ENGLEWOOD -- Undefeated preseasons are cotton candy, empty calories. It was delicious to see the Broncos score points and outscore the opposition 80-21 in three exhibitions, but "none of that matters," left guard Dalton Risner reminded me last week.
He is right. For August to take root, the Broncos need to follow the lyrics of Jack Harlow:
I'm just a late bloomer
I didn't peak in high school, I'm still out here gettin' cuter
Simply put, don't make the fake games the highlight of the season.
It gets real Sunday at MetLife Stadium at 2:25 p.m. when the Broncos face the New York Giants. There is a mirror quality to this game. Neither team was very good last year. Both have concerns at quarterback, and will rely on strong running attacks and stout defenses. However, the Broncos are favored by 2.5 points, per SuperBook Sports. Think on that minute. Denver is favorite to win a road game back east.
So, maybe this season will be different, ending the streak of four straight losing seasons. Coach Vic Fangio is already making adjustments, understandable after going 12-20 and winless in September in his first two seasons. No more gameday captains. Season-long captains were elected: Von Miller, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Brandon McManus, Teddy Bridgewater and Courtland Sutton. He will also give the players Tuesday off -- the norm in the NFL -- rather than Monday when many report for treatment anyway.
The U-turn will hinge on key individual statistics. Let's take a take a look.
Will Teddy throw more than 19 touchdowns passes?
Teddy Bridgewater won the job because of the nuances of the position. Coach Vic Fangio, who has hooked his coaching wagon to the veteran, trusts Bridgewater to guide a young offense, to take care of the football, to remain calm when the alarms are blaring. Teammates gravitate to Bridgewater's personal leadership style that is big on connections that create ownership. Still, he must play better than he did last season. He boasts a career high of 15 touchdown passes. He needs 20 for the Broncos to have a winning record.
Denver7 prediction: 20 TDs
Will Von Miller reach 15 sacks?
Von Miller's training camp practices and cameo against the Rams suggest he will write a diary of havoc. At age 32, there is no reason he cannot return to form following a dislocated left ankle tendon. The key? Fangio must trust his depth and spell Von with rookie Jonathon Cooper. Von playing 80-90 percent of the snaps will undercut his effectiveness rushing the passer late in games. Von will be strong, but 15 is too big of a number.
Denver7 prediction: 13 sacks
Will Jerry Jeudy posts 1,000 yards receiving?
A 1,000 times yes. He has to for this offense to reach its potential. And the platform exists for him to emerge as one of the league's top five breakout players. Jeudy has good chemistry with Bridgewater, who will trust him on 5-yard timing routes to pile up yards after the catch. Don't underestimate the importance of Bridgewater hitting him in stride. It matters. Anything less than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns will be a major disappointment.
Denver7 prediction: 1,150 yards
Will Courtland Sutton lead the team in receptions?
This gets tricky. He should because he can win one-on-one matchups, and has a knack for excelling on 50-50 balls. I wonder if a play count early in the season -- he could get spelled on long drives the first few weeks of the season -- will cause him to lose 6-to-9 catches, giving Jeudy the slight edge. I believe Jeudy paces the team in receptions for an interesting reason. Sutton will draw several interference calls that don't count as catches.
Denver7 prediction: No
Will Melvin Gordon reach 1,000 yards rushing?
He better or this offense will be sinking in quicksand, left to the cliff diving danger of three-wide sets. Gordon showed extra burst in training camp. He is the starter. He might not finish the season that way, but his 4.98 yards per carry over the final eight games last year cannot be discounted, regardless of Javonte "Pookie" Williams' potential. Gordon will reach the 1K because of the 17th game, needing every carry as the rookie gets fed as well.
Denver7 prediction: Yes
Will Justin Simmons lead the league in interceptions?
There's nothing he cannot do in year three in Fangio's system. He's the best center fielder in the league, and given the first three opponents, it's fair to think he could have two or three picks in the first month. Leading the league takes luck, and will require the Broncos offense to hold its fair share of fourth-quarter leads. Simmons should be the team MVP, but that will be with a career-high six picks, not the league lead.
Denver7 prediction: No
Will Drew Lock play more than five games this season?
Lock showed maturity and growth in training camp, narrowly losing the QB job to Bridgewater. The Broncos have not given up on Lock, and I believe they will need him to post a winning record and contend for the postseason. The last Broncos quarterback to start and play every game? Peyton Manning in 2014. History says the backup will be utilized. However, I believe that number settles at four games, and Lock will go .500 during his stretch.
Denver7 prediction: No