How to Bet the Broncos’ First Win and Loss in 2020
FanDuel Sportsbook is offering odds on when seven "local favorites" will win and lose their first games in the 2020 season.
Our exploration of those teams continues with the Denver Broncos, who won four of their last five games in 2019 to finish the season at 7-9. Much of the Broncos' resurgence last December is credited to quarterback Drew Lock, who completed 64.1 percent of his passes in those final five games while tossing seven touchdowns and just three interceptions. Denver is riding Lock into the future and made a strong move to help him by drafting wide receiver Jerry Jeudy in the first round.
There are two bets we're analyzing today -- when Denver will pick up its first win and which team will hand the Broncos their first loss of the season. The options for these two bets are limited to just the first seven weeks of the season, which is more than enough to find some betting value.
The Broncos' schedule in those first seven games is an interesting mix of opponents, but it does require the Broncos to head out to the the east three times. After opening at home against the Tennessee Titans, Denver heads to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 then returns home to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Broncos have consecutive east coast trips in Weeks 4 and 5 with visits to the New York Jets and New England Patriots. They end their first half of the season with home dates against the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
Let's start with the first win wager and look at the three most likely opportunities for Denver to snag that first victory.
Week 1 vs. Tennessee (-145)
I know Denver is at home, but I'm still a little confused why the Broncos are an early 1.5-point favorite against Tennessee in the season opener.
The Titans are coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game and return Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee ranks 12th in numberFire's offseason power rankings, while Denver checks in 19th, making it even more of a mismatch on paper.
Perhaps it has something to do with Denver's 16-0 win when these two played in Week 6 last season, but both teams are being led by different quarterbacks now. Tannehill was a major reason the Titans' season turned around, taking over as their starter following that Week 6 loss. In 12 appearances and 10 starts in the regular season, the quarterback threw for 22 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions while completing more than 70 percent of his passes. He might not win games with his arm by himself, but his 52.55 percent Passing Success Rate last year was third-best among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, trailing only Drew Brees and Dak Prescott.
He'll be throwing against a secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 65 percent of their passes last season -- ranking 24th in the league -- and intercepted just 10 passes all last year. The bad news is the Titans' offensive line allowed 56 sacks a year ago and ranked last in 2019 with an 11.2 percent adjusted sack rate -- which calculates sacks and intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt then adjusts the rate to account for opponent and situation.
Even if the Broncos manage to slow down the Titans' offense, they will face a Tennessee defense that allowed scores on just 32.1 percent of possessions, the sixth-best rate in the league. Scoring was a problem for much of last season for Denver, though it is hard to blame Lock for the Broncos ranking 25th last season in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- numberFire's metric for evaluating an offense when adjusted for schedule. He'll need to rely on a relatively inexperienced receiving corps to help complement Courtland Sutton and test the Titans' secondary without Logan Ryan, Tennessee's best corner from a year ago.
Week 4 at New York Jets (+750)
The only reason the odds on this game being the Broncos' first win are so high is because Denver is a favorite in the opener against Tennessee. In reality, though, the Jets are the 26th in the numberFire power rankings with the worst projected offense in the league.
The Jets might have won six of their final eight games last season to build some hype around Sam Darnold entering this campaign, but it wasn't the offense that led New York to those victories. New York was the worst offense in the league based on numberFire’s schedule-adjusted metrics, finishing 73.52 points below expectation. And Darnold's Passing NEP per drop back ranked just 26th out of 34 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs last season
Darnold will be surrounded by a cast of weapons that is suspicious at best. The Jets lost two of their five players who made at least 30 catches a year ago. Leading pass-catcher Jamison Crowder returns, but the next leading returning receiver is running back Le'Veon Bell followed by tight end Ryan Griffin, who caught 34 passes for 320 yards and five scores last season. The saving grace is the additions of free agent Breshad Perriman and second-round pick Denzel Mims, who could play big roles this season, as well as a healthy Chris Herndon.
New York will also need to do a better job at opening holes for Bell, who ran for only 789 yards last season, the fewest he's had in any season in which he's played at least eight games. The Jets' offensive line ranked 31st last year in adjusted line yards -- how many yards the offensive line gained for the runner with its blocking -- and ranked 25th in the league by allowing the runner to be tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage on 21 percent of carries.
It's hard to project how the Jets' defense will look before the resolution of Jamal Adams' ongoing dispute with the team, but either way, Denver will need to find ways to exploit the Jets' weakness against the pass. Even though 11 different Jets players intercepted a pass last season, only Neville Hewitt did it more than once -- and he had just two picks. New York ranked 27th last season by hurrying the quarterback on just 7.7 percent of his drop backs and ranked 26th with a 5.6 percent sack rate.
The addition of Melvin Gordon this offseason should help the Broncos to be able to exploit some of those weaknesses. Gordon has caught at least 40 passes in each of the last four seasons and eclipsed 400 yards receiving in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In those three seasons, Gordon's totals averaged out to 58 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns over the course of a 16-game season, giving Lock another weapon to attack the Jets' pass defense.
Week 6 vs. Miami (+1700)
The only team worse than the Jets on the first half of Denver's schedule is Miami, who checks in at No. 28 in the first numberFire power rankings. The team that was seemingly trying to tank last season has plenty of questions entering this year, many of which will likely be answered heading into this Week 6 contest.
The most pressing question is when Tua Tagovailoa will make his debut and take over the mantle as Miami's quarterback of the future, and it's plausible that it will happen by the time these two teams meet in mid-October. Still, it will take a lot for Tagovailoa to match what Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to do for Miami last season, leading the Dolphins to a 5-8 record in his starts while also being the team's leading rusher. He worked behind an offensive line that allowed a league-worst 58 sacks a year ago and had rushes stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage on more than a quarter of attempts.
Although the Dolphins didn't do much to load up on weapons to complement receiver DeVante Parker, Miami definitely addressed its pass-rush issues from a year ago. The Dolphins had only 23 sacks last season, by far the fewest in the league, and hurried the quarterback on just 6.1 percent of drop backs. They went out and raided their own division to sign Shaq Lawson from Buffalo and Kyle Van Noy from New England, both of whom had 6.5 sacks last year -- a total that would have led Miami.
This is the exact type of game the Broncos won last season with Lock at the helm. A main reason Denver was able to win its final four games at home last season was the luck of playing the easier opponents on their schedule at home. Denver's opponents over those final four home games were a combined 21-42-1 last year, and Miami fits the boat of a team that will likely finish with a losing record and has to make the trip to the Mile High City.
I am fully aware I am contradicting myself with this pick, but my play here is to pick the Broncos to go across the country on a short week and beat the Jets in the Meadowlands for their first victory. If I was more bold, I would consider pushing my luck until Week 6 against Miami at home, but the Jets seem like a safer play. As outlined above, the Jets are the easiest opponent in Denver's first five games, and at +750 odds, it's a good bet for both value and likelihood of coming true.
On the other end, the first loss bet sets itself up with a pretty easy decision. Everyone underestimated Tennessee last season, and it seems like the oddsmakers are doing it again considering Denver is an early 1.5-point favorite in the opener. Yet, the Titans are 12th in our power rankings for a reason, so taking Denver to lose for the first time in the opener at +115 odds is the best play.
If you're bold enough to believe Denver can march into Pittsburgh and win, it might make sense to take the Broncos to lose to Tampa Bay at the +550 odds. After Week 3, the odds for when Denver suffers its first loss basically doubles the next two weeks to +1100 in Week 4 at New York then +2000 for that first loss to come in Foxborough against the Patriots.