CAN DENVER OVERCOME AN OFFSEASON OF DISTRACTION
The good times for the Denver Broncos ended about roughly the time the trophy presentation after last year's Super Bowl concluded. In short order, Peyton Manning retired and designated heir apparent Brock Osweiler took Houston's money and ran. Outside linebacker Von Miller, fresh off his Super Bowl MVP performance, staged a lengthy holdout before getting a contract unprecedented for a defensive player, with $70 million in guaranteed money. That's just the tip of the iceberg for the distractions in Denver.
Las Vegas has taken notice. You don't see it as much in the championship odds - the Broncos are a respectable 15-1 to repeat as Super Bowl champs and 7-1 to win the AFC title again. But the prices on Denver simply to win another division title are reasonable - they're a 2-1 co-favorite with Kansas City. And the Over/Under on wins, after opening at 10.5, has dropped a full game to 9.5 over the summer. It's possible the Broncos could quietly turn into a value bet, but before rushing to that conclusion, let's consider all the hurdles this team must overcome to simply be a playoff team…
*Quarterback is the obvious and most publicized shortcoming. An offseason trade for Mark Sanchez appears to have already been declared a failure, with Trevor Siemian - he of the one career regular season pass attempt for (-1) yards - will start the Thursday Night opener against Carolina on September 8. Nothing like getting thrown into fire right off the bat.
*Denver has four new starters on the offensive line. Head coach Gary Kubiak likes to run the football in a zone-blocking scheme. That takes time to develop cohesion with and it's fair to say that even the most experienced quarterback would be up against it working with a line likely to go through growing pains.
*The defensive front seven, the group that all but won the Super Bowl last February, loses Malik Jackson on the nose and Danny Trevathan. Jackson, with his ability to tie up blockers and keep them off of Miller and Derek Wolfe, will be sorely missed.
All of this amounts to a lot of issues for any football team to deal with. The defense will still be among the NFL's best, with the best pair of lockdown corners in the league (Aqib Talib and Chris Harris) and despite the personnel losses, there's a lot more coming back in the front seven. But if Denver is going to make the postseason it won't be enough for the defense to be among the best. They'll need to be the best.
Finally, we come to the loss of Manning. Given his obvious physical decline last year, it's easy to say that Denver won it all without a quarterback. But that ignores what Manning gave them in terms of running the offense - orchestrating blocking schemes, calling the running game at the line of scrimmage and above all, staying away from mistakes. Peyton's only notable error in the Super Bowl was an interception that happened on the Carolina side of the field. He allowed the defense to win for him. Young quarterbacks, like Siemian, have a much harder time with that.
It's tempting to look at the quality of Denver's defense and think that betting them to go 10-6 and go Over looks good. It's certainly within reach. But prudence seems the best course with this team right now. After the opener with Carolina, the Broncos host Indianapolis and go to Cincinnati. If they even steal one of those wins and Siemian looks comfortable, we could see investing in them to win a division. Right now though, the Broncos look like a team where no futures bet is really safe.