ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Let’s get the obvious out of the way, the Denver Broncos aren’t going to make the playoffs. Shocker, I know.
So, are the last four games just about jockeying for draft position?
Certainly, that’s a big aspect of the final quarter of the season, but the last four games will decide a lot more for the future of the organization than just if the Broncos pick No. 2 overall, No. 10 overall or somewhere in between in April’s draft.
The final stretch of “meaningless games,” per se, will likely have a significant impact on how the 2018 team looks—in both the coaching ranks and the players on the field.
“I’m playing for the team, but I’m also playing for myself as well. I want to be as good of a player as I can possibly be,” outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said when asked what he’s playing for the final four games of the season. “If I’m down on myself and playing bad, then I’m going to lose my job. I won’t be able to play football anymore. I’m playing for myself and the team.”
In the first quarter of the season, before the Broncos started their eight-game losing streak, the sentiment around the locker room revolved entirely around one goal: To win games. Now that the season is out of hand, players are starting to play for their own livelihood.
“Not only are you playing for if you want to be in blue or orange next year, but you’re also playing for 31 other teams, too,” C.J. Anderson said.
The most intriguing part of the veteran running back’s comments wasn’t that he’s auditioning for every team in the league in the final four games of the season, but the fact that he’s currently under contract with the Broncos for next year.
Not only are players with expiring contracts playing for their livelihood to close out the season, but players under contract understand that sweeping changes could hit them and their teammates after the season depending on how the team finishes the year.
The team is also playing for their head coach, Vance Joseph. Over the past few weeks, Joseph has acknowledged the pressure he’s under as the coach of a 3-9 team with an organization that has more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons in the Pat Bowlen Era.
With calls for his job seemingly coming from every corner from fans and media alike, the players, as well as Joseph, understand how important this finish will be for his future with the team.
“We’re just not doing things as a team consistently right now to string together a win for Vance,” Anderson said with an emphasis on wanting to get a win for his rookie head coach. “Not only is it just that ‘VJ2’ is a good guy, he’s a great coach, and he’s going to be a hell of a head coach. He says the right things, he believes the right things and puts us in the right positions. We’re just not doing things consistently as a team, starting with myself. We just have to figure out why.”
Elway’s thought process once the season concludes could mimic Joseph’s comment about “How you lose in this league makes a difference.” Finishing the season 5-11—going 2-2 in the final quarter—is significantly different than ending on a 12-game losing streak to drop to 3-13.
For the 2017 Broncos, the final four games are merely 240 minutes of football left to play. However, those 240 minutes very well could go a long way in deciding how the organization looks moving past this season.