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NFL countdown: Drew Lock holds key to Broncos’ success

This is the 14th in a series of 32 NFL team betting previews in 32 days leading up to the league’s Sept. 10 season opener. We’ll count down the teams from the lowest season win total to the highest.

Since Peyton Manning retired following Denver’s Super Bowl-winning 2015 season, the Broncos had started six quarterbacks before handing the keys to Drew Lock last year.

The 2019 second-round draft pick took over a team that was 3-8 and led Denver to a 4-1 finish to make a believer out of general manager John Elway.

Lock also apparently made believers out of bettors. They have loaded up on the Broncos at William Hill to go over their 2020 season win total of 7½ (Over -145).

William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said Denver is its biggest win total decision.

“The sharps and the public both like Denver over,” he said.

The Broncos’ total was at 8 at the Westgate before the book recently lowered it to 7½ (Over -130).

“At 8, I’d probably lean under. At 7½, I’d lean over,” Westgate vice president of risk Ed Salmons said. “I think they’ll be a seven-win or eight-win team.”

Salmons sees the Raiders and Broncos as similar young squads on the rise who won’t necessarily climb in the standings because of two of the NFL’s toughest schedules.

Based on opponents’ 2020 win totals, Las Vegas has the No. 3 most difficult schedule (136 wins) and Denver has No. 4 (135½).

“With the Raiders, their schedule is so hard this year, it may not be reflected in their record. But the team is definitely on the come,” he said. “In the next two or three years, they’ll be a team to be reckoned with. And it’s exactly the same thing with the Broncos.

“Lock is a question mark. He only played half the year last year, but they definitely played much better when he played. They’ve got some really good weapons, but when you’re talking about young talent, sometimes the first year doesn’t add up to what you think it will.”

Denver, which finished 28th in the league in scoring last season (17.6 points per game), drafted receivers with its first two picks in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler. The talented duo will complement leading receiver Courtland Sutton and second-year tight end Noah Fant. The offense also bolstered its backfield by adding running back Melvin Gordon alongside Phillip Lindsay.

The Broncos finished eighth in scoring defense last season (19.8 ppg) despite Von Miller finishing with single-digit sacks (8) for only the second time in his career. Bradley Chubb had only one sack in four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury after compiling 13 sacks his rookie year.

Denver is hoping newly acquired Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye can replace four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris, who signed with the division rival Chargers.

“If everything goes right and the quarterback plays great, they can make the playoffs. But that’s asking a lot,” Salmons said. “Denver has so many young players on offense, it’s probably asking a little too much for everything to come together in one year. And they’re in a tough division.

“There’s no bad teams in that division. Every game you play is going to be a tough game.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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