The Broncos are lurking as a potential sleeper in the AFC playoff hunt, but Denver's offense suffered what could be an enormous blow on Wednesday afternoon as Emmanuel Sanders suffered a lower leg injury and was helped out of practice.
The injury is a torn Achilles, and it will end Sanders' season, an MRI confirmed. The Broncos will place him on injured reserve later Wednesday. Vance Joseph said the team "can't cry" about losing Sanders and have to try and move forward.
"We have to move on and go play a football game on Sunday," Joseph said.
There's no real way to sugarcoat this: it's a massive blow to Denver's playoff chances. The Broncos are 6-6 with four winnable games to go, but losing their leading receiver might be too much for this offense to bear.
Sanders was having a really nice season, with 71 catches on 98 targets for 868 yards and four touchdowns. (Fantasy football is secondary here because someone is hurt, but if you need fantasy football replacements for Sanders, Chris Towers has you covered here.)
It may very well be his last season with Denver; a late-season torn Achilles would mean a lengthy recovery for the wideout. Cutting Sanders would save the Broncos more than $10 million in cap space in 2019.
Denver already moved Demaryius Thomas in a trade with the Texans earlier this season. That deal was designed to free up playing time for rookie Courtland Sutton. The Broncos drafted DaeSean Hamilton this year as well, and he fits the mold of a Sanders-style player. If the Broncos can save that much cap space and move onto a younger, similar player, it wouldn't be shocking at all to see them make the move.
In the short term, the Broncos will have to lean on a decidedly young offense. Case Keenum was signed in free agency and he'll be surrounded by Philip Lindsay (undrafted rookie having an incredible season) at running back, Sutton and Hamilton at wide receiver. Even their backup running back, Royce Freeman, is a rookie.
So it's good news for the Broncos that their young guys will be getting lots of reps -- not to mention they have young guys worthy of giving reps -- but it's bad news for a playoff push that may just require too much out of them in order to win.
Denver travels to San Francisco Sunday to face the 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS, stream on CBS All Access or fuboTV, try for free).