Don’t fault Von Miller and Co. for the exploits of their teammates on the opposite side of the ball, for the Defense has continued to show and prove, relegating the opposition to the fewest Total Yards in the league (280.6), including 191.1 Yards versus the Pass (2nd Overal) on 5.9 Net Yards per Attempt (13th Overall), along with 89.5 Yards against the Run (3rd Overall) on 3.3 Yards per Carry (2nd Overall), all the while permitting a scant 29.7% conversion rate on Third Down (2nd Overall). It sure seemed like this unit had had enough of the losing, thus taking it upon themselves to end the streak in last weekend’s 23-0 shutout of the New York Jets, as the Broncos completely stifled the visiting side, conceding a mere Six First Downs and 100 Total Yards, while forcing a pair of Turnovers and racking up Four Sacks, even knocking Jets’ Quarterback Josh McCown out of the game (and out of the season to boot) with a broken hand. It’s amazing what this Defense, and the team as a whole, can do when they don’t turn the football over, for Sunday’s victory marked just the second time this season in which Denver managed to go sixty minutes without a Turnover, which was coincidentally the last time they won a game, all the way back on October 1st.
Meanwhile, this season has been a lost one for the Colts (3-10, 4th in AFC South), who have guaranteed their first losing campaign since 2011, which then served as the impetus for the franchise’s evolution into their current state, as MVP Quarterback Peyton Manning ended his 14-Year Tenure with the team following a series of neck surgeries, ushering in a litany of new faces, none more prominent than Head Coach Chuck Pagano and Pro Bowl Quarterback Andrew Luck. Though the past six years have been largely successful for Indianapolis, it appears that this particular season will in all likelihood signal another changing of the guard, for a variety of reasons. And oh, how similar this year has been to that fateful 2011 term… It all began with the season-long injury to their Quarterback, with Andrew Luck missing the entirety of the campaign rehabbing from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which has been plagued by setbacks that have caused some in NFL Circles to openly question whether or not the 3-Time Pro Bowler and former No. Overall Pick will ever take the field again. As was the case with Manning out of action in 2011, the team has been unbelievably exploited for their reliance upon Luck, with the Offense oftentimes looking clueless, averaging 16.3 Points (30th Overall) on 314.7 Total Yards (31st Overall), including 210.7 Yards through the air (29th Overall) on 5.4 Net Yards per Attempt (26th Overall), and another 104.0 Yards on the ground (20th Overall) on 3.7 Yards per Carry (29th Overall), all the while posting the poorest Red Zone Touchdown Percentage in the league, scoring Six Points on a miserable 37.5% of their trips (32nd Overall). Much has been made of the team’s roster, with previous General Manager Ryan Grigson ultimately paying the price after years of poor Draft Picks and the persistent misevaluation of Free Agents, leaving the Owner, Jim Irsay, to hire Chris Ballard, who had enjoyed a wealth of success working in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Scouting Department. As a result, the blame is now being laid at the feet of Pagano, who for all intents and purposes, will not be with the team in 2018. As was the case with his predecessor Jim Caldwell six years ago, Pagano has appeared overwhelmed with the situation, unable to motivate the remainder of his roster, who have lost three consecutive games since enjoying a late Bye Week back in Mid-November. However, unlike Caldwell, who was in many ways blindsided with the sudden impact of Manning’s injury, Pagano has been a proverbial Dead Man Walking for what seems like a few years now; after guiding the Colts to the Playoffs in each of his first three seasons in charge, the skipper placed himself on the hot seat with back-to-back 8-8 campaigns, with many surprised that he was even retained following last year’s disappointing performance. It was as if he was destined to fail, even though Management tried to avert the disaster by acquiring Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (59.8%, 200.8 Y/G, 5.43 NY/A, 11 TD, 8 INT) in a deal with the New England Patriots shortly before the Season Opener. All things considered, the Sophomore and former Third-Round Pick has performed well given the circumstances of operating with an abridged playbook, let alone playing with a team that he didn’t partake in a Training Camp or Preseason with. And it’s that lack of rhythm, timing, and chemistry that has made it difficult for this kid to lift the Offense any higher than he has; when the play breaks down, which let’s face it, has happened quite a bit, he’s been quick to escape the pocket, where he’s rushed for 216 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Fifty Carries, but has also met disaster taking a staggering Forty-Eight Sacks, which is by far and away the most in the NFL at this point of the season. Simply put, this Offense was crafted for Andrew Luck, and Brissett is by no means Andrew Luck. With inevitable change on the horizon, it begs the question as to just who in fact will be a member of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018. Pagano is sure to be gone, but will Luck ever see the field again? Will Brissett remain with the franchise, or will some other Quarterback-starved team view him as the solution to their problems? Or how about 3-Time Pro Bowl Receiver TY Hilton (43 REC, 811 YDS, 4 TD), who stands as Ballard’s lone bargaining chip that could net valuable Draft Picks? Needless to say, take a moment to remember this incarnation of the Colts, for their likely to look VERY different next September.