DENVER — I covered major league baseball for 15 years as a full-time beat writer. A fascinating barometer existed for teams. Most knew who they were by May 15.
It was a mile marker that provided clarity and often clobbered team executives over the head with a sobering reality.
A similar thing exists in the NFL at this point in the calendar. Free agency is over. So, too, is the draft. The rosters reflect closely what a team will roll out the first week of September.
As such, the NFL over-under season win totals take on added significance. They cannot be viewed as doctrine, but the information must be filed away with a confident head nod.
Looking at SuperBook Sports' numbers reveals hope and a potentially painful truth for the Broncos. Their over-under number is 8.5. That means they stand a good chance of snapping their streak of six straight losing seasons, their longest skid since 1963-72. However, the math fails to compute for a playoff berth, something missing since the franchise won Super Bowl 50.
Here are the projected AFC totals:
These numbers suggest cautious optimism for the Broncos. And a potential punch to the throat. The Broncos host the Jets this season, with the schedule revealed on Thursday at 6 p.m. Aaron Rodgers and Nathaniel Hackett, as part of Gang Green, come to Denver, a year too late. This game could determine if the Broncos reach the playoffs when looking at the numbers.
"It's very possible," Westgate SuperBook vice-president Jay Kornegay said.
The odds scream as much. Taking the over-unders, the AFC's seven playoff teams would be as follows:
Bengals, Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Jaguars, Jets, Dolphins, Chargers (two of the final three would make it).
The Browns, Broncos and Steelers would be left with their noses pressed up against the postseason window pane. The reality is that every year one or two advances in each conference that nobody expected. There are already some suggesting that Carolina will morph into that team in the NFC, a hunch that makes sense with a new quarterback and loaded coaching staff.
The problem with the AFC? It becomes more predictable because so many star quarterbacks play here: Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and an emerging Trevor Lawrence. All have won MVPs or will be in the conversation.
It's why coach Sean Payton and Russell Wilson's relationship remains so important, Denver's return to relevancy hinging on Wilson rebounding like Dennis Rodman. Wilson has been a past MVP candidate, then dissolved before our eyes last season with career lows in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5). If he doesn't finish with between 25-to-30 touchdowns, fewer than 10 interceptions and 65 percent completions, it's difficult to see the Broncos winning nine or 10 games.
We know the who on the Broncos schedule, just not the when. And the when matters for road opponents like the Dolphins (preferably not muggy and sizzling September) and Bills (ideally not in teeth-chattering December).
However, looking at Denver's home opponents — Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Jets, Patriots, Packers, Vikings, Browns and Commanders — they must go 6-3. Part of the reason Denver has eroded is because the altitude has carried no advantage. Dig deeper and recognize tie-breakers, the games against the Jets and Browns take on added importance when glancing back at those over-unders.
Win two-thirds of the home games, then it requires only three or four victories on the road, where the opponents are the AFC West, Dolphins, Bills, Bears, Lions and Texans.
The reality — something that Payton has touched on this offseason, and likely will again when we interview him Sunday after rookie minicamp — is that the Broncos need to improve significantly in their division. They are 6-18 over their last 24 AFC West games, losing 15 straight to the Chiefs and six consecutive and eight of nine to the Raiders. Without a boost in the West — 3-3 is a realistic goal — talk of the playoffs should be made in whispers, if at all.
The predictive math tells us that.