ENGLEWOOD—The Denver Broncos didn’t play 16 games last season, as most NFL teams did. They played 19.
In football, more games increases the possibility of injury and may explain why it’s getting increasingly difficult for the Broncos as the year after their Super Bowl title season grows longer.
The Broncos will be down four starters for their game Sunday at New Orleans (11 a.m. kickoffs). Defensive end Vance Walker suffered a torn ACL in training camp, running back C.J. Anderson went down with a torn meniscus three weeks ago, cornerback Aqib Talib will miss his third consecutive game with a lower back injury and defensive end Derek Wolfe is down with a fractured right elbow.
A fifth starter, right guard Ty Sambrailo, has returned as a backup after injuries limited his effectiveness.
And to those who say receiver Demaryius Thomas has not been the same the past two years, consider this: He has played 10 extra postseason games the past five years.
New Orleans’ coach Sean Payton went through similar challenges with his team in 2010. The Saints won it all in 2009, beating Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, but settled for a wild-card spot and 11-5 record the following season. New Orleans then lost to the Brandon Stokley/Tyler Polumbus/7-9 Seattle Seahawks in a first-round playoff game.
“The one thing that’s obvious is you play longer so your offseason is shorter, it’s reduced,’’ Payton said after the year-after-Super Bowl-challenges in a conference call with the Denver media this week. “When you really look at the amount of games you play all the way through the championship game and then the Super Bowl, your time is different with that calendar than it would be normally. It’s a good problem to have.’’
The Broncos are 6-3, but after a 4-0 start they have lost three of their past five games. The Saints are 4-4 but after beginning 0-3 they have won four of their past five.
As the season grows longer, the Broncos are feeling the impact of losing defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan to free agency. Walker was supposed to replace Jackson with Jared Crick rotating in. But instead of taking 30 snaps a game, as was the plan when they signed him as a free agent, Crick was in for a whopping 83 plays last Sunday against Oakland.
It’s a lot easier playing stout for 30 plays than an exhausting 83.
“I think No. 1 our league seems to be year-to-year with each team,’’ Payton said. “We try to look at it that way. With free agency there’s always an attrition in the offseason to players you lose, players that you sign.
“And then I think each week you’re playing teams that are certainly going to play their best knowing that they’re playing last year’s Super Bowl winner.’’