The Denver Broncos rolled to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the AFC in 2012, but the lasting memory of their season is Baltimore Ravens’ receiver Jacoby Jones getting behind free safety Rahim Moore at the end of regulation in their second-round playoff game for the touchdown that forced overtime, and ultimately the Broncos’ elimination.
The issue for this season’s NFL analysis is whether that game was just a fluke, or if it exposed some deeper flaws in the Denver team.
As good as Denver was throughout the regular season—and with Peyton Manning’s brilliant comeback year leading the way, they ranked high in most statistical categories—the Broncos did not have a tough schedule and if not for a couple special teams’ touchdowns, would have lost that infamous playoff game decisively.
Now you have Manning at 37-years-old, plus other key players who are continuing to get up there in years. Champ Bailey on the corner, Shaun Phillips at outside linebacker and new wide receiver Wes Welker are all at least 32-years-old. This is not a young team.
Furthermore, the pass rush—the pride and joy of the defense a year ago—has lost its two strongest components, one of them permanently, the other temporarily. Elvis Dumervil was allowed to leave via free agency and went to Baltimore. Von Miller, who generated 18 ½ sacks from his outside linebacker spot, is suspended for six games due to a substance violation.
These were the only two Denver defensive players that could be genuinely called elite, and it’s tough to see how this remains anywhere close to the top-five defense it was in the 2012 season.
We can continue the piling on by pointing out that the one area of the team that wasn’t very good was the running game. Denver ranked 25th in yards-per-carry, in spite of the fact that opponents clearly had to game plan for Manning and the passing game.
The Broncos drafted Montee Ball from Wisconsin to try and help, and he’ll vie with holdovers Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno for time. But none of the three is a really strong inside rusher, and Moreno is coming off knee surgery.
I know this post has taken on a very negative tone, but the presence of Manning is going to ensure that Denver wins games and makes it back to the playoffs. The addition of Welker, to go with 1,000-yard receivers in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, give the future Hall of Fame quarterback enough targets to put points on the board and cover for a weakened defense.
But Manning came to Denver because both sides wanted more than just getting to the playoffs. The quarterback and a weak division will get them their chance in January, but it’s hard to see this as a true Super Bowl-caliber team right now. Las Vegas has posted their Over/Under win prop at 11.5, and I have to go Under.