- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Denver headed into the postseason riding quarterback Peyton Manning and the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL. It won 11 games in a row to close the season. After the disappointing defeat to Baltimore, Denver felt like it blew a golden opportunity to win its third Super Bowl.
Undeterred, Denver went out and made several key additions to an already strong roster. Some think this is a Super Bowl-or-bust team.
Let’s look at the top 10 reasons why this is a team we can’t wait to see in 2013:
1. An uncomfortable setting: Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway said early in the offseason that he wanted it to be an “uncomfortable” atmosphere in the Broncos’ building in 2013. Basically, Elway wants to see his team have a sense of urgency after the Baltimore fiasco.
Elway lived it as a player. Like the 2012 Broncos, the 1996 Broncos were the No. 1-seeded team in the playoffs and lost at home in their first playoff game. Elway said that loss led to the next year’s team being uncomfortable and angry. It worked. Denver won the next two Super Bowls. Elway knows it can happen again, so it will be interesting to see if a similar theme develops this season as the Broncos react to the playoff loss.
“Expectations are high,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “We know what we’ve got to do. We had a bad taste to our season ending last year. We’re trying to get that out and go forward and go further than we did last year.”
2. What is the Super Bowl window? The Broncos have been asked this often already, and training camp is still a few weeks away. How long is the window to winning a championship going to be open? Some folks think it’s this year. I do not agree. I think it will be open as long as Manning is healthy. He is 37. Manning can play at a high level for at least another two years. The way this roster is built, there is no doubt the team is thinking Super Bowl in the immediate future. This is a team poised to win now, not in 2016.
The Broncos get it.
“In the end, we want to be holding up that trophy,” 35-year-old cornerback Champ Bailey recently said.
3. Manning’s health: Manning was brilliant last year, recording one of the best seasons in his decorated career. But he was not at full strength. He had four surgeries to repair a neck injury that kept him out of the entire 2011 season in Indianapolis. Manning was healthy last year, but there was some rust. By all accounts, he has made major strides this offseason. Manning should be even more entertaining to watch in his second season in Denver than he was in his first season.
4. Manning’s tempo: A healthier Manning might mean a more active Manning. Manning said very early in the offseason that he wanted the offense to move at a faster pace. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been working the unit to move at a quick pace all offseason, and it seems to be taking. This doesn’t mean the Broncos are going to use a pistol offense or Manning is going to look more like Robert Griffin III than himself. It just means Denver is going to utilize its talents and work to be more crisp and keep opposing defenses on their heels.
5. Welker in the slot: In an offseason in which Denver reloaded, no addition made bigger headlines than the free-agency signing of slot receiver Wes Welker. He was a huge part of New England’s success and seems like a perfect fit in Denver. Manning loves to get the ball to his slot receiver, and Welker has led the NFL in catches over the past six seasons. Combine Welker with young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and it’s difficult to imagine Denver’s passing game will be stopped much.
6. Miller and company: Third-year linebacker Von Miller is developing into one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He is dominant and was a big reason why the unit was ranked second in the NFL last year. The unit has gotten better, as whole, around Miller. Yes, Elvis Dumervil is gone, but Denver is confident Shaun Phillips, Quanterus Smith and Robert Ayers will give Miller enough help. And if they don’t, there’s no reason to believe Miller will not continue to raise the level of his game.
7. The rookie running back: Denver took Wisconsin workhorse Montee Ball in the second round. Denver has immediate plans for Ball. Unless he completely falls on his face in camp and in the preseason, Ball will have a major role in the offense from the start of the season. Denver thinks Ball can have a major impact. If he is successful, there will be little not to like about this offense.
8. The damaged offensive line: One of Denver’s major concerns is the offensive line. It is banged up. Center J.D. Walton, who was lost for the season last September, will be out for at least half the season. The team has brought back Dan Koppen to take over for Walton again. Star left tackle Ryan Clady is coming back from a rotator cuff injury, and Orlando Franklin was out with a toe injury. The long-term prognosis is fine for this line, but it is banged up right now. If injuries continue into the season, it will be an issue.
9. The defensive front: Two years ago, this unit was a mess. Now it’s strength of the team. Denver added Terrance Knighton in free agency and grabbed a falling Sylvester Williams with the No. 28 overall pick in the draft. This unit is versatile and talented. It has a chance to be dominant.
10. The Del Rio factor: The Denver defense has rare continuity. Coordinator Jack Del Rio is back for his second season. Last year, Del Rio was Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons. He had great success with the unit and the players loved him. Defensive players have been raving all offseason about the importance of having Del Rio back.
Last time we saw the Denver Broncos, they were stunned at home in double overtime in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.