Although the Denver Broncos have started the season 1-3, and suffered a record-breaking 70-20 defeat to the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago, they’ve been competitive in their other three games, including a come-from-behind win over the Chicago Bears last week. According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Broncos are favored by 2.5 points in this game. The Jets won 16-9 in Denver last season, but who will win this matchup of two teams seeking to avoid a 1-4 start?
Russell Wilson’s first season in Denver was a disappointment last year as he posted a career-low completion percentage of 60.5. With new head coach Sean Payton taking over, Wilson is off to a much better start. He’s completed over 67 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions and he has been having some good downfield success.
Wilson missed the game against the Jets last season. If he was to be knocked out of this one, Jarrett Stidham would step in. Stidham lost the first two starts of his career with the Raiders last season.
The Broncos have had stability on their offensive line for the first four games and that should continue this week, even though center Lloyd Cushenberry has been listed as questionable.
Denver invested big money in two new starters; Ben Powers at left guard and Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. McGlinchey has had six penalties in the first four games.
Garrett Bolles returns at left tackle after breaking his leg last October, and Quinn Meinerz returns at right guard. Meinerz moved into the starting lineup in the middle of last year and has done a good job as a run blocker.
The main backup at tackle is Cameron Fleming, who started 15 games last year but gave up seven sacks. Quinn Bailey and backup center Luke Wattenberg provide depth inside. Both saw some action last year.
Seventh round pick Alex Forsyth, another interior option, has been inactive so far this season.
The Broncos’ best running back is Javonte Williams, who has been dealing with a hip issue. He was a full participant at practice on Friday and looks set to play despite being listed as questionable. Williams and his main reserve, Samaje Perine, are each averaging less than four yards per carry.
Undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin could be an interesting option this week, especially if Williams is on a reduced workload. McLaughlin has showcased some good speed so far, on his way to an average of seven yards per carry.
Michael Burton is the starting fullback. Dwayne Washington is likely to be inactive unless Williams can’t go.
The Broncos have some good pass catching talent that could trouble the Jets secondary with DJ Reed and Brandin Echols both out of Sunday’s game. That’s despite losing Tim Patrick to an Achilles tear before the season and placing their best tight end, Greg Dulcich, on injured reserve after the opener.
Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are the Broncos’ biggest threats. Sutton has been a Pro Bowler in the past and leads the team with 20 catches. His size should be an issue for any Jets corner other than Sauce Gardner. Jeudy almost had a thousand-yard season last year, but he has just 11 catches so far this year.
Second round rookie Marvin Mims has already established himself as a big play threat, while Brandon Johnson is tied with Sutton for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. Lil’Jordan Humphrey rounds out the rotation.
Denver’s tight ends, including Dulcich, have combined to catch just 11 passes for 85 yards in the first four games, but five of those catches were touchdowns. Adam Trautman is currently starting with Chris Manhertz or undrafted rookie Nate Adkins perhaps hoping to become the fifth backup tight end to score against the Jets this year.
The Broncos, who remain a 3-4 team on defense, only have one returning starter - nose tackle DJ Jones. Jones batted five passes down at the line last year.
The starting ends are now Zach Allen and Jonathan Harris. Allen leads the team with six quarterback hits.
Matt Henningsen and Mike Purcell return in the backup roles they also played last season, although Purcell is listed as questionable. Elijah Garcia joins them in the rotation this year.
The Broncos have made changes at the edge positions since last season and still haven’t fully settled on their rotation. Baron Browning, who successfully converted from inside linebacker to edge rusher last season, hasn’t played yet this season due to injury and the team opted to trade Randy Gregory just a few days ago.
That leaves a couple of reserves from last year in starting roles with last year’s top draft pick Nik Bonitto already leading the team with 3.5 sacks and Jonathon Cooper also adding three. Cooper scored a vital touchdown on a fumble return last week.
Veteran Frank Clark also provides some depth off the edge, but Ronnie Perkins and undrafted rookie Thomas Incoom haven’t made an impact yet.
On the inside, Alex Singleton, Josey Jewell and Jonas Griffith all saw plenty of action last year, but Griffith tore his ACL before the season. Singleton is leading the team in tackles again, and Jewell is playing well in coverage.
Griffith being out has afforded third round rookie Drew Sanders some opportunities to feature in the rotation. Justin Strnad is mostly a special teamer.
The Broncos have an outstanding cornerback in Patrick Surtain and one of the league’s highest paid safeties in Justin Simmons to anchor a talented secondary. Surtain was the team’s only Pro Bowler last year and leads the team with five pass breakups. Simmons, who had six interceptions in 12 games last year, was a pro bowler in 2020.
It’s significant that Simmons was not playing in that 50-point loss to Miami where the Broncos gave up 376 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and missed a ton of tackles at the second level and down the field.
The other starting safety is veteran Kareem Jackson, who has both of Denver’s two interceptions so far this season.
At cornerback, the other starter is Damarri Mathis, but he is struggling and has given up four touchdowns in coverage.
The nickel back position has been unsettled with K’Waun Williams on injured reserve and Essang Bassey waived this week. It looks like Ja’Quan McMillian is going to get a shot at this role.
Other cornerback options include veteran Fabian Moreau, Tremon Smith and third round rookie Riley Moss.
Another draft pick, sixth rounder JL Skinner, is available as safety depth, but it was Delarrin Turner-Yell who started in Simmons’ place when he was out. Caden Sterns, a key reserve last season, is on injured reserve but the Broncos activated PJ Locke from injured reserve on Saturday. Locke has mainly been a rotational safety and special teamer in Denver.
Denver made plenty of changes to their special teams units this year, including adding Wil Lutz as their new kicker and Riley Dixon as their new punter. Lutz has only missed two kicks so far, but both came in an opening day one-point loss to the Raiders. It’s early, but Dixon’s numbers for gross and net average are the worst of his career despite the altitude advantages.
In the return game, Mims has given them a boost with a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown and punt returns of 25 and 45 yards. McLaughlin is the backup kick returner and Smith is listed as the backup punt returner.
Smith is also one of the team’s primary punt gunners, along with Moreau. Cooper and Singleton were among their most productive special teamers last year but now that they are starters, players like Strnad, Turner-Yell and long snapper Mitchell Fraboni will be their most productive players in coverage.