The problem with playing a team like the Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half at Empower Field at Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half at Empower Field at Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

January 1st. New year, new you. In the case of the Denver Broncos, “something new” is being able to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.

Pressure and expectations can propel a team to victory. With laser-focused goals in mind and the knowledge that nothing less than the achievement of those goals will suffice, professional athletes can channel their minds and bodies into carrying out some of the greatest accomplishments their respective sports have ever witnessed.

That isn’t always the case, however. Sometimes, pressure and expectations create an added burden, especially when they are weighted heavily on one competitor in a head-to-head matchup. When an athlete or team is expected to not only win a game but dominate it, the landscape of the game changes drastically.

The Kansas City Chiefs (12-3) enter Sunday’s game with plenty of motivation and a strong sense of identity. The same cannot be said for the Denver Broncos. On paper, there are zero reasons to point to and say, “here’s why the Broncos have a chance.” No one, and I mean literally no one, is giving the Broncos (4-11) a glimmer of hope in their odds of winning this ball game.

There are a number of valid reasons that don’t even involve the fact that Denver is facing a juggernaut in the Chiefs. The Broncos were in a complete tailspin before playing the Rams last week, but now they are coming off a week in which they:

  • got handed a 50-burger by Baker Mayfield and the 5-10 Rams
  • had a shoving match between two players on their sideline during the game (see video here – language warning)
  • had another player (Randy Gregory) shove an opponent after the game was over, resulting in Gregory’s suspension for this week’s game
  • fired their head coach, Nathaniel Hackett
  • promoted Special Teams coach Jerry Rosburg to interim head coach

Broncos Country is already in full-on mock draft mode, and they haven’t even been able to spend time doing that this week because they are too consumed with the laundry list of chaotic events of the past six days. Despite all the hope of greener pastures when the Broncos traded for Russell Wilson last spring, nothing – literally nothing – has gone right for them this season.

And therein lies the concern with the Broncos: regardless of record, coaching status, or prestige, a divisional game is never a gimme. Case in point: the Week 14 game between these same two teams. Kansas City roared to a 27-0 lead, but after two highlight-reel interceptions (the first by Josey Jewell and then the second by Patrick Surtain) gave the Broncos short fields, Russell Wilson was able to capitalize with touchdown passes to close out the first half. A missed tackle on a screen pass to open the third quarter resulted in a 66-yard touchdown, and all of a sudden the Broncos were in business. Denver had two fourth-quarter possessions in which they could have taken the lead with a touchdown (assisted by another interception from Jewell), but the Chiefs ultimately prevailed in a nail-biter that never should have been.

The Broncos have nothing to gain on Sunday (except ending their famous 14-game losing streak to the Chiefs), but there is something to be said about a team with no pressure and no expectations – and in this case, no limit to their offensive playbook this week. Now that Hackett is gone, the Broncos have had all week to realign their offense, without parameters. For all we know, Rosburg has handed the reins to his maligned quarterback, who spent the week drawing old Pete Carroll plays in the dirt. The point is, there is no limit to what they might try, and that’s a dangerous place to be.

With Courtland Sutton back on the field, the Broncos do have enough of an arsenal to keep the Chiefs’ secondary well-practiced before the playoffs. Sutton, Jerry Jeudy (who won’t catch anybody off guard this week), and rookie tight end Greg Dulcich are talented enough to keep the chains moving. Granted, the Broncos offensive line is a veritable disaster. No level of play from Wilson or his skill players will be able to overcome their offensive line if it can’t keep the Chiefs’ front seven from wrecking everything. But again – with all pressure and expectations out the window, there is no

Rosburg’s special teams unit executed a perfect fake punt against the Chiefs in Week 14, and he will almost certainly dial up something flamboyant on special teams this time around. The Broncos’ defense, once thought to be the strength of the team, is surely feeling cornered after an abysmal performance in LA last week. Will they bounce back? Can they, without Gregory in this game?

The numbers indicate that the Chiefs will show up on Sunday. That is never a guarantee, as evidenced by Kansas City’s Week 3 effort at Indianapolis. The Chiefs’ ceiling is through the roof, and when they play at that level, they can beat anyone. Whether or not this is a competitive game is up to Denver. They’re cornered, but will they fight back or roll over? Entering Arrowhead and playing a game with house money should be enough to ignite the Broncos’ flame.

The deciding factor will be the Broncos’ ability to come together as a unit in spite of the public discord that has been on display on the team’s sideline recently. Even if they can lock in and put together a team effort to try to beat the Chiefs, their next task will be pulling it off. They know it’s within the realm of possibility after almost pulling it off in Denver, but Arrowhead awaits them.

New year, new you. Denver has the blessing of being able to anchor their hopes in the fact that this game is being played on New Year’s Day, the day when more people try doing something new than any other day. In this case, “something new” is being able to beat the Chiefs.