It has not always felt like it, but the 2023 Denver Broncos have been the most successful team the franchise has fielded since 2016. The fact that a team hovering around .500 can be called one of the best iterations of the franchise in eight years speaks volumes to how down the Broncos have been since going 9-7 in 2016. Progress is still progress, and the 2023 Broncos have done just enough winning to create optimism for the future.
At 8-8, the Broncos are out of the AFC playoff race. For the eighth straight year, Denver will not be in the NFL postseason. It is a disappointing outcome to a season that- at certain points- had fans truly believing the Broncos would be playoff-bound, but it is also an outcome that was expected given Denver's early-season struggles and its plethora of roster holes.
The disappointment of the Broncos' prolonged playoff drought, as well as extra drama from the benching of quarterback Russell Wilson has made it difficult to remember the Broncos still have something to play for -- a ninth victory.
The NFL has never been a league for moral victories, but a ninth win would mean a lot to a franchise that has not secured a winning record since the aforementioned 2016 season. There was a point in time when the Broncos prided itself on rarely having a losing season, and if there was a losing season, it certainly would not become two in a row. Those days have since faded, and losing seasons have become a regular occurrence in Denver, but a win in the final week of 2023 to secure a 9-8 record would feel like a return to the universe's rightful order- one where the Broncos rarely go below .500
Denver's final regular season will be yet another challenge of mental fortitude, the team will be in Las Vegas to play the Raiders in the season finale. The Broncos have not defeated the Raiders since its bitter division rival relocated from Oakland in 2020. Officially, Denver is 0-7 against the Las Vegas Raiders, and a loss in week 18 would make it four straight season sweeps in the Raiders' favor. The Broncos, however, have been experiencing a year of "firsts". Denver broke its losing streak to the Chiefs, they finally grabbed a win inside SoFi stadium, and now it might be time to finally beat the Las Vegas Raiders.
Whether or not the Broncos end up with that coveted winning season ultimately does not matter in the long run. Denver's future will be decided by the outcome of the Russell Wilson situation and whatever additional moves the front office decides to make in the offseason. Whatever the case may be, 2023 should be remembered as the year the Broncos became a real football team again. The team still has a long way to go before they should be taken as a serious threat, but the foundation is there.
The 2023 Broncos reached the franchise's highest win total of the last seven seasons, and they have a chance to record their first winning record of the last eight. The team was playing in meaningful December games, and while they fell short of the playoffs, they showed tremendous toughness and grit to even put themselves in that position. The 2023 Broncos, for all of its faults, have successfully instilled hope and belief in a franchise that was at rock bottom, and fans should be excited for year two of the Sean Payton era. For the first time in years, the Broncos feel like they are moving toward success, and not just trying to tread water.