DENVER — Before the season, this matchup dripped in drama. Russell Wilson, the nine-time Pro Bowler, making a playoff push against Kyler Murray, a younger version of himself.
Sunday, neither will play. The teams have combined for seven wins, mirroring each other in disappointment and speculation about the future of their head coaches.
An electric game became acoustic when Murray tore his ACL on Monday and Friday the Broncos ruled out Wilson — he will not be active — to prioritize his health despite the veteran clearing the concussion protocol.
It was the right decision with the Broncos boasting a 3-10 record and Wilson appearing to have been knocked out against the Chiefs. The ownership invested $242 million in Wilson as part of his contract extension, including $161 million guaranteed. Weighing the risk vs reward, it makes sense to sit Wilson out of an abundance of caution, though the disappointed quarterback made it clear he wanted to play.
The backup battle between Brett Rypien and Colt McCoy doesn't exactly move the needle. But there are plenty of things to watch:
Jerry Jeudy channeled his temper into a volcanic performance, scoring three touchdowns against the Chiefs. He told Denver7 he must control his emotions better. But, he also admitted that "playing angry" helped him. It's time to make Jeudy the focus of the passing game over the final month. Keep him at the X position even if Courtland Sutton returns from a hamstring injury. Jeudy has star potential, give him a chance to show it with an average of 10 targets a game moving forward.
Pat Surtain II, my team MVP this season, matches up against DeAndre Hopkins. Surtain eyes a strong finish after hiccups against Carolina and Las Vegas. His body of work will stand up at season's end.
Randy is back
Randy Gregory was the Broncos' biggest free agent signing, netting $28 million guaranteed. In the first month, he was disruptive with two sacks, seven quarterback hits and two forced fumbles. He returns against the Cardinals following surgery on his right knee. He said it is important to build momentum going into the offseason, "regardless of our record right now." Also Billy Turner is back and should start at right tackle.
No Dre, so who will key the D?
Dre'Mont Jones landed on the season-ending IR on Saturday because of a hip injury. Jones was optimistic about it this week, but multiple visits to specialists determined that he needs roughly a month to rest. He will be a free agent at season's end. The team wants to re-sign him, and could franchise tag him as an option, too. That means DeShawn Williams, D.J. Jones and Mike Purcell must step up.
Keep feeding Dulcich
If the Broncos draft at the bottom of the first round with the 49ers pick they could go right tackle or even tight end. Notre Dame's Michael Mayer will be tempting if he's on the board. In the meantime, feed Greg Dulcich along with Jeudy. Dulcich must improve at blocking and with his feel for zone coverage. But give him attention in the passing game.
Try out kick returners
Montrell Washington has improved on punt return. But why not give Jalen Virgil a look on kick returns? There's no guarantee either is on the team next season. It would be nice to see Virgil get some reps.
Coaching for a job
For Hackett to avoid a one-and-done scenario, it figures he needs to go 3-1 over the final four games with an offense that scores more than 20 points per game. Is that possible? If I were Hackett, I let it all hang out and take chances. He has nothing to lose except for another game.
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 20, Cardinals 17.