It’s finally time for the NFL regular season to kick off. While fans of football can now watch year round outdoor football thanks to the existence of the XFL, USFL, and CFL, we can all admit that the cream rises to the top. There is no debate that the NFL is the top league with the most talent and that won’t be changing anytime soon. Now that we have navigated through the spring and summer football seasons, it’s time for the football we all love, that is of course played in the fall.
Broncos fans have fallen on some hard times the last five or more years since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset after an improbable victory in Super Bowl 50. The chinks in the armor of this roster, and coaching staff were showing even during that Super Bowl run, and things have only gotten worse since then. The year after that win, the Broncos went 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Josh McDaniels was the head coach. Since then they haven’t been back.
It’s been seven seasons of pure agony watching the Broncos put forth a record of 44-70 and watched as Kubiak, Vance Joesph, Vic Fangio, and Nathaniel Hackett all moved on. Finally after seven long years, and waiting through four coaching regimes, the Broncos realized they needed someone who could rebuild this organization from the ground up. They needed a coach regarded as one of the best, someone who can command respect simply by walking into a room and someone more importantly that could get the most out of their shiny new $250 million quarterback. Sean Payton was arguably the best coaching candidate on the market this offseason.
I was quite honestly shocked when I heard Payton was being hired by the Broncos. I expected that Payton would take over the Arizona Cardinals due to his very public fawning over Kyler Murray’s abilities, and literally telling fans how to properly handle his situation. Instead we saw him pair with an aging veteran, someone who isn’t all that different than the quarterback that Sean Payton signed in New Orleans, Drew Brees. Both men have concerns about their height, both are veterans with questions about what they can be at this point in their career, and both players were viewed as something of a reclamation project.
With that in mind we can look at our week one match up as a chance for early redemption after a particularly rough year under first time head coach Nathaniel Hackett. They face their hated division rivals the Las Vegas Raiders, who are in their second season under former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels. It’s fitting to see them play McDaniels and the Raiders to kick off their redemption campaign in 2023.
The Broncos have been a collective 2-8 against the Raiders the last five seasons. They haven’t won a single game against them in the last three seasons. A lot has changed on both sides. McDaniels is entering his second season but, this time he has one of his former hand picked quarterbacks in tow rather than an inherited Derek Carr. Jimmy G is the guy in Vegas now, and Derek Carr has found himself in Payton’s old stomping grounds.
Jimmy G and His Affect
For the first three seasons of his career Jimmy G sat behind Tom Brady waiting for his chance. That chance came with the 49ers in 2017. During those first three seasons, he attempted 94 passes completing 63, for 690 yards 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. It was enough for San Francisco to trade a second round pick for him.
This preseason jumping back into an offense he knows well he played one drive and went 4 for 4 and 39 yards on the day. Denver can expect that he will not make this an easy win, and he isn’t likely to throw multiple interceptions to help keep the Broncos in it. Known for protecting the ball this game will be dictated by the Broncos’ ability to rally and make tackles quickly. They can’t allow these receivers to get loose for big plays. Jimmy G doesn’t scare me, and he shouldn’t scare the Broncos defense either. That Patriots offense that was brought to Vegas thrives on high percentage plays not taking a bunch of shots deep unless the defense invites them to do so.
Josh Jacobs and the Raiders Run Game
The Raiders run game was ranked 16th in overall yards last season. However of the 16 teams ahead of them only 4 teams matched or bested the 4.8 yards per carry the Raiders had. The team also had the 24th most rushing attempts in the league, totaling and astounding 130 carries less than Chicago who led the league in carries, and yards. Ironically despite the efficient rushing attack they scored just 12 rushing touchdowns a tie for 5th worst last year. Meanwhile the league leaders, scored 32.
Jacobs is a talented back and despite everything I just pointed out he as an individual is coming off a career year in Vegas. Running for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns he accounted for 80% of the rushing output for the team. He also was the only Raiders player to score a rushing TD all season. Contain Jacobs and you likely win this game.
If you let him run all over you again you will see Jimmy G utilizing play action. That’s where he’s at his best in 72 drop backs he attempted 66 passes completing 45 for 525 yards 4 touchdowns and 1 interception averaging 8 yards per attempt. He also had only 4 turnover worthy plays second least of any passing concept behind only screen passes, and the highest big time throw percentage. In short..you must contain Josh Jacobs or face the best possible version of Jimmy G which arguably can be regarded as a top ten quarterback in this scenario.
Secondary Vs Wide Receivers
This will be a fascinating battle to watch between these two teams. It’s almost as if you have strength vs strength and weakness vs weakness. The Broncos secondary might be the most talented, and deepest group in the league.
On the flip side the Raiders have one of the best and deepest wide receivers corps in the league headlined by a man who could lay claim to the title of best receiver in the league bar none. The level of consistency Davante Adams has shown regardless of who his quarterback may be has been nearly unrivaled at the NFL level for many years now. Add in the fact that you have a promising slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow, and more depth beyond this is a dangerous group.
Looking at Denver’s wideouts versus the Raiders secondary there are questions across the board about the lack of depth, and top end talent in these units. It will be a matter of whose strength wins out in this game as to who finds victory.
Pass Rush Needs to Create Problems for Jimmy G
The Broncos have a lot of talent on the edge but this group needs to prove it by showing how dominant they can be in this game. There are many questions about this Raiders offensive line and these need to be exploited to help out the secondary and keep Garappolo uncomfortable all game long.
It appears that the weaknesses on this line all exist on the interior of the line where both guards and their center graded out at a 62.8 or lower. If I’m the Broncos I would be incorporating a lot of stunts, and twists causing more confusion up front. Get Randy Gregory and Frank Clark one on one with a guard as the ends eat up the blocks by the tackles who are the stronger points of this offensive line. It wouldn’t surprise me to see several inside linebacker blitzes this week.
Depth Chart for Week 1
The big takeaways from this depth chart are obvious. Adam Trautman starting at tight end and Frank Clark coming off the bench at right outside linebacker behind Jonathan Cooper.
I can understand the move to start Trautman due to his blocking ability and veteran experience but the move to start Cooper over Clark is surprising. It appears Denver is placing a premium on blocking ability at the tight end position under Sean Payton.
Cooper is 25 years old, and hasn’t been a full-time starter yet in the NFL. With 14 starts in 30 appearances Cooper has produced 4.5 sacks, 11 hurries, and 6 QB Hits, Per Pff he was graded out at 66.1 as a pass rusher last season After having a stellar preseason in 2022. This preseason his grade as a pass rusher fell slightly, but his run defense grade was impressive at 74.4 his highest grade in the category since being drafted. Cooper might have gotten the start due to his run defense, which is expected to be the focus for the Raiders.
As of Thursday wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, and defensive back Riley Moss were limited while tight ends Chris Manhertz and Greg Dulcich were full participants.
On the Raiders side, they have WR DeAndre Carter who was a limited participant while Chandler Jones continues to be absent. Cornerback Brandon Facyson also did not practice.
BetUS.com Betting Odds
In this game our Sponsor BetUS.com has the Raiders as 3 point under dogs. The over/under is set at 44 points. The money line for Denver is -170, and +148 for the Raiders. This is likely due to Denver playing at home. When most betting sites have a split decision they will automatically favor the home team by 3 points.
I actually have Denver winning this game by 7 points. I expect Sean Payton’s offense to improve on last season’s 287 point output which broke down to 16.88 points per game. In this game I see them scoring 24 points, while the Raiders keep it close but can’t seal the deal late, scoring only 17 points on the day.