Sunday, March 16, 2014

Broncos Load Up For Lombardi Run

Still hurting from their 43-8 Superbowl XLVIII defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos appear to be going all in on a final stampede towards a championship. The Broncos began snagging players left and right as the NFL's free agency period opened last Tuesday. They were able to ink ultra-talented corner Aquib Talib right out of the gate with players like T.J. Ward, Demarcus Ware, and Emmaunel Sanders following suit. On paper, it is easy to deduce that this will be the team to beat in the AFC once again, and likely the team to beat in the entire NFL. With Peyton Manning's future with the team uncertain, Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen and VP of Football Operations John Elway are doing the right thing in trying to secure the franchise's first Superbowl since 1999.

Of course there are many fans and media pundits who are already making comparisons to the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles "super team" which failed to even make the playoffs that season, despite signing enough high-profile free agents to make Dan Snyder jealous. The difference however, is that this Denver team has Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who just enjoyed his best statistical year as a pro at the age of 37. No disrespect to Michael Vick, but that Eagles team did not have near the pieces in its arsenal that the 2014 Broncos will have at their disposal. The team could certainly find itself in a disastrous salary cap situation in 2016, but no Broncos fan will be complaining about a few 4-12 seasons if they are able to add another Lombardi Trophy or two to the case. Clearly, the "Superbowl or bust" situation puts immense pressure on the Broncos front office and onto Manning himself, as leaving Denver without any hardware would have many labeling the final stage of his career as a failure.

Obviously, Denver won't be entering the 2014 season without some key talent losses of their own. There are a few key contributors from the 2012 season that could not be re-signed most notably receiver Eric Decker who recently signed with the Jets. Wesley Woodyard and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were two solid defensive starters who also found themselves going elsewhere, but these are not losses that are likely to impact a Superbowl run with the additions that the team has already made. The return of Von Miller from injury will also make a big impact on a defense that continued to improve a season ago even in his absence. Emmanuel Sanders will be a tremendous weapon playing opposite Demaryius Thomas, especially if Wes Welker is able to continue his effectiveness in the slot.

Another factor at play here is the current state of the Broncos Division, the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs were a playoff team a year ago, but a team that has lost key depth to free agency, meanwhile they have not been able to secure any pieces to help build a team that can compete with their rivals from Denver. Since Peyton Manning's arrival to the division, only the San Deigo Chargers own a victory over the Broncos. Phillip Rivers is coming off a very good season (shockingly) and it appears that they will be the only team with a chance to compete for a division crown. The Raiders are still trying to find their path under head coach Dennis Allen and have found themselves on the wrong end of several blowouts to Manning's two previous Denver teams.

No one earns a Superbowl trophy in March and the Denver Broncos will still have to prove themselves from September-February, but it is hard to argue with the potential of their immediate future. Teams like Kansas City and Oakland will likely have to stand back and wait for Manning to retire and for this talented roster to disband. The spotlight will be on Denver every Sunday and every game will be picked apart and every decision their front office made will be analyzed daily. In an era where players and front office personnel are placed under a microscope more than ever, it is important to recognize the fact that this franchise is clearly making every attempt possible to give their fans the ultimate prize.

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