Last season’s No. 1 seed in the AFC had some key additions in the offseason to improve upon an already talented roster. In a strange twist of fate, Wes Welker left the New England Patriots, and their system that was ideal for a receiver of his skill set, to join the Broncos.
With Welker in the slot and Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas on the outside, Peyton Manning will have outstanding weapons all over the field. Now one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history has arguably the best receiving corps in the league.
In the running game, Denver hopes to end their game of musical chairs at running back with second-round draft pick Montee Ball. The former Wisconsin Badger has some growing pains to get through but should eventually emerge as the starter. At this point, Ronnie Hillman is No. 1 on the depth chart, but the Broncos hope for Ball to eventually take over and improve Denver’s mediocre rushing attack.
On the defensive side of the ball, the most notable acquisition was free-agent CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie had a promising start to his career with the Arizona Cardinals but faltered as he became one of the many disappointing acquisitions in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ 2011 spending frenzy.
Rodgers-Cromartie joins the second-ranked squad in total defense and fourth in points allowed from 2012. With Champ Bailey not getting any younger at 35-years old, he will have to return to form for Denver to be a top defense again.
The offseason was not without its blunders as Denver has taken major hits in their pass-rush. First, they lost Pro Bowl LB Elvis Dumervil to a fax machine. Second, they will be without All-Pro LB Von Miller for the first six games of the season after he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Miller is one of the NFL’s biggest impact players on defense and losing him for for six games will definitely hurt.
Regardless, barring an injury to Manning, the Broncos are still likely to be one of the NFL’s best and should easily win the AFC West. I expect the offense to be even better than last season’s impressive crew, but I see a decline on the defensive side of the ball.
I think Denver finishes the season at 12-4. They have a nice comfortable home schedule but their road schedule is brutal. The Broncos will hit the road to face two teams who barely missed the playoffs last season in the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, and they will be taking them on without Miller.
Later in the season, they will have to go on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Houston Texans. Those three teams will likely be their biggest challengers for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.