WELCOME BACK:BILL MUSGRAVE. In 2016 he coordinated a young Raiders offense to 12 wins, superbly blending the running and passing games, yet Oakland didn't re-sign him at season's end. So Musgrave moved to Denver, where he spent a frustrating 2017 season coaching QBs before being promoted to coordinator in December. In '18 he has a chance to fully implement his system with the Broncos. He begins with a viable veteran QB in CASE KEENUM. The 30-year-old free-agent pickup from Minnesota has playmaking flair but so-so physical tools; he must be helped by the type of run-pass balance that Musgrave struck in Oakland.
If Keenum is to build on his 2017 success, Denver's O-line must play better. Last year it was embarrassed by gap-shooting 4--3 defenses like Philadelphia's and Miami's. The Broncos bring back mostly the same front five this season, but with ex-Cardinal JARED VELDHEER acquired to halt what had been a turnstile at right tackle. At left tackle, 2017 first-round pick GARRETT BOLLES needs to strengthen his pass-blocking.
Fullback ANDY JANOVICH should be playing at least 25% of the snaps. Not only can he be a productive lead blocker for DEVONTAE BOOKER and third-round rookie thumper ROYCE FREEMAN, but his mere presence will force defenses to pay more attention to the run.
Denver's defense might not be as talented or experienced as it was in its 2015 Super Bowl season, but it's still one of the best because it has what every team covets: elite edge rushers (VON MILLER, rookie BRADLEY CHUBB, SHANE RAY and SHAQ BARRETT) and cover corners (CHRIS HARRIS and BRADLEY ROBY). Harris might be the league's most valuable defensive back. He can play man or zone, out wide or in the slot. He matches up against big tight ends or speedy receivers.
This defense has struggled in coverage out of base 4--3 and 3--4 personnel, in part because linebacker TODD DAVIS, though a stout run stopper, is less effective in space. Expect more three-safety packages from coordinator JOE WOODS.
2017 RECORD 5W 11L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 8W 8L
1st CHIEFS [Monday]
18th @CARDINALS [Thursday]
15th @BROWNS [Saturday]
24th @RAIDERS [Monday]
DEMARYIUS THOMAS and EMMANUEL SANDERS can still be a potent one-two punch, but who will emerge as that crucial third option? Can second-round rookie wideout COURTLAND SUTTON from SMU get up to speed that quickly?