Each summer, NFL Network analyst Adam Rank picks the outcome for each game on every team’s schedule for the coming season.
Rank saw the Broncos making the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and finishing with a 12-5 record.
“Here’s the best case scenario: Russell Wilson is the man and proves to be the missing piece for the Broncos this season,” Rank said in July. “Obviously, the worst case would be that he doesn’t play well, but obviously I didn’t believe that.”
Few thought Wilson and the Broncos would do anything but push the Chiefs in the AFC West race, but that’s not how the season has unfolded.
When they gave up a last-minute touchdown Sunday and lost 10-9 at Baltimore, the Broncos’ record fell to 3-9. They also were eliminated from the AFC West race and clinched a sixth straight losing season.
“I’ve never really lost so many games like this,” Wilson said after the game, per Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla. “It’s a new feeling. One I don’t like. One I don’t want to experience ever again.”
The Broncos will need a big turnaround just to match last season’s win total of seven. Denver’s offense was 23rd in points scored a year ago, but now it ranks dead last, averaging 13.8 points per game. That’s the 21st-worst output in the NFL since 1970, per Statmuse.
Wilson’s passer rating of 83.5 is by far the lowest of his career and he’s thrown just eight touchdown passes. His career low is 20 in a season.
Denver’s defense, which is second in the NFL, has kept the Broncos competitive. Ten of their 12 games have been decided by one score. Unfortunately for Denver, it has lost seven of those games.
That includes two overtime contests and a pair of one-point losses, including Sunday’s game.
Denver is tied for last in red-zone offense and 30th in third-down conversions, per Team Rankings.
“Surprised, I would say,’’ first-year Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett told ESPN last month when asked about the team’s struggles. “Obviously, when you have the outcomes that you have, you are always disappointed as a coach … because it hasn’t looked like what any of us want it to look like.’’
This season also hasn’t been what NFL experts expected for the Broncos, who traded five draft picks and three players to Seattle for Wilson and a third-round draft pick in March.
Rank wasn’t alone in expecting big things for Denver.
Before the season, Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg predicted Wilson would win the MVP award with the Broncos finishing on top of the West.
The Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer forecast a 10-win season for Denver.
CBS Sports’ John Breech picked every team in the AFC West to have a winning record and believed Denver would be Super Bowl champions.
“The past two Super Bowls have both been won by a quarterback who was in his first year with a new team (Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford) and you know what, I’ve decided I’m just going to ride that train until it crashes, so I’m going with Russell Wilson and the Broncos to win it all this season,” Breech wrote.
That train careened off the tracks early in the season when the Broncos lost four straight games in October. After a victory against Jacksonville, there have been four more defeats heading into Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
Denver will have its hands full keeping up with the Chiefs.
The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider noted Denver emphasized its tight ends more than usual on Sunday.
“The Broncos ran a season-high eight plays out of 13 personnel (three tight ends) and the 44 percent of snaps spent in 12 personnel (two tight ends) represented the highest rate of 2022,” Kosmider wrote.
It didn’t help the Broncos, who scored just nine points against the Ravens and have only 14 touchdowns this season. Six of those came in two road games (at Jacksonville and Las Vegas).
Denver has reached the end zone just four times in five home games.
Kiszla, the Denver Post columnist suggested Wilson return some of the $245 million from his contract extension to help the Broncos offense.
It’s highly unlikely Wilson would do that, and he is not thinking about past woes, choosing to focus on the future, specifically Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
“I think that this game of football is not necessarily all about the past. It’s about the present. That’s the great thing about the game,” Wilson told reporters Wednesday. “You know, what can we do, to go against a really good football team, and go get a win at home for our fans, and for our team, and it definitely matters to us, so we’ve got to set the tone early and often.
“It’s a four-quarter game. we’ve got to play all four quarters of it. And they do a really good job of making their plays and stuff like that. So we have to do that, too.”