Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Justin Becker of Fantasy Football Overdose. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Premier Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose – a fantasy football blog.
The Denver Broncos were offensive fiends in 2013. Peyton Manning broke NFL records in passing yardage and passing touchdowns, and as insanely dominant as the Broncos were through the air, they were equally impressive on the ground. Knowshon Moreno played the role of a work horse with over 1.600+ total yards, while rookie back Montee Ball was even a solid change of pace option.
While last year was fun, it did end in horrific fashion, as the Denver Broncos really never got anything going in a rough 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Their defense really didn’t put up much of a fight, while predictability and a clear lack of toughness had Denver playing behind the eight ball all day in the biggest game of the year.
Getting back to the Super Bowl to finish the job will be objective A in 2014, but there could be some obstacles. For one, the Broncos will need to cross their fingers that the 37-year old Manning can 1) put up that kind of insane production once again and 2) stay healthy. Even if he can answer both in positive (and possibly elite) fashion, there is also the concern of turnover on the offensive end. After all, Denver will now be relying full-time on Ball with Moreno gone to the Miami Dolphins, while Eric Decker is gone (to the Jets) and is replaced by the often injured Emmanuel Sanders.
Just as important as how they play themselves, however, could be who might be standing in their way in the AFC. As good as Denver was last year, they actually got some stiff tests from a few AFC opponents during the regular season. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers gave them a run for their money inside their own division, while they also lost key games on the road to the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.
So, will one of those teams be the final road block between the Broncos and a return trip to the playoffs? Let’s find out by breaking down the top three AFC teams the Broncos may have to worry about in 2014:
New England Patriots
Obviously the potential of any Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning battle is enticing, but it’s not something Denver is going to welcome with open arms. They did dispatch the Pats with ease in the playoffs last year, but lost to them in New England during the regular season. It’s hard to say it was a fair fight the second time around in post-season play, either, as the Pats were without star tight end Rob Gronkowski and were thrown off of their game.
Next year the Pats figure to be much healthier and much more balanced on both sides of the ball, making them a potential nightmare opponent. The early schedule release already has the Pats taking on the Broncos during the regular season, but Denver will have their fingers crossed that they don’t run into New England on their way to another Super Bowl (hopefully).
In fact, the Patriots had turned into a very tough team on the ground near the end of the 2013 season, and oddly turned away from their rushing attack in their matchup with the Broncos. This ended up forcing too much pressure on Tom Brady, who didn’t have the necessary protection or weapons to convert on opportunities.
Indianapolis is probably a hotter name to make their way onto this list, but no one wants to face the Baltimore Ravens. Whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, we all know Manning doesn’t want to have to beat Baltimore, who should be better on defense this year and with added fire power, should also be much more consistent on offense.
Steve Smith can still pack a punch at wide receiver, and the best part for the Ravens is he doesn’t even have to be a true #1 receiver anymore thanks to Torrey Smith. Add in a re-signed Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels and a hopefully rebounding Ray Rice on the ground, and Baltimore suddenly just might be able to challenge the Broncos on the offensive end.
We know Baltimore can rival anyone with their gritty defense, and if they can consider their issues at safety and linebacker resolved, they should shoot up the AFC North ranks and have a legit chance at getting back to post-season play. That’s the last place the Broncos will want to see them.
Kansas City Chiefs
Why not the Chiefs? KC started 9-0 a year ago, and while they were probably getting a tad ahead of themselves, they’re actually a pretty talented team on both sides of the ball. Add in the quality coaching of Andy Reid, and there’s every reason to think Kansas City will once again push Denver for the AFC West crown.
The Chiefs have a steady game manager under center in Alex Smith, along with a speedy, explosive back in Jamaal Charles. If they can add another weapon at wide receiver or tight end in the draft, their offense could get even more dynamic and might have a shot at keeping up with Denver in their two regular season meetings.
Defense is where KC made the biggest waves during the first half of the 2013 season, however, and how consistent they can remain is going to be the true question – especially against the Broncos. They have the tools to be elite against the run and in the pass rush, but will need to find a way to get more consistent against the pass. If they can, they could be a thorn in Denver’s side during the regular season. Even if they’re not, however, the Broncos surely won’t want to have to face them a third time in the playoffs.
Ultimately, of Denver’s three main competitors in the AFC, Tom Brady and the Pats are both the most interesting and most formidable. Denver beat them in the playoffs last year and barely lost to them in New England during the regular season, but the two teams matchup well and have a ton of history. If Broncos fans are looking for a team to avoid come post-season play, New England is likely it.