It’s a simple question: can the Denver Broncos win close games? The answer has been “no” more often than “yes” during the past two seasons. While the Broncos have gone an impressive 24-7 including the playoffs under Peyton Manning, the team has struggled in close games.
In games decided by seven points or less, the Broncos are an underwhelming 3-6 the past two seasons. That record drops to 1-5 in games decided by six points or less. So while the Broncos are a sparkling 21-1 in games when the final scores are more than a touchdown apart, they lose far more often than they win when the game is close.
Most would consider the New England Patriots to be the team most closely in competition with the Broncos these past two seasons. By comparison, the Patriots are 11-8 in games decided by seven points or less. Not only have they played many more close games (more than double), but they’ve proven to be much more successful in those situations.
So why have the Broncos struggled in close games? Is the team just designed to win big or not in at all? Is it bad luck? Superior opponents? Lack of experience? Or has the high-powered offense been masking the truth that the team does not do the little things that most teams need to do to be successful?
Turnover margin is widely seen as a sign of a winning team in the NFL. The Broncos are -4 in turnover margin in 2012 and 2013, yet lead the league with 24 regular season wins. The next three best teams are the Seattle Seahawks (23 wins, +29 TOs), New England Patirots (22 wins, +31 TOs) and San Francisco 49ers (21 wins, +17 TOs).
In 2013, the Broncos have only won the turnover battle three times, against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Tennessee Titans. They have been on the negative side of the turnover margin seven times, including all three of their defeats.
The turnover margin may be just a sign of an overall lack of execution and discipline. The Broncos are currently the 4th most penalized team in the NFL. Turnovers, penalties, and missed opportunities are overlooked in victory but critical in defeat.
In each of the Broncos losses these past two seasons there are plays or moments where the team failed to execute: Rahim Moore’s ill-timed deflection attempt against the Ravens, Peyton’s's three 1st quarter INTs against Atlanta, The Wes Welker-Tony Carter punt miscommunication in New England, Nate Irving’s offside penalty against the Chargers on 4th down. Moments like these littered throughout the past two seasons, but in close games the Broncos have just not been able to overcome them.
It’s time for the Broncos to step up their execution and start minimizing mistakes if they want to make a run at the Super Bowl. Putting up points and blowing teams out has its place, but lately that place has not been the NFL playoffs.
The past two Super Bowls have been decided by four points or less. Three of the four last conference championships have also been decided by four points or less. To bring home the Lombardi Trophy in February, the Broncos are likely going to have to do something they have not been very good at: win close games.