ENGLEWOOD — The Broncos will have their noses pressed up against the playoff window pane for the fourth consecutive year. It creates a holiday chill. That said, goals remain in these final two weeks. Microwaving the development of Drew Lock is critical as the team looks to finally move into the passing lane on the road to redemption.
The Broncos are set up to finish strong. After a grueling stretch of four road games in five weeks, the Broncos return home. The reception will be intriguing. More than 19,000 no-shows stained the win over the Chargers. It was a jarring contrast to the soldout, rowdy crowds that have forever defined Broncos football. Will there be fewer this week with Lock firmly in place? His play leads off my Denver7 keys to victory over a sagging Lions team:
Under Lock and and Key
Drew Lock played his worst game as a pro last Sunday. It is the best thing that could have happened to him and revealed his strengths. He boasts confidence and is coachable. Lock has shown an ability to learn from his mistakes. He is a gunslinger by his own definition. But the NFL is no longer a league where turnovers are accepted. Lock is realizing the balance between taking care of the ball and taking chances. The Lions will look to confuse him with zone coverages and blitzes. He must show patience and live to fight another down if there is no play available. And if he throws a TD, don't be afraid to electrify the crowd by securing the bag or shooting Buzz Lightyear lasers.
Use Clorox wipes
The Broncos enter this game sick and tired of losing. But more sick. A flu bug ravaged the team over the last 10 days. Those affected include Lock -- he told me his case wasn't as bad as others and should be fine -- Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern, Courtland Sutton and Kyle Peko. Wipe down the locker room with Clorox. Take cold medicine. Get a good night's rest. Replace the Gatorade tubs with chicken noodle soup. The Broncos can't afford to botch a layup game because of illness.
Running down a dream
The Broncos' lack of run game against the Chiefs was embarrassing. Denver is not a passing team, and yet rushed 15 times in the snow. There should be no reason for less than 25 attempts. The Lions allow 113 yards per game on the ground. Control the clock early to set play-action strikes late. Lindsay sits 151 yards shy of 1,000. The goal should be 85 on Sunday. Lindsay recognizes he needs to improve his work in the passing game to stay on the field more, and that will be a focus this offseason. I never doubt him.
Score more, please
If you want to know why some fans have soured on Broncos, it is simple: being bad is one thing. Being bad and boring is not tolerated in an entertainment business. The Broncos showed against the Texans how an acoustic guitar can become electric. When Lock sees man coverage on Courtland Sutton, he cannot be afraid to take shots on 50-50 passes. Anything less than 23 points per game over the final two weeks would be a huge disappointment.
Von Miller earned his eighth straight Pro Bowl bases on reputation this season. He's been better than many think when you factor in hits and pressures, but he admitted seven sacks is not close to enough. As Miller asserted his commitment to the Broncos this week, I would like to see him reach 10 sacks this season. That means he needs two on Sunday against backup David Blough, leaving only one necessary in the finale.
Turn it over
The Broncos defense has shown flashes of its potential, demonstrating toughness in the red zone. For this group to reach the postseason, the takeaways must increase. Denver has 16 for the season, ranking 21st. In this scheme, 25 should be the baseline.
No home alone
There will be no shows. I understand, and I never tell people how to spend their discretionary income. However with Lock in place, there is hope with roots. Winning out would give the Broncos their first winning home record since 2016. Carrying momentum from one season to next is not seamless. But changing the vibe at home can be accomplished no matter how much the roster changes in the offseason.
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Lions 16