2 things Denver must do to earn an NFL playoff trip

After starting the 2021 season at 3-0. the Denver Broncos quickly found themselves under .500 with a 3-4 record. The team rebounded, reaching the 7-win mark after 13 contests, but ended the year by losing all four of their remaining games.

With a record of 7-10, the Broncos not only missed the NFL postseason, but finished last in the competitive AFC West.

Since, Denver has responded in a big way. During this year’s offseason, the Broncos managed to pull off a trade for Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson. For the nine-time Pro Bowler, Denver shipped Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft picks, and a fifth-rounder to the Seahawks.

Along with Wilson, the Broncos also received a fourth-round pick.

Denver also made a head coaching change, hiring Nathaniel Hackett to replace the relieved Vic Fangio.

The Broncos certainly seem to have improved on paper throughout this offseason, but so has the rest of the AFC West. How does Denver compete with the division and earn a spot in the 2022 NFL postseason?

2 Things Broncos Must Do To Race Into The 2022 NFL Playoffs

2. Figure out the special teams struggles

For the last handful of seasons, the Broncos special teams has been just awful. In 2021, the team managed to one-up themselves, by turning that awful into a league-worst unit.

Not only was the film bad, but so were the relationships between players and coaches. Placekicker Brandon McManus and former Broncos’ special teams coordinator Tom McMahon often bumped heads, even resulting in the placekicker voicing his frustrations on social media.

Otherwise, McManus has been a bright spot more often than not for the Broncos special teams, and the team’s punting hasn’t been too shabby either. The real problem lies in special teams coverage, and overall returning.

Throughout the last three seasons, no team has allowed more touchdown returns than the Denver Broncos (5).

The unit also finished 32-of-32 in both kickoff yards gained and kickoff yards allowed. Following such an abysmal year, Denver decided to try their hand with a new special teams coordinator, in addition to moving on from their return man Diontae Spencer.

If Denver wants to be a threat in 2022, these special teams woes must be patched. In 2010, no offense totaled more yards than the Chargers, and no defense allowed less yardage than the same Chargers team. Despite sporting the best statistical offense and defense, the team would go onto miss the postseason with a 9-7 record due to poor special teams play.

From the 2010 Chargers, we learn the importance of special teams. If you’re struggling in this department, you can take yourself right out of the playoffs, even if your team finishes with the most efficient offense and defense league-wide.

1. Let Russ cook

’21 rookie Javonte Williams was magical, leading all running backs in broken tackles. Starting only one contest, Williams was 93-yards shy of hitting the 1,000-yard mark in only his first NFL season.

Beyond this, the Broncos welcomed back Melvin Gordon on a 1-year deal worth upwards of $2.5 million.

With all the fancy pieces in the running back room, it might be easy to prioritize a rushing attack. Don’t do that, Denver.

The major force behind the Seahawks trading Wilson was the lack of willingness to meet the quarterback’s annual asking price of $50 million. Per Mike Florio, Wilson’s camp plans for a “Deshaun Watson type contract” with Denver.

“At least $46 million per year, with every penny guaranteed.”

The Denver Broncos general manager, George Paton, stated the team didn’t pull the trigger on the Wilson deal just to not have him for very long. Naturally, this means the Broncos have every intention of trying to work out a deal with their new quarterback.

Why would the Broncos be so willing to meet Wilson’s $50 million per year price point?

To start, Russ has made the Pro Bowl each season since 2017, missing the game only once in his ten-year career. The All-Pro quarterback has never had a season with less than 26 combined touchdowns, and has yet to toss more than 13 interceptions. Last year, during his ’21 campaign, the former Seahawk totaled only 6 interceptions, on his way to 3,113 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns.

Wilson has consistently been magical with his deep ball, and 2021 was no exception. Per NFL Network, the 33-year-old ranked 8th league-wide on the list of top-10 deep ball passers last season. Wilson’s 978 passing yards on 20+ yard throws was the third-highest in the NFL, and his 8 touchdowns on such throws inside the pocket ranked second.

With Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, the Broncos believe they have enough weaponry to showcase a great passing attack. Now, all that’s left to do is let Russ cook.