Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Denver Broncos.
Last year’s record: 13-3
Coach: John Fox
2014 is about… Vengeance. Everything was perfect for Peyton Manning and the Broncos last year. Until the Super Bowl, where they were utterly humiliated by the Seahawks. Manning has a couple of years left at most, and he is angry. You may not like him when he’s angry. He also has a funny Angry Face.
Core players: Peyton Manning (QB), Von Miller (LB), Demaryius Thomas (WR), Julius Thomas (TE)
But they lost... Eric Decker (WR), who was one of Manning's favourite red zone targets last season; Knowshon Moreno (RB), who paced the team in rushing yards and touchdowns and was a very effective protector for Manning.
Yeah, but they got... DeMarcus Ware (DE), an elite pass rusher who should team with Miller to terrorize opposing QBs; Aqib Talib (CB), who crossed over from New England to immediately upgrade the Broncos middling secondary; Emmanuel Sanders (WR), a Decker replacement who might not have the size but definitely has the speed.
Growing from within: Montee Ball (RB) was actually a more effective runner than Moreno last year, albeit in a more limited role. If the sophomore can handle Moreno's workload, he could conceivably improve the Broncos offence—and of course his own stats will look wonderful by virtue of playing against light defensive fronts on nearly every snap. The Broncos also did well in the draft to land Cody Latimer (WR), a big receiver in the mould of Demaryius Thomas who might step right into Decker's role while Sanders and Wes Welker split slot duties. The team is also hoping that second-year linebacker Brandon Marshall can carry his strong preseason play into the regular season, as they'll need stability in the middle until Danny Trevathan return from a broken kneecap in a month or so.
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Why this team? Because they're the most prolific offence in NFL history. Because watching Manning dissect a defence before the snap and knowing that everybody on the field knows what's coming and that nobody will be able to stop it is one of the most singularly enjoyable things in sport. Because it's not totally bandwagon jumping, since the Broncos were roasted in the Super Bowl last year. Because you felt awful watching those brash, preening, loudmouthed Seahawks embarrass Manning's humble band of quietly noble professionals. (Note: The Seahawks actually didn't talk much trash by NFL standards after the Super Bowl blowout—but if you're going to be a Broncos fan, you might as well learn the talking points now.)
Why not? Because there's really only one way for them to succeed, and that's by winning a title. Your season as a fan will consist mostly of enjoying blowouts and then praying they don't lose the close games or the playoff tilts. There will be no pleasant surprises and no underdog triumphs. Unless Manning gets hurt and you get to cheer for Brock Osweiler—which might actually be kind of fun, come to think of it.
Perfect for fans of... LeBron James. Much like the Miami Heat over the past four years, and now Cleveland once again, this is a franchise that owes its lofty status to the decision of one transcendent athlete to take his talents to (insert city here). Without Manning, the Broncos would still be a competent team—much like a Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade–led Heat will probably still be a playoff club—but let's just say the smart title bettors would find a more attractive horse. Like, say, wherever Manning decided he'd rather play.
How much hope? 9/10. The AFC is the weaker conference and the Broncos are the best team in it. Anything less than a return to the Super Bowl will be a failure and, barring injury, you can pencil them into the AFC Championship game today.
Will you be mocked for front-running? You will absolutely be mocked. And deservedly so. You're not actually a Broncos fan unless you're still a fan after Manning leaves.
A Meme To Remember: Peyton Manning is really, really committed to football, you guys.