It’s a tough task to repeat as Super Bowl champions, a feat no team has been able to accomplish since the New England Patriots did it in 2005. Although the Denver Broncos face an uphill battle to take the title again next season, their situation is not as bleak as many predict.
While Denver did lose some quality contributors to free agency, nine of its 11 starters on defense are returning. The team lost Malik Jackson, a great penetrating defensive tackle, but will replace him with a platoon of players including newcomer Jared Crick and effective run-stopper Vance Walker.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan departed, but middle linebacker has never been a position John Elway has valued. Denver believes Todd Davis, Corey Nelson or Zaire Anderson can become the next in a long line of successful, previously lowly-touted linebackers.
With the return of tone-setting veterans like Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, the unit’s snarl shouldn’t waver. Continued development from Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Bradley Roby and Kayvon Webster could push the unit over the top once more, along with contributions from rookies.
The biggest reason for optimism in the Mile High City is a retooled offense. It was no hidden secret how bad Peyton Manning was last season, as evidenced by his nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Projected starting quarterback Mark Sanchez owns a career ratio of 86 touchdowns to 84 interceptions, but also has a 4-2 playoff record. He has experience navigating a quality defense and running game to AFC Championship games, which he did with the New York Jets in 2009 and 2010.
To a lot of fans, Sanchez simply can’t be as bad as Manning was throughout last season, especially with a revamped and competent offensive line. Denver will have two new tackles in Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, two players with injury histories but are effective when healthy. The starting guards will likely be Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo, with center Matt Paradis returning.
The line will have a cohesive unit full of starting caliber players, something last year’s team could only have dreamed of due to injuries. Not only should this continuity and boosted talent level help improve the passing game, but the running game as well.
It took a while for running back C.J. Anderson to become effective last season, but he turned it on late and lifted the team. With a new extension in his back pocket, Anderson will be expected to be much more consistent. Newcomer Devontae Booker fell in the draft due to injury concerns, but could make an impact sooner than later at RB.
Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders return to form one of the most potent duos in the league, while last year’s third round pick Jeff Heuerman should see plenty of playing time at tight end after sitting out last year with a torn ACL.
The lynchpin for the 2016-17 Broncos will likely be Von Miller and his contract. While fans shouldn’t be worried until the July 15 deadline passes, the Super Bowl 50 MVP has created quite a stir this offseason with his new celebrity status and fair, but large contract demands. Drawing the offense’s attention each play, Miller has a profound effect on this team, one which could turn negative if he decides to sit out the season due to his contract dispute.
For the first time in a long time it seems, the Broncos aren’t guaranteed to win their division. Sanchez might not inspire many Denver fans, but he could very well be an improvement compared to the quarterback play last season, while the offensive line received some major upgrades.
Many Super Bowl teams fail to repeat because of high expectations and a quenched championship thirst, but already experts are low on this Denver team. The Broncos were seemingly underdogs in each of their playoff games, but that only helped their mentality.
“That fuels me a lot just to hear some of the things…they doubted us last year, and you saw how it motivated us. You do it again this year, we’ll just see how it goes,” said Roby in an article by Mile High Sports.
It’s a new era in Denver, as the team lost both its quarterbacks from their Super Bowl winning team. But the real nucleus of the team remains, along with their unprecedented desire to remain world champions and some underrated upgrades to-boot.