(TSX / STATS) — One team was supposed to compete for a playoff spot, and one was supposed to be dreadful.
Somewhere along the line, the New York Jets and Denver Broncos got their preseason expectations mixed up.
Denver, which has lost eight in a row after a 3-1 start, welcomes the Jets to Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday.
The Broncos clinched their first losing season since 2010 with a 35-9 loss in Miami last week, and they are very likely to be officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday, even if they win.
Oddsmakers set Denver’s over/under wins total at eight before this season, but Vance Joseph’s first year as head coach hasn’t gone as planned. The eight-game skid is the franchise’s longest since 1967.
“This has been a tough year. It’s not what the Broncos are about,” general manager John Elway said Tuesday on Denver radio. “I’m embarrassed about it, the fact that this has happened, and will do my part to hopefully get this thing turned around next year, and the expectations of Broncos fans should be for us to get this turned around.”
Denver’s main problem has been quarterback play. Trevor Siemian started the team’s first seven games before he was benched in favor of retread Brock Osweiler, who endured three games before giving way to 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch.
Lynch lasted only until the third quarter against the Raiders before hurting his ankle, forcing a return to Siemian. The three combined for 14 interceptions during the eight-game losing streak (nine for Siemian), and the Broncos are minus-16 in turnover differential this season — second-worst in the league (Cleveland, minus-19).
Lynch is still not ready to return, so Siemian again wins the war of attrition despite three more interceptions against the Dolphins, including one returned for a touchdown.
“I can’t speak to Trevor’s confidence,” Joseph said earlier this week when announcing Siemian the starter. “I can say he has to play better. Obviously, we had some missed throws (in Miami), and we had some missed reads. … Trevor, in my opinion, is a confident guy.”
Jets quarterback Josh McCown has real reason to be confident. The career journeyman is having a renaissance year at age 38, with 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while playing every snap this season for the surprising Jets (5-7).
McCown was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after throwing for 331 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for two touchdowns in a 38-31 win over the Chiefs. McCown is tied with Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott and DeShone Kizer for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback this season (five).
New York head coach Todd Bowles called McCown “very effective” earlier this week, adding, “I think he’s got to the point where he’s smart enough to know and realize his talents of what he can and can’t do.”
The Jets (5-7) are a longshot for the postseason at two games behind the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) for the second wild-card spot in the AFC with four games to play. Still, New York has already exceeded its preseason expectations, which were 3.5 wins in Vegas.
Of the Jets’ seven losses, only one has been by double digits, and they’ve had a fourth-quarter lead in three others. That said, New York struggles on the road, going 1-4 with the only win coming by three points against winless Cleveland.
Despite that, the Jets are one-point favorites against the Broncos as of Wednesday evening.
“At the end of the day, we’re the ones playing, not the people that said we’re gonna go 0-16,” said Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon. “But it’s not about them. It’s completely about everyone in this locker room that’s putting on that uniform each and every week to go out there and compete for a win.”