The AFC West is about to become a gauntlet for the Broncos

Jan 25, 2024, 11:34 AM

It’s been seven years since the Broncos had a winning season. It’s been eight seasons since they reach the playoffs.

Sean Payton was hired in order to end those streaks. Denver’s head coach took a step toward that goal in his first season, improving the team’s record by three games year over year, finishing with an encouraging 8-9 mark in 2023.

Along the way, the Broncos ended their 16-game losing streak to the Chiefs. They also won a their first AFC West road game since 2019, beating the Chargers in Los Angeles in early December.

Those things were reason for encouragement. They provided hope that things were about to turn around.

Then, the offseason hit. And it’s been nothing but bad news for the Broncos.

First and foremost, there’s the fact that the Chiefs remain the class of the division. On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes and company will play in their sixth-consecutive AFC Championship Game, looking to advance to their fourth Super Bowl during that span.

But it doesn’t end there. There’s no longer just one hurdle in front of Denver.

On Wednesday, the Chargers announced that they had hired Jim Harbaugh to become their head coach. Fresh off a national championship with Michigan, he figures to right the ship in Los Angeles.

The Chargers have one of the most-talented rosters in the league, led by Justin Herbert. Now, they’ll have a superstar head coach, one who has led an NFL team to the Super Bowl, to go with their talented, young quarterback.

But it doesn’t end there. There’s also a rumor that the Raiders could be improving.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Russell Wilson was being linked to the silver and black. Once he’s released by the Broncos, he can sign for the veteran minimum of $1.21 million with a new team and still earn $37 million in 2024; Denver will be on the hook for the difference. That’s an extremely cap-friendly number for any team to absord, and the Raiders appear to be interested.

So while the Broncos are eating $85 million in cap space over the next two seasons due to releasing Wilson, Las Vegas will be getting a veteran quarterback on the cheap. And Russ will have the ability to showcase his abilities, hoping to earn another big payday in a prove-it contract with the Raiders.

In the NFL, the two most-important members of an organization are the head coach and the quarterback; the order is debatable. The AFC West will be loaded in that regard next season.

HC – Sean Payton
QB – Jarrett Stidham (TBD)

HC – Andy Reid
QB – Patrick Mahomes

HC – Antonio Pierce
QB – Russell Wilson (TBD)

HC – Jim Harbaugh
QB – Justin Herbert

The Broncos have arguably the third-best head coach in the division. Even if they add a veteran free agent or spend the No. 12 overall pick to take a QB, they’ll have the worst quarterback in the division, at least for 2024.

That’s not a good sign. And it’s part of the reason why Denver is projected as one of the five-worst teams in the NFL next season.

The AFC West is loaded. And the Broncos don’t appear ready to compete. Yet.


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The AFC West is about to become a gauntlet for the Broncos