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Hate it or love it, Broncos must earn their respect in 2016

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
May 16, 2016

 

The 2015 Denver Broncos deserve all of your respect.

The Super Bowl Champions earned that respect by putting together a defense so incredible that they only needed four offensive touchdowns throughout the entirety of the playoffs to bring home the Lombardi.

For comparison, the MVP quarterback they took down in the Big Game, Cam Newton scored four touchdowns himself in the NFC Championship alone—in case you forgot, he accounted for zero TD’s in the Super Bowl.

The offense, while inept at times, with a line that was awful at others, managed to make plays when they needed to and play into the hands of the greatness on the other side of the ball, often flipping the field despite not scoring touchdowns and protecting the ball very well in the second half of the season. It was all a culmination that you are very familiar with, a culmination that led to a smattering of Lombardi trophies and Lombardi trophy likenesses throughout the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre and the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse.

Those are the 2015 Broncos. Praise them, shower them with your respect, and allow your jaws to drop at the sight of their shiny new Super Bowl rings. The 2016 Broncos, though? They’re 0-0 like everyone else in the league. They have question marks like everyone else in the league, and they still have to earn their respect. . . like everyone else in the league.

Everywhere you look, locally, you’re hearing calls for respect. The team, the fans, and the media are all wondering why the defending Super Bowl champs have the fifth-best odds to win Super Bowl LI in Vegas, why ESPN ranks them the eighth best team heading into the season, why many aren’t expecting the Broncos to continue their greatness from last season.

“We still don’t get the credit,” says safety T.J. Ward.

One big reason is that winning a Super Bowl has never been a great predictor of success in the next season. Only eight teams have ever repeated (all of which had Hall-of-Fame or future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks at the helm), almost as many (7) teams have followed up a Super Bowl season with a losing record and 15 teams have missed the playoffs entirely following their championship year.

Now, all of this is not to say the Broncos can’t or won’t repeat as champions. They very well could. It is to say that shiny ring they’ll soon put on that says “Super Bowl 50” has no bearing on Super Bowl LI and it doesn’t afford them any type of requisite respect, especially with ample turnover on the roster.

There are a few reasons the Broncos aren’t being valued as high as many in Broncos Country think they should be and none bigger than the question mark at the quarterback position. Of course, everyone around these parts would love to see Mark Sanchez succeed, especially after seeing the way he has entrenched himself in the community since he’s been in Denver.

Sanchez has said and done all the right things since first put on an Orange & Blue cap and I personally have a good feeling about his chance of having success around here. But what if he is the starter in Week 1 and he goes out there looking like the Mark Sanchez who’s 1-6 in his last seven starts? What if he throws three or more interceptions for the tenth time in his career and the Broncos fall to an ugly 0-1?

With a promising rookie on the bench behind him, you can bet your bottom dollar that all that goodwill Sanchez built up this offseason will be gone faster than you can say “Paxton.” Don’t believe me? Five words (Or two names and a number) Jake Plummer-Jay Cutler 2006. Plummer had built up a bit of goodwill around here, something to the tune of a 40-18 record as a starter and an appearance in the AFC Championship.

Plummer had even led the team to a 7-4 start at the beginning of the 2006 season, nothing to scoff at, but a couple of bad games and all of the sudden everybody wanted to see what the rookie gunslinger brought to the table. They got to see that, Cutler went 2-3 over the last five games and the Broncos missed the playoffs.

But maybe you think Paxton Lynch is the answer and, again, he may be but it would be very hard for prognosticators, like those in Las Vegas, to bank on that. On top of the fact that he personally hasn’t proven anything at the NFL level yet, it’s worth noting that no rookie QB has ever won the Super Bowl. In fact, no rookie quarterback has ever even appeared in a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. The odds would be stacked strongly against Mr. Lynch returning the Broncos to the promised land this season.

Oh and to quickly return to that hypothetical of Sanchez throwing three interceptions, it’s nice to say, “all he has to do is protect the ball and he’ll be fine!” Which could be true—and as we saw in the last nine games of last season (including the playoffs) when Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler only combined to throw six interceptions is a big key to key to keeping the advantage in the hands of that historically great defense—but it’s not that simple. Sanchez has averaged more than one interception per start in his career and nearly one and a half interceptions per start since 2014.

If it’s Lynch under center, it’s fair to assume there will be interceptions in that situation, too. Rookie quarterbacks are notorious for big INT numbers. John Elway threw 14 interceptions in 10 starts as a rookie, Peyton Manning set the record for a with 28 interceptions himself. Averaging well under one pick per game as the Broncos did during the stretch run last year is would be a serious accomplishment for either QB.

“But the defense is so good it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is!”

This is where the most difficult truth comes in. I’ve heard that above quote many times this offseason and when talking about the ’15 Broncos, I tend to agree—if you would have taken the exact season the defense had on that side of the ball and replicated it with just about any other quarterback the Broncos would have been just fine last year. But here’s the thing, Denver got a lot of breaks last season, breaks that if you were to go back and watch the season start-to-finish right now you would be convinced that they were a team of destiny, breaks that you simply cannot count on getting again this season.

You can’t count on the ball bouncing right into the chest of Bradley Roby as he’s moving towards the end zone in week two, you can’t count on Teddy Bridgewater holding the ball out for T.J. Ward to strip away and stop a game winning drive, you can’t count on Derek Carr throwing the ball right to Chris Harris Jr. for a game-winning pick-six—you get my point—and those were only in the first five weeks.

Of course, you make your own luck, but the Broncos simply cannot count on making their luck that good all season, and the folks out there who aren’t giving them the credit you think they deserve are counting on the fact that they won’t get those breaks this season, that they won’t be a team of destiny in 2016 and that an offense led by an unproven or a largely unproven quarterback won’t be able to do enough for the team to not need those breaks.

So that brings us here, to a place where some respected publications are predicting a third place finish in the division, predicting Denver to become the eighth team to follow up a championship with a losing record. Will that turn out to be accurate? I certainly don’t think so. Is it disrespectful? No, not right now it isn’t. The Broncos have to go out there and prove those prognostications to be disrespectful because the 2016 Broncos, as a unit, have yet to prove anything.

The Lombardi Trophy is a yearly award. For the team that wins it, it affords them football immortality. But for the next year’s team, all it’s good for is a giant target in the middle of their back.

Hate it or love it, the Broncos have to re-earn all that respect in 2016. . . but as determined as they seem to be to do so, you may just end up loving it.

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