The Super Bowl slump got the best of the Denver Broncos in 2016. After bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Denver, the Broncos failed to make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Can the Broncos get back to the playoffs, or will they miss the playoffs for back-to-back seasons? Let’s dive in.
Defense leads the way
There is no doubt that the defense is a well-oiled machine and the engine is Von Miller. Arguably the greatest force of nature the NFL has seen since Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor, Miller keeps quarterbacks up at night and makes them look like they’re sleepwalking come game day. The loss of pass rusher Shane Ray will hurt early in the season, but Denver still has the best cornerback duo in the league with Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. The Broncos have finished the season number one in pass defense for two consecutive seasons by keeping quarterbacks under 200 yards per game.
Despite the loss of T.J. Ward, Talib believes second year man Justin Simmons is ready to step up. “You see it,” Talib said. “You see his production in OTAs. You see his production last year. He’s a smart kid. It’s not like we have to worry about him knowing his assignments or knowing what the other team is doing. He is professional. He is mature. He’s married. He’s going to go home and study like a vet. This should be an easy transition for him.” With an easy transition expected, they will look to become only the second NFL team to finish on top of that category for three consecutive seasons.
If the defense has an Achilles’ heel, it’s been their run defense. After finishing 28th a year ago, the team added veterans Domata Peko and Zach Kerr to bolster up their defensive line. The team will learn quickly if the run defense improvements make a difference. The first four backs the Broncos will face include: Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott (pending suspension), LeSean McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch. Luckily, both Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick returned to practice Monday after missing several weeks while recovering from a sprained ankle and back spasms.
Quarterback question mark
There is no doubt that the quarterback position is a huge question mark despite Trevor Siemian winning the quarterback battle with ease. How could there not be? Seventh round draft picks are not supposed to beat out first round picks. It would also be an understatement to say the Broncos offense struggled a year ago. Siemian finished his 2016 campaign 23rd in touchdown passes with 17, and 28th in completion percentage at 59.5 percent. Denver also ranked 27th in total offense. It’s a quarterback’s league. If Siemian struggles the first four weeks, look for the Brock Osweiler rumblings to gain steam heading into the bye week.
The Broncos will inherently need to start off fast with four of their first five games at home. The next two months will serve as the team’s toughest test with seven of the next ten games on the road. The AFC West will yet again look to be the top division in football. Add in the fact that Denver faces the league’s toughest schedule, 2017 will be an uphill battle. However, motivating players and demanding the best out of them has always been one of coach Vance Joseph strengths. Joseph will be relied on to unify a locker room that has shown rifts in the past. Despite the hurdles, Denver’s defense remains dominant and with an improved offensive line and another year under Siemian’s belt the offense will give them just enough to sneak into the playoffs at 10-6.