If the Denver Broncos make the playoffs in 2020, they will have earned it. Not only do the oddsmakers in Las Vegas believe the Broncos face one of the toughest schedules in the entire NFL according to Warren Sharp, but now ESPN has joined the chorus dubbing Denver’s regular-season schedule as a true gauntlet.
Utilizing ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), their own predictive modelling system for upcoming seasons. What exactly is the FPI?
“FPI is our prediction model for the NFL. Preseason ratings are based on each team's Las Vegas win total; last season's performance on offense, defense and special teams; the number of returning starters; coaching staff changes; and starting and backup quarterbacks. FPI produces team rankings and season projections.”
Like anything predictive in the NFL, anything can happen once a game kicks off. There is a reason 'that’s why the games aren’t played on paper' is a cliche. Football is unpredictable, but that doesn’t stop from prognosticators doing their best to map the future.
ESPN boasts that one area that FPI really shines is in predicting difficult schedules.
“One area in which FPI is particularly helpful is its ability to calculate strength of schedule. SOS is often calculated by using last year's win-loss record, but that is a faulty measure. It fails to capture the fact that teams can be of different quality than their record suggests, given offseason player movement and the various effects of home-field advantage and rest differential....
Though FPI is heavily reliant on preseason win totals, it teases out team ratings and therefore can calculate schedule strength without really running into any of those problems. And it says the Denver Broncos have the toughest schedule in the league, while the Colts have the easiest. The Broncos have five games against top-10 FPI teams: two against the Chiefs, one against the Bucs, one on the road at the Patriots and one against the Saints. The Colts have only one such game, at home against the Ravens in Week 9.”
Despite having such a grueling schedule, the Broncos should improve this season, giving their fans optimism that despite a tough draw in terms of opponents, Denver can still manage to make the playoffs. The addition of one more Wildcard spot in the playoff format certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Unfortunately, ESPN’s FPI predicts the Broncos as the 17th-best team in the NFL in 2020, with a projected win total of 7.4, and a 32% chance of making the playoffs. This isn’t good on the surface, but it’s also important to realize that with second-year quarterback Drew Lock under center, the Broncos are still a relative unknown.
The team around Lock has indeed improved, but how far this Broncos team can go is directly correlated with just how good the young QB can be in 2020. With the book on Lock yet to be written, the chance to greatly outproduce ESPN’s FPI predictions are as high as any team in the league.
It is unfortunate that the Broncos are faced with one of the toughest schedules in the NFL for a second-straight season, but that means if the Broncos do make the playoffs, they will be battle-tested and will have truly earned their playoff slot. Toughest schedule in the NFL or not, the Broncos should be one of the most fun squads we've seen at Mile High since Super Bowl 50.
If they can rise to the challenge of their tough slate of opponents, then the Broncos will have returned to their proper mantle among the perennial AFC greats.