The Broncos believe they will be much better this season after finishing last in the AFC West for three consecutive seasons.
Oddsmakers tend to agree, particularly after Denver made a major move in replacing their beleaguered coach with Super Bowl winner Sean Payton.
“Honestly, I would expect them to be a lot better just going from Nathaniel Hackett to anyone,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “I think they’ll be much improved. He was as bad a coach as there was in the league last year, and I have respect for Sean Payton.”
Payton certainly brings a more extensive coaching resume to Denver than Hackett, who last year bungled the clock in the season opener and never got much better in a 5-12 campaign.
In 15 seasons at the helm in New Orleans, Payton went 152-89 and won a championship. He spent last season as a broadcaster on Fox and now returns to the sideline in hopes of breathing life back into the Broncos.
That task will have to start with figuring out how to fix quarterback Russell Wilson, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade before last season and landed a massive contract only to struggle to perhaps his worst season as a pro.
Wilson’s disastrous campaign can best be illustrated by Pro Football Reference’s passing success rate metric. In 10 seasons with the Seahawks, he was between 42.5 and 51.4 percent every season. Wilson plummeted to 36.2 percent last season.
Payton’s first item of business was clearing out much of Wilson’s personal team, which had reportedly swelled to comic proportions, from the Broncos’ facility. He hopes the move will help Wilson regain his focus. The organization also invested heavily in the offensive line to protect the quarterback.
The ability of Payton to turn the offense around will go a long way in determining whether the Broncos can climb out of the cellar this season. Their posted season win total at sportsbooks is 8½.
“We did see some sharp bettors on the win total under,” Murray said. “I expect them to be much better, but I do respect the players who bet it under. The biggest concern is Russell Wilson looked so bad last year and they have so many injuries at wide receiver.”
That position has been decimated during training camp.
While star Jerry Jeudy avoided an injured reserve designation that would have kept him out at least four weeks, he appears to be trending in the wrong direction to play against the Raiders in the regular-season opener Sunday.
Tim Patrick was lost to a torn Achilles, and KJ Hamler had a health setback and was released with a non-football illness designation.
Denver did add reinforcements by signing Phillip Dorsett after he was cut by the Raiders last week, but questions remain on the depth chart after Courtland Sutton and promising rookie Marvin Mims Jr.
Defensively, the Broncos remained very good last season. They lost defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero to the Panthers, but brought former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph back to town to run a defense loaded with talent, particularly in the secondary.
The unit should be more than good enough for the Broncos to dramatically improve if the offense can take a step forward.
Their first test will be against the Raiders, who have been an enigma for the Broncos as of late.
Denver has not beaten their rivals since they relocated to Las Vegas, a run that has reached six games.