Division Preview: AFC West
Division Champs: Denver Broncos
2016 Record Prediction: 11-5
Explanation: You can call it fan bias or just being sheer stubborn, but until proven otherwise, the defending world champions are STILL the best team in the AFC West(NFL, too). With the off-season being filled with more twists and turns than a roller coaster, many analysts and fans began to question the Broncos’ prospects at repeating as AFC West champions, let alone Super Bowl Champions. Between the top two QB’s from 2015 departing, key defenders heading for green pastures(financially) and a contract dispute with the MVP that was recently resolved, the Broncos found themselves in the league headlines(with often negative connotations).
Despite the massive amount of shade that was thrown Denver’s way this off-season, it’s hard to
objectively look at the moves the Broncos have made and say that it was a bad off-season. Need more proof, ok…
-They allowed Osweiler to walk, saving them up to $18 million a year in cap savings.
-They re-signed much of the “core” players on the team starting with
-their best player
-the ONLY player on offense that played well in the SB(Anderson),
-their best linebacker
-A defensive end that has only gotten better as his career has gone on
-Signed a Pro Bowl caliber Left Tackle for ZERO guaranteed money
-Signed another tackle who is a great fit for the zone blocking scheme and can play every position on the line, sans the center position
-Acquired a QB with over 70 starts and a winning record in the postseason for only a 7th round pick
-Had a Draft class that includes arguably the most talented QB prospect, one of the best Running backs, two potential replacements in the backfield for Ward/Stewart oh, and a guy that’s really good at faking punts(he’s good at doing real ones, too)
-After ALL of those transactions, the team is still under the cap and is projected to have the 11th most cap room going into the next off-season.
Again, how did the Broncos have a “bad” off-season??? Now that’s not to say that there isn’t some question marks heading into training camp. How well will the QB’s play? Will the O-line be a significant improvement over the patchwork unit of 2015? Can the Defense stay dominant? Will the running game take the next step?
All of the above are fair questions to ask as we prepare for the 2016 season. Nevertheless, I have a hard time seeing this team having the same deficiencies as they had in certain areas that they had in 2016. With a re-inforced O-line in its 2nd year in the system and an offensive gameplan starving to pound the rock, there’s no doubt that the Broncos will adopt a pure “smash mouth” strategy on offense.
On defense, the plan is clear. Keep doing what we did in 2015. With the recent extension of Von Miller, the template for the Defensive gameplan has been set. Let the edge rushers create the havoc and allow the best secondary in the NFL to reap the benefits. Also, let’s not forget about the Defensive line and Inside Linebackers that stuff the middle of the field while the edges make all the ruckus.
Despite the loss of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in FA, this unit has more than enough
talent and depth to field the NFL’s best defense for a second straight year.
While many lamented over the loss of the aforementioned Jackson and Trevathan, it should be noted that two other players who left the team this off-season could be missed just as much as their more popular counterparts.
David Bruton Jr. and Omar Bolden were fantastic Special Teams players in their time with the Broncos and whether people realize it or not, the impact of their departure will be felt in 2016.
While the Broncos did have young players like Cody Latimer and Kayvon Webster emerge as fantastic specialists late in the season, the leadership and savvy play of Bolden/Bruton Jr. will be missed.
Hopefully the Broncos can find the players necessary to fill the void left by those two guys as they were criminally underrated in their time with the Broncos.
So to recap, the Broncos will remain AFC West champions if..
-The offensive line is improved
-The running game is a top 10 unit
-The defense is a top 5 unit
-The QB play is more cautious and causes less turnovers
-The special teams unit remain solid, if not spectacular
That’s a lot of contingencies, but I think it’s contingencies that the Broncos can work with. Strong running game+good defense+solid special teams+efficient QB play= A sixth AFC West crown for the Broncos.
All fan bias aside, I think the Broncos did enough in the off-season to retain the strongest aspects of their team from 2015 along with strengthening their weaknesses to help them stay at the top in 2016.