After a debilitating 26-23 loss to the New England Patriots in week 16, the Broncos' playoff aspirations have been evaporated. While not mathematically out of the hunt, Denver would need to win both of its final two games and receive a tremendous amount of help to squeeze into the playoffs. It is an uphill battle against the odds, one the Broncos likely will not win, but the team must treat these final two games with the same level of importance that they treated the last nine. Failure to do so risks un-doing the foundation of the Broncos' new culture.
For the Broncos, 2023 has been all about finding an identity and reshaping the team culture to be conducive to winning. When the Broncos started the year 1-5, they were at a crossroads. The teams of years past might have folded, but these Broncos put their foot down and fought back to relevancy. The fact that Denver even found itself in the playoff hunt at this point in the year is a testament to the winning culture head coach Sean Payton has tried to instill during his first season in Denver.
For as joyous as climbing back into the playoff picture must have been for the team, the disappointment that they likely will not get across the finish line must hit just as hard, if not harder. After enduring a difficult loss like the one the Broncos received on Christmas eve, it would be easy for a lot of teams to quit on the season. For the future development of the team, it is imperative that the Broncos collectively fight to the end.
The Broncos still do have a chance to make the playoffs, a very unlikely chance, but a chance nonetheless. There is still something tangible to play for, which should be reason enough to go all out for the final two games. For the Broncos, however, it is more important for them to continue the good habit of expecting to win and expecting to perform well.
At the beginning of the year, Denver simply did not know how to win, now they are a team that not only knows how to win but knows what it is supposed to look like. Over the course of the season, the Broncos have learned how to resemble a real football team, but they must stay on the gas, especially after such a gut-wrenching loss. A bad attitude heading into the final weeks could quickly throw the Broncos back into bad habits and bad mindsets similar to what was seen during the early portion of the year.
The playoff dream for this season is practically dead, but the dream of a successful Broncos team in the near future is still very much alive. Broncos Country is down in the dumps right now, but that all could change with good performances in the final two games. These last matchups with the Chargers and Raiders will be the lasting impression of the 2023 Denver Broncos, and they will be extremely influential in how the roster for next season is constructed. Denver's performance over the next two weeks can either be a cap that keeps the Broncos as perennial losers, or a spring board that launches the franchise into its next chapter of success.