Things are going as well as they can be for the Denver Broncos as we enter the final month of the 2023 regular season. The team is in search of a Wild Card and, almost amazingly, could still win the AFC West division.
Considering the Broncos started 1-5 this season, head coach Sean Payton deserves a ton of credit for turning things around. After taking a historic 50-point defeat against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, no one was saying that. But the first-year coach had to do some serious soul-searching, as did the rest of his staff.
Some of the changes that were made included benching and eventually trading Randy Gregory and moving Ja'Quan McMillian into the starting lineup ahead of Essang Bassey. Another change was to move on from veteran pass-rusher Frank Clark.
These moves have helped the Broncos win six of their last seven games to put them firmly in place for a Wild Card berth. For a team that hasn't made the playoffs in eight seasons, that would get Payton into the talks of being the NFL Coach of the Year.
Looking around the league, here are some other coaches that could be considered for that award:
Demeco Ryans, Houston Texans
Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts
Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
That is a valid list, but if Payton were to accomplish getting this team into the playoffs with all of the in-season adjustments he had to make, his case for the award would be stronger than any of the names above.
Winning the AFC West should all but guarantee Coach of the Year for Payton
If Payton was able to pull off winning the AFC West division, something the Kansas City Chiefs have had a stranglehold on since Patrick Mahomes entered the league, the award would almost certainly be his. Consider what he would have had to do in order to make that happen:
- Snapped 16-game losing streak to the Chiefs
- Recovered from a 1-5 record to make the postseason, something only four teams in history have done.
- Rebounded after a 50-point defeat at which point nearly everyone assumed the season was over.
And that's just a starting point. This has been a fabulous coaching job by Payton and if the Broncos make the playoffs, he should be given the award. If they win the division, he should be the unanimous winner.
Red Miller in 1977 is the only coach in Broncos history to win the award. It would be the second time for Payton, who also won the award in 2006 with the New Orleans Saints.