2018 NFL Over-Under Win Totals: Broncos banking on Keenum for bounce-back season
Denver is still looking for stability at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning left
The Denver Broncos haven't been able to find their quarterback since Peyton Manning retired, so John Elway dove right back into free agency to take another shot at a signal caller. This time the name is a little less headline-y, as it's Case Keenum who is expected to save Denver from a disappointing swoon in 2017 that saw the final year of the core of an elite defense go to waste.
Fortunately there are still plenty of pieces left from that core, including superstar pass rusher Von Miller and Chris Harris, who has established himself as one of the top corners in the NFL. Derek Wolfe should be healthy for 2018. Bradley Roby, Justin Simmons, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis, to name a few, give the Broncos what could be a pretty strong defense across the board. Elway also added Bradley Chubb to the mix in what could amount to a draft-day steal.
Elway also made offensive splashes, landing Oregon running back Royce Freeman and wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. That receiver duo might not matter as much this year, with them serving as expected replacements for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but if they hit early, Denver could be loaded. Freeman and Devonta Booker form an interesting backfield along with DeAngelo Henderson, and suffice to say the Broncos aren't lying when they talk about focusing on running the ball.
Keenum was effective when he played in the context of the Vikings offense last year, extending plays, avoiding turnovers and pushing the ball down the field just enough. Paired with a good running game and a great defense, he nearly took the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Elway is hoping the money he spent on the market results in a similar outcome.
Vegas isn't quite as hopeful,.
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Early Schedule Analysis
Three of the Broncos' first four games are at home, against the Seahawks in Week 1, Raiders in Week 2 and Chiefs in Week 4. They also get the Ravens on the road in Week 3 -- it's not a friendly slate for a last-place team out of the gate, even with home games. The Broncos then get the Jets on the road in Week 5, the Rams at home in Week 6, and the Cardinals/Chiefs on the road in Weeks 7 and 8. They close out their pre-bye schedule against the Texans at home in Week 9. Things are rough out of the gate post break: they draw the Chargers in Week 11 on the road, get the Steelers at home in Week 12, the Bengals on the road in Week 13 and the 49ers on the road in Week 14. The Broncos close out the season with the Browns (home), Raiders (road) and Chargers (home). That's a nice stretch at the end, but Denver will need to pile up some early wins to stay in the playoff hunt.
Why They'll Go Over
There is a really good chance this defense remains stout in 2018. Denver actually slipped quite a bit in 2017, but only fell to 10th overall in defensive DVOA. The Broncos just happened to slip from the top overall spot the year before. A bounce back is certainly possible, especially with the addition of Chubb, who is an out-of-the-box Pro Bowl caliber defender. Chubb can rush the passer and is quite adept against the run. He and Miller could be terrifying together. A top-five defensive performance is going to be key here, because it's tough to imagine the Broncos being a great offensive unit. They don't appear interested in trying either, with Vance Joseph noting they want to be a good running team multiple times this offseason. If that's the case, and one of Freeman/Booker can manage to emerge as a top-tier option at running back, and if the offensive line can gel/improve, and if Thomas/Sanders can both approach 1,000 yards, and if Keenum can replicate his success from last year, Denver can be dangerous. It's interesting to note that Gary Kubiak, who is working with Elway in the front office, loves Keenum as a guy who can play in his system.
Why They'll Go Under
There is a decent chance Keenum's success won't translate somewhere new. This is a journeyman quarterback who was on his third team and fourth city in five years and was essentially a throwaway addition by the Vikings to backup Sam Bradford, assuming Teddy Bridgewater wasn't going to be healthy. But Keenum wound up starting 14 regular-season games, throwing 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The Broncos are leaning on him to replicate that success. I like Keenum a lot and think he played like a top-10 quarterback last year, but the reality is he could regress. He's in a new system with a downgraded group of weapons and a defense that might not be as good. The Broncos pass defense should be strong, but it's fair to worry about how they'll look against the run even with Chubb getting added. They have slipped a bit in recent years in stopping rushing attacks. They need elite production to play they way they want. Freeman/Booker don't have to be great either. There are a lot of things that have to break right in order for this team to make a playoff run.
That being said, I like the Broncos a little bit this year. They could be a house of cards, and they're definitely a risk on the over here. But I see the defense bouncing back, I see Keenum playing well and I see Denver managing to make some noise in a difficult but slightly overrated division. I think they start hot and close strong enough to get in the 8-8 range and pull this off.
VERDICT: OVER (7)
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