Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Mar 2012

ESPN: How Good are the Broncos Now?

My thoughts on the Peyton Manning signing for ESPN Insider. This is a big, helpful move for the Broncos, but it isn't enough on its own to turn Denver into one of the top four or five Super Bowl contenders.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Mar 2012

39 comments, Last at 06 Aug 2012, 10:26pm by Jakub


by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 3:56pm

That quote from a Peter King source, "His brain tells him San Francisco. His heart tells him Denver...," is a killer for an SF fan. Inside I'm jumping up and down screaming "Listen to your brain, Peyton! Listen to your brain!"

by JIPanick :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 3:59pm

I think it's a good thing for Peyton's legacy to have avoided the 49ers. They were tracking for some serious regression next year one way or the other.

by tally :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 4:05pm

Like the Broncos weren't--they won by a single score or in overtime against 7 or 8 very marginal teams.

by JIPanick :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 4:09pm

Only if you have a definition of marginal that includes the Steelers, Jets, Chiefs, and Bengals (although I agree with the basic premise that Denver was tracking to decline, at least in the W-L column). However, I wasn't discussing the Broncos.

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 4:43pm

You mean the 8-8 Jets and the 7-9 Chiefs? Pretty marginal, as were the 8-8 Raiders, Chargers and Bears. And the Bengals lost to the Broncos early on with Orton still at the helm.

by JIPanick :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 4:46pm

It was still a "close win". I guess when I heard marginal I assumed he meant "bad". My error.

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:17pm

How likely is it that the Broncos would suffer a major regression from 8-8? Most of the "marginal" teams they beat are still going to be on their schedule next season and most will likely still be marginal. Duplicating 13-3 takes some doing...8-8 not quite so much.

by tally :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:49pm

Close games could have gone either way. Tebow had a lot of game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime because the Broncos were trailing or tied. They very well could have lost those games and you'd expect them to have lost about half of those games rather than win nearly all of them. That's how you regress from an 8-8 team.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 4:35pm

I'll expand on this. The teams may be pretty much the same going forward, but much like the Bears in 2010 they ran into some interesting situations against those teams.

Let's look at the the Tebow games.

18-15 OT win at Miami (6-10) who were 0-6 at the time. So arguably not the same team that finished the season at 6-10.

10-45 loss to Detroit (10-6). Can argue that Denver wasn't running the "Tebow Offense" yet, but still they were crushed.

38-24 win at Oakland(8-8). This was Carson Palmer's second game, after being out of football for over a year. I will agree that Oakland only went 4-4 after that game as well so the team at the time I will grant as representative.

17-10 win at KC (7-9). Cassel was injured during the game. So I'll credit the Denver defense played another good game and was really starting to turn into the unit that ended the season.

17-13 win vs Jets(8-8). The reports I've seen point to this being right around the time all the issues in the Jets locker room began.

16-13 OT win at San Diego(8-8). This was still the 4-7 dysfunctional San Diego in the midst of a 6 game losing streak.

35-32 win at Minnesota (3-13). They barely won against one of the worst teams in the league last year.

13-10 OT win vs Chicago (8-8). Chicago didn't have Matt Forte, they were starting Caleb Hanie still, they had collapsed, thanks to injuries into a team that only managed a win vs the previously mentioned Vikings.

23-41 loss vs New England (13-3). Again essentially crushed by a good team.

14-40 loss vs Buffalo (6-10). Crushed by a team getting it's only win in the 2nd half of the season.

3-7 loss vs KC (7-9). Kyle Orton starting his 3rd game for the team.

29-23 OT win vs Pittsburgh (12-4). A Pittsburgh team that was down to 3 healthy D linemen, a starting QB who was wearing a brace.

10-45 Loss at New England (13-3). Beat down even worse by New England.

So the 1-3 Orton lost by 3 to an average Oakland, beat a decent Cincy by 2, lost by 3 to a 9-7 Tennessee, got crushed by a 15-1 Packers team.

Tebow or Orton at the helm the Bronco's lost to pretty much every good team they played who was healthy at time and won more than they lost against a bunch of 8-8 or worse teams, but even in those games there were some interesting circumstances. A few more than most teams get each year.

My guess is that Denver was really a 6-10 or 5-11 team that got a bit more luck than normal.

I will also say that Manning will likely get them 3-4 more wins, and general improvement of many of the young players would be worth 1 more win if they had the same schedule as last year. So they get turned into a 9 to 10 win team.

I think the schedule gets a bit harder for them next year because I don't expect them to have the same luck or catching opponents at the right time and I don't foresee as many 8-8 teams. I expect 3 of the AFC North and 3 of the AFC South teams to end the season with winning records vs the 1 AFC East (only New England) and 2 NFC North (GB and Detroit) teams that did last year.

So yes, I think you can easily regress from 8-8.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 5:07pm

Which three AFC South teams do you see with winning records?

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 5:37pm

I meant NFC South. They play AFC North and NFC South. It was a typo (and I figure it will be NO, Atlanta, and Carolina, even with the off season moves TB has made I don't think they are better than 8-8)

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 7:02pm

Makes a lot more sense. I'm with you in a way. I think those three teams will be good, but I see it hard for both WCs to come out of that division. THe NFC North has three good teams (Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago) and hte NFC East has three as well (New York, Philly, Dallas). If SF slips a little, and Seattle plays well with Flynn, there's another possibility. The NFC is really deep right now.

That said, yes, those are all three good teams in my eye as well.

by Shattenjager :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:01pm

Carson Palmer had not been out of football for "over a year." He started every game in the 2010 season. His first game in the 2011 season was played October 23, 2011. His last game before that was January 2, 2011.

That fact does not affect your overall point or even the specific point about Carson Palmer, but "over a year" is inaccurate.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:28pm

You're right. For some reason I thought he was injured at the end of the 2010 season. Perhaps I just thought all the "I'm not going to play for you again, I have enough money I can retire stuff" had gone on for well over a year. :)

by tally :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:49pm

So yes, I think you can easily regress from 8-8.

The key is that there is regression to league average, then there is regression to what your performance would indicate. Denver had the scoring differential of a 5-6 win team, the advanced metrics also support this, but overachieved with an 8-8 record. All things being equal, they'd have been expected to regress to a 5-6 win team.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:25pm

Isn't this what estimated wins is supposed to measure - the number of wins their DVOA and schedule would justify? I think the Broncos were at 7.8 EW - not far off 8.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:47pm

Estimated wins uses a league-average schedule, not the team's actual schedule.

Broncos 2011: 7.3 estimated wins. 5.8 pythagorean wins.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:09pm

I see. So this means that with an average schedule they'd been a 7-9 team, but with their, apparantly tough, schedule they only deserved 6-10 ("deserved" in the pythagorean sense).

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:32pm

It's actually a little more complex than that:
According to DVOA, with an average schedule, they would have been a 7-9 team. According to actual points scored and allowed in the games they actually played, they should have been a 6-10 team.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:43pm

Yes, that was what i meant with the pythagorean sense, ie. based on points scored.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 5:57pm

Oh, okay.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 12:15pm

I know the interception ratio is everyone's favorite target for regression. Their schedule is brutal this year, too, and easy last year. Anything else?

Giving the new coach and team an actual off-season is an indicator towards improvement, but one that's impossible to quantify, because how often does it happen that a new coach doesn't get one?

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 12:31pm

The schedule isn't that different. They play the same three AFC West teams home and away. They play the AFC North instead of the AFC East, which is a wash. They play the NFC South instead of the NFC North, which is also a wash. Instead of the Titans and Bills, they get Pats and Texans which is definitely more difficult but they lost to both to the Titans and Bills so they couldn't do any worse against NE and Houston. Looks about the same to me.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 1:13pm

All good points, very good points even.

However he was talking about the Niners.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 3:15pm

Thanks. It was a bit hard to follow given the way the commenting was threading.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 4:14pm

Last year the non divisional games were:
Lions, Bucs, Cowboys, Redskins, Philly, Giants, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincy and Cleveland

Next year:
Giants, Saints, Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings, Pats, Jets, Bills and Dolphins

The Giants and Saints are tougher than the Bucs and Lions and the NFC North is probably slightly better than the NFC East but the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last season compared to one from the AFC East. The schedule might be tougher but it's largely due to the first place divisional matchups within the NFC, unless you reckon that the rest of the NFC West has improved a lot.

So the schedule looks to be approximately two games harder, which would suggest 11-5 with all things being equal. I don't think that's a huge factor. The main causes that suggest regression would be the very high number of defensive turnovers, the low offensive turnovers, the relatively healthy squad and the niners' record in close games last year.

But as you say that has to be balanced against possible improvements resulting from a mostly young roster and getting an offseason in the new schemes. I'd take 10-6, which would probably get us into the playoffs.

by Lance :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:22pm

I haven't read the article, but this vexes me. Who else is in front of Denver now? New England, obviously (Schatz's homerism aside), but the Steelers are old, and Baltimore seems to be getting old, too. There's Houston, Green Bay, and I guess the Giants-- even if I can't help but feel they'll regress. Then there's the 49ers. So maybe Denver is on the outside of that top 4 or 5, but not by much, no?

by chemical burn :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:26pm

Yes, and the broncos are in no way old, especially not on defense.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:50pm

I assume this is sarcasm.

The secondary is very old, of course, but the front seven... D.J. Williams and Ty Warren are the only players with more than six years of experience. I don't think that's more than most other teams.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 5:31pm

In the AFC, I would put definitely the Pats and Texans, and probably the Steelers and Ravens. I think the Broncos, assuming Manning stays healthy and plays well (personally, I think a healthy Manning plays better than Manning from 2010), are on teh heels of those two AFC North titans, and the best team in the AFC West.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 7:07pm

I'd put the Bengals, Jets, and Chargers in the "likely" pile.

by JIPanick :: Mon, 03/19/2012 - 7:18pm

I currently project the most likely scenario for Denver as 10-6, winning the West and the rights to be first round cannon fodder for the AFCN runner up.

I'd say New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston all should be better than Denver, and the San Diego and the NYJ should be on a similar level to the Broncos.

by daz :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 4:53am

Why does everyone assume that the Ravens are old? Because of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis?

They are the only 2 players over the age of 29 on D (Suggs is the 3rd oldest at 29). They are not old - certainly not anywhere near as old as the Pittsburgh D is/was and its not like they are slowing down all that much either

by Sifter :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 9:08pm

Just to introduce some facts into the conversation...

Indianapolis Offensive DVOA 2010: 16.6
Indianapolis Offensive DVOA 2011: -12.5
Assuming the difference is 100% Manning, then Manning = 29.1% DVOA

Denver Offensive DVOA 2011: -5.1
Plus Manning effect: 29.1
Projected Denver Offensive DVOA 2012: 24.0

If Denver keeps defensive DVOA of 6.4 and ST DVOA of 0.5, with a shiny new 24 offensive then I calculate their overall DVOA to be around 18%, which would move them up between SF and Baltimore, 7th on last years DVOA chart.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:15am

That's a helpful back-of-the-envelope answer, but it kind of ignores that Manning is not only 2 years older but is also coming off a serious injury and is probably not the MVP candidate he used to be. And that doesn't even consider that he's going to a new team with different coaches and unfamiliar teammates. I'm not saying it's impossible for Manning to provide a 29% DVOA boost, but I'd bet against it.

by Sifter :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 2:07am

Yeah for sure, there are HEAPS of assumptions to be made in simply transferring an individuals numbers from one team to another. Like you, I think 29% offensive DVOA is probably the maximum improvement Denver could expect, but I guess I just wanted to give people a reference point and something to argue about. If Manning does play that well then Denver would be 4th best DVOA in AFC on last years numbers and certainly in with a better shot at the playoffs than constantly relying on the magical Tebow-time.

by t.d. :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 9:18pm

if he's the guy from before the surgery, against that (brutal) schedule, 10-6 would be a success. signing wallace would help

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 11:00pm

If he's the guy from before surgery, 10-6 would be a let down. Removing the QB positions, this team is easily more talented than the 2010 Colts, or the 2002 Colts. All of the Colts teams in between won at least 12 games.

by Jakub (not verified) :: Mon, 08/06/2012 - 10:26pm

Peyton only won ONE super bowl with much better teams than the current Broncos and this was at his peak. Who knows what condition he'll be in, schedule is tough, receivers below average, overrated defense.

Vegas is throwing up 8.5's now, only one game more than predicted with Tebow. That's rather amusing.