DENVER BRONCOS (5-12)
EXPECTATIONS: The Broncos believe they finally have the right coach/quarterback combo to help them end their seven-year playoff drought and six-year run of losing records. Sean Payton's ground-based offensive schemes provide the foundation for fixing Russell Wilson, who's coming off the worst season of his career under Nathanial Hackett, who proved way in over his head as a first-time head coach last year, one who didn't even make it through his first season. But the Broncos have paid hefty prices for both Wilson and Payton, parting with five premium draft picks combined. Without those three first-round and pair of second-round selections, their depth is thin across most position groups. The wide receiver room was their deepest position to start camp but they're down three of last year's top four pass catchers with Tim Patrick (Achilles) missing his second straight season, KJ Hamler out with a heart condition and Jerry Jeudy sidelined by a pulled hamstring.
NEW FACES: HC Sean Payton, OC Vance Joseph, OLB Frank Clark, K Brett Maher, WR Marvin Mims Jr., G Ben Powers, RB Samaje Perine, WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, DE Zach Allen, TE Chris Manhertz, RT Mike McGlinchey, QB Jarett Stidham, P Riley Dixon.
KEY LOSSES: K Brandon McManus, DE Dre’Mont Jones, G Dalton Risner, T Calvin Anderson, OL Graham Glasgow, CB Ronald Darby.
STRENGTHS: Secondary. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons are once again the heart and soul of Denver's defense. It wasn't until Simmons missed time in training camp with a tweaked groin that Russell Wilson and the offense were able to get going. Before that, he had daily interceptions and big plays that flustered the offense.
WEAKNESSES: Retooled offensive line. Left tackle Garett Bolles is coming off a broken leg that ended his season early last year and he's been a tick slower than usual. Newcomers Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey, part of Denver's foray into free agency that was the most expensive in the league, have been underwhelming. McGlinchey (five years, $87.5 million) missed much of training camp with a leg injury and Powers (four years, $51.5 million) hasn't shown he's much of an upgrade over Dalton Risner.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Running back Jaleel McLaughlin of Youngstown State didn't get drafted despite being the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. The 5-foot-7 speedster was the star of training camp and the preseason for the Broncos, carving out a role as a change-of-pace back with terrific hands out of the backfield. He share snaps with Javonte Williams, who's coming back from a knee injury in 2022, and free agent acquisition Samaje Perine.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Samaje Perine will get a heavy dose of the workload early on as the Broncos ease Williams back into the flow and wait for Jeudy to return and bolster the passing game.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 17-1. Over/under wins: 10 1/2.
The Associated Press