Did the bye week come at just the right time for the Broncos? Did it present Sean Payton with extra time to continue turning things around after a stumbling start?
Or was the week off an ill-timed interruption that blunted the Broncos’ momentum, coming as it did right after Denver beat Kansas City for the first time in the last hundred years (or so it seemed)?
Is Monday night’s date with the Bills in Buffalo the end of the modest two-game win streak, or a chance to continue a belated push for the playoffs, against a highly regarded team with a top-tier quarterback in Josh Allen, on national television?
Denver sports fans have one graphic similarity to consider.
In 2007 the Rockies followed their unbelievable 13-of-14 finish to the regular season plus scintillating 13-inning come-from-behind victory over San Diego in the Wild Card playoff game with sweeps of Philadelphia and Arizona. Then they had to wait nine days for the first game of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Boston, which needed seven games to eliminate Cleveland, had no layoff and swept the suddenly rusty Rox.
In my book Game 163, Clint Hurdle, who managed that Colorado team, and Dan O’Dowd, then general manager, both felt the layoff hurt the Rockies.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the layoff affected us,” Hurdle said. “You can’t recreate adrenaline. We had adrenaline. We had momentum. We had traction . . . We weren’t able to recreate that intensity.”
Said O’Dowd: It was just too long of a layoff. That killed us.”
So, what about the Broncos?
Well, it seems there may be a difference between Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
Payton went 10-3 following the bye week in his last 13 seasons in New Orleans—after going winless his first three seasons—by adopting the approach his now-division rival Andy Reid employed first in Philadelphia and now practices in Kansas City.
The secret? An actual week off from the rigors of preparing for an NFL opponent. Not only for the players; for the coaches, too. Everyone came back to work on Monday.
That the next game is on Monday night means Payton has an extra day to fine-tune further.
The Bills are coming off a 24-18 loss in Cincinnati last Sunday night. Based on what I saw in that game, Buffalo is a much more formidable opponent than its 5-4 record might suggest. The Bills are banged up, especially on defense, but an old Bronco, Von Miller, isn’t one of the wounded. Playing at home, they’ll be every bit as tough as Kansas City for Denver.
The Broncos catch something of a break in that—on November 13—the weather forecast in one of the coldest, snowiest outposts in the league is for mostly clear skies and a temperature in the 40s.
(I once covered a game in Buffalo when it was snowing so hard that you couldn’t see the far sideline or make out the shrouded triple-deck stands on that side of the field.)
The victory over the Chiefs, coming just two weeks after Denver lost respectably in Kansas City, left Broncos fans and players, alike, thinking this season may not be lost, after all.
And Payton’s decision to keep his roster intact—when Jerry Jeudy could have fetched two draft choices and there were rumors that Courtland Sutton, Justin Simmons and even Patrick Surtain II might be available—suggests that he feels he has this team headed in the right direction.
Realistically, though, Denver can afford to lose only one more game, at best, to surge into playoff contention. The highest probability of the Broncos making the playoffs, that I’ve seen, is 11.1%.
In addition to the Bills on Monday night, the Broncos’ remaining nine opponents include the Vikings, Browns, Texans, Chargers (twice), Lions, Patriots and Raiders
Coincidentally, Denver also had a 3-5 record at the bye last season. In case you don’t remember, that team won two and lost seven the rest of the way to finish 5-12.
If you believe that Payton is turning a corner, it’s possible these Broncos can win six of their remaining nine after their week off. If they do, they’ll finish 9-8.
That won’t make the playoffs, but it will be an encouraging step forward in his first season in Denver.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.