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Lions vs. Broncos 5Qs preview: How Denver has quickly turned it around

A preview with Ian St. Clair about the Week 15 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos.

The Denver Broncos taking on the Kansas City Chiefs during week 8 of the NFL regular season Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

This Saturday, the Detroit Lions host the Denver Broncos in a marquee matchup at Ford Field. The atmosphere should be electric for such an important matchup where both teams have much at stake for their respective playoff pushes.

As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 15 matchup between Detroit and Denver, we called on Ian St. Clair from to give us some insight into how this Broncos team has gone from a woeful 1-5 start to a 7-6 record and just a game out of first place in the AFC West.

What a turnaround for the Broncos season! Through those first six weeks, Denver was 1-5 and things seemed real concerning from the outside looking in, but coming into Week 15, Sean Payton has this team just a game out of first place in the AFC West.

What was the impetus for the Broncos completely turning their season around and putting themselves on track for this playoff race since that 1-5 start in mid-October?

The belief and confidence that they could beat any team, under any scenario. Plus, Denver needed to learn how not to lose games. While it would have been nice for the Broncos to win one or some of those close, early games, they brought needed experience to where this team is right now heading into Saturday in the thick of the AFC playoff race. And that comes from Payton. The coaching job he has done this season is nothing short of spectacular. It can’t be stated enough just how historically bad this franchise has been in the last eight years. So to have that start, coupled with where Denver has been, speaks to the level of coach that Payton is. That has led to Vance Joseph completely turning around the defense. Russell Wilson looking like a completely different quarterback. It all ties back to Payton.

The 70 points Denver gave up to the Miami Dolphins feels like a distant data point firmly situated in the rearview for this defense. Over their last seven games, the Broncos are giving up just 15.6 points per game.

Not trying to turn every one of these questions into a tale of two halves, but going from a defense that was giving up 33.3 points per game over its first six games to what they’re doing now, where’s that coming from on this staff and on this roster?

Same song, different verse to the turnaround for the team. However, the big thing for the defense is health. Justin Simmons missed a few games early in the season, as was the case with Josey Jewell and Baron Browning. So getting key players back from injury has been huge. And just learning Joseph’s system and getting familiar with what he wants. Just like with Payton and the offense, you’re starting to see buy-in from the players. The defensive calls from Joseph last Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers were some of the best he’s had all season. So he’s getting familiar with the players and getting into a rhythm with his game plan and calls. Of course, forcing turnovers is a huge part of that turnaround. It’s turned into a mindset for this defense, like me with cake, the Broncos can’t get enough.

One of the reasons–and probably the primary one–the Broncos brought in Sean Payton was to help this organization get the most out of the franchise quarterback they moved heaven and Earth to acquire two offseasons ago.

Russell Wilson’s numbers look night and day in comparison to his first season in Denver, so what has Payton, Wilson, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi done to take an offense that finished 28th in DVOA last year to 15th in 2023?

Unlike Nathaniel Hackett, they know what they’re doing. I couldn’t go an entire FAQ without getting a dig on Hackett’s incompetence. It’s all parties involved wanting the same outcome, however that needs to happen. Having that same goal makes all the difference. And while Payton deserves a lot of credit with his coaching, experience and system, let’s not lose sight of Wilson wanting that coaching and putting in the work to get better. The play of Wilson and the offense may not be to the level that Payton, Lombardi or Wilson want, this is the first season they’ve worked together. As Wilson’s confidence grows, and his familiarity/knowledge of the system, he will get better. And vice versa as Payton and Lombardi continue to work with Wilson and the offense. Just like Joseph, Payton is starting to get his rhythm as well. The play call on the game-sealing TD was beautiful. Over the last four games, the Broncos will need the offense to continue to improve, make plays and score points.

Who are some of the unsung heroes on this Broncos roster, on either side of the ball, that have made a big difference this season?

It starts and stops with Ja’Quan McMillian. The undrafted second-year cornerback has been phenomenal since he got an opportunity against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. Since then, he just keeps making plays. McMillian is always around the ball. Whether creating turnovers, breaking up passes, tackles for loss, he’s doing it all. Given the Broncos have the best cornerback in the league in Pat Surtain II, it’s a huge piece in the secondary. I’ll also add safety P.J. Locke. He’s stepped up in the absence of Kareem Jackson and keeps making huge plays in key moments for this defense. If the Broncos are going to win on Saturday night, both will play a big role.

What’s one nugget of Broncos’ intel that a gambling Lions fan would find useful for their bet slip this weekend?

[Note: You can catch the latest odds at DraftKings Sportsbook]

Courtland Sutton anytime TDs are turning into great bets. Obviously, this prop depends on the value, but his catches have been incredible. The chemistry he has with Wilson is only getting stronger, so keep that in mind when betting this game. I’ll also add Wilson over 1.5 touchdowns. Wilson has hit this number seven times this season. Something tells me Wilson will need to do so again on Saturday for the Broncos to leave Detroit with a win.

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