When Peyton Manning went beyond the horizon in 2016, the Denver Broncos failed to win the AFC West for the first time since 2010. They still won nine games and had the league’s fourth-best scoring defense that season, but Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch didn’t get the job done under center and they failed to make the playoffs.
Things went from bad to worse when the defense came back to earth as well in 2017. Denver ranked in the bottom 12 on both sides of the ball in terms of scoring, Siemian and Lynch again struggled and the Broncos won just a handful of games in head coach Vance Joseph’s first season there.
But could the Broncos have a bounce-back season in them? Might 2017 merely have been a one-season deviation for a team that still has one of the most dominant defensive players in the game in Von Miller? There’s reason to believe the Broncos could be back in the playoff mix after an off year. Several reasons, in fact.
1. Case Keenum. No more Siemian, probably no more Lynch. They finally swung the bat on a hot free-agent quarterback in March, giving Keenum a two-year, $36 million deal. The former journeyman went 11-3 as the seventh-highest-rated passer in the NFL last season, leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC championship game.
2. Royce Freeman. The rookie running back has the skill set, résumé and opportunity to be this year’s Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt, and he should get a hell of a shot with C.J. Anderson gone. The Broncos should be more balanced on offense in 2018, and the presence of Keenum and expected progress from second-year first-round left tackle Garett Bolles should help.
3. Miller has company. Rookie No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb is the overwhelming favorite to win defensive player of the year. And there was some concern about Shane Ray’s balky risk, but it looks as though he’ll be good to go. And even with Aqib Talib gone, the secondary should be strong with Chris Harris, Bradley Roby and the emerging Justin Simmons in place.
4. The AFC West is wide open. The Kansas City Chiefs are relying on a quarterback with one career start under his belt, the Oakland Raiders are coming off a disastrous offseason with their dinosaur head coach and the Los Angeles Chargers are professional shoot-themselves-in-the-footers. This division is up for grabs, and there are a lot of reasons to believe the Broncos could recapture it in 2018.