The Rich Get Richer(?), Plus My Super Early Super Bowl Pick
Even if you’re a casual fan of the NFL, chances are you heard something about the Denver Broncos during free agency, something about them adding major players. If you’re a rabid fan of the NFL – meaning you eat, drink, and breath it – you know every detail about their moves. And boy, are they scary. Somehow, they signed Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward, Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib, former Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, and speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. While they lost Eric Decker to the Jets and cut Broncos stalwart Champ Bailey, it’s fair to say they more than made up for those loses with these four players. Yes, the Broncos were busy during free agency, and there’s little doubt they won the arms race. At least on paper.
Not surprisingly, most NFL pundits and talking heads see a much improved team. The Broncos may not be the best thing since sliced bread – after all, the Super Bowl winning Seahawks may sign former Pro Bowl pass rusher Jared Allen – but experts seem certain they’ll be tougher than last year’s bagel, er, team. And if last year ended in the Super Bowl, aren’t they saying it’s time to etch the Broncos on the 2015 Lombardi Trophy?
First of all, of course they’re not going to say that. It’s not that time of year – Super Bowl predictions are made three times a year: right after the Super Bowl, after the draft, and before the season begins. But the Broncos are all they can talk about, just like a certain team was all they could talk about after free agency in 2011. That team? Why, the “Dream Team” of course – your 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. On paper, the best team in the league. They had 2010 MVP candidate Michael Vick, the electric combo of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, and newly acquired stars Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha. And they won eight games, missing the playoffs.
Will a team led by Peyton Manning fail to make the playoffs? Not likely, considering Manning hasn’t had a losing season since 2001, but then again, this will also be his first time playing as a 38-year-old. Maybe those lines on his face are signs of wisdom, but there’s only so much that wisdom can help against a 6’4″ defensive end, barreling towards you from your blind side. Broncos fans will have to hope that his surgically repaired spine holds up, that Talib’s injury history is a thing of the past, that Ward starts playing better against the pass, that Von Miller fully recovers from his torn ACL in time to help Ware, and that Sanders has found some medicine for his case of the drops.
The question is this: Is the nucleus from the 2013 team strong enough to win while the 2014 additions learn to gel? I don’t think so. The Broncos have the second toughest strength of schedule, and so they’ll need every one of their signings to contribute in a big way to get back to the big game, and I don’t think it happens. Someone will underperform. Someone will get injured. And when that happens, the Broncos will falter. They Broncos may be great in 2014 – I’ll give them 12 wins – but they won’t be champions. For the Super Bowl, I’ll take San Francisco over New England.