While they say "defense wins championships," conventional wisdom suggests you need some offense, special teams and a bit of luck, too. But the 2015 Denver Broncos really challenged the concept of "some offense." Denver was the only team in 2015 to win a game without scoring an offensive touchdown, and it almost did so three times had it not been for a late C.J. Anderson score in Super Bowl 50. Fittingly, that was a 4-yard drive after Cam Newton's second lost fumble. Denver finished with 104 net passing yards, the fewest in any of Peyton Manning's 293 career games.
This was supposed to be a quarterback-driven era where teams like the 2000 Ravens could no longer win a Super Bowl, but Manning was able to ride his defense to a championship despite the offense having the lowest DVOA ranking (25th) for any Super Bowl winner since the first year of Football Outsiders' metric in 1989. It was not as if the offense heated up in the playoffs either. Out of 50 Super Bowl champions, Denver's average of 14 first downs per game in the postseason ranks only ahead of the 11 averaged by the 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
If Denver's strategy was a TV advertisement, it would come with a "do not try this at home" warning. Most teams cannot repeat this type of success because of how uniquely the Broncos were built by John Elway.
There were remnants of a record-setting offense from 2013, but the construction of the defense was crucial to this team. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is the type of transcendent talent you usually can find only at the top of a draft. Denver also used premium draft picks to build its defense with Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Bradley Roby, while developing hidden gems such as Chris Harris Jr., Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. Money was spent well in free agency on DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, Louis Vasquez and T.J. Ward. Even some more low-key moves such as Darian Stewart, Evan Mathis and Owen Daniels paid off in the end.
Denver's success did not just happen overnight; the Broncos earned a first-round bye for the fourth year in a row. This team was a major contender, but put it together for a title only after getting the most out of the defense while the offense just stayed out of harm's way. Can other teams duplicate that in 2016?
We found three double-digit-win teams from 2015 that have been on the right path, and could finish next season on top the way Denver did with a few more improvements.