If the Denver Broncos defeat the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's regular-season finale, it will mean that Vic Fangio — in his first year as head coach — will have improved the team by one victory over last season.
Considering that the best-case scenario is that the Broncos finish 7-9 in year one under Fangio, you might surmise that it's nothing to write home about. However, when you factor in that Fangio had to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries to key players and three different starting quarterbacks, having a shot at winning seven games becomes more of an achievement.
7-9 is certainly nowhere near where the Broncos or Fangio want to be, but the question is, does the first-year head coach have his team trending in the right direction?
According to a report by NFL Network's James Palmer, the Broncos' brass (GM John Elway) are "very pleased" with the job Fangio has done in year one.
As one in media who engages with thousands of Broncos fans every week during my live podcasts (Huddle Up Podcast), the question of whether Fangio will 'survive' 2019 is common. Palmer's tweet confirms what I've been telling fans all year long; Fangio isn't going anywhere and while there have been some bumps along the way, he should be commended for his first year as the head coach in Denver.
After all, after Joe Flacco was placed on season-ending injured reserve ahead of Week 9, Fangio presided over the least-experienced quarterback room in NFL history that deep into the season. Fangio weathered the loss of Flacco, going 4-3 with two quarterbacks who'd never started a game in their respective NFL careers.
Brandon Allen went 1-2 as a starter from Weeks 9-12. When the rookie second-rounder Drew Lock entered the fray in Week 13, the Broncos have won three of their last four.
Going 4-3 over that stretch, with a good shot at finishing 5-3, is a testament to Fangio's wherewithal. The job Fangio has done with a beaten up and battered Broncos defense has been excellent. Elway and company should be pleased.
Despite playing most of the season without either OLB Bradley Chubb or prized free-agent CB Bryce Callahan, the Broncos currently rank No. 10 in total defense. That's right, despite all the injuries and the learning curve of Fangio's complex defensive scheme, the Broncos have fielded a top-10 unit.
That's to say nothing of the loss of Derek Wolfe, who was the Broncos' leader in sacks when he suffered his season-ending elbow injury in Week 13. I could list all of the injuries Fangio has had to deal with in year one but you get the point. That's to say nothing of the two-game suspension to Pro Bowl alternate S Kareem Jackson.
What the Broncos need more than anything is continuity. The three years preceding Fangio's arrival were the epitome of tumultuous.
Heading into 2020, the Broncos will have continuity at both the coaching and the quarterback level, as Lock is expected to be anointed 'the guy' heading into the offseason. Everywhere Fangio has gone in his storied NFL coaching career, it's taken at least two years to begin firing on all cylinders.
Now that the Broncos have uncovered a true franchise-caliber quarterback, I like the team's odds at turning the corner in Fangio's second season as head coach and challenging for the AFC West crown.
Elway and Fangio will hold court on Monday in the front-office czar's annual end-of-season press conference. It'll be interesting to hear Fangio reflect on his first year. Perhaps Elway and Fangio will get out in front and endorse Lock as the guy heading into 2020 and give the Broncos a badly-needed dose of offseason clarity.