KUSA—There is a reason why a team like the Carolina Panthers can go 17-1 heading into Super Bowl 50 one year and 6-10 the next.
There might have even been 9 reasons. Starting with: Things happen in the NFL.
In the interest of objective balance, today we give you 9 reasons why the Broncos’ season could go wrong:
1. Injuries to key players
This is always the No. 1 reason cited by NFL coaches after it becomes evident their season was a disappointment.
A big reason why the Broncos slipped last year was injuries caused a combined 29 missed games to C.J. Anderson (9), DeMarcus Ware (6), Brandon Marshall (5), Aqib Talib (3), Derek Wolfe (2), T.J. Ward (2) and Trevor Siemian (2). In some of those cases, playing hurt affected performance.
With the Broncos’ bye week so early in week 5 this season, it will be difficult to keep players healthy through the final 12 games, especially against so many rugged opponents.
Not just tough. The toughest. The .578 winning percentage in 2016 among Broncos opponents is the highest in the NFL.
This is primarily because the Broncos played in the toughest division last year with both Kansas City and Oakland finishing 12-4. In fact, the top four strength-of-schedule teams are all members of the AFC West.
But besides four games against Oakland and Kansas City, the Broncos play four other teams that had 10-win seasons in 2016, including 13-3 Dallas in week 2 and 14-2 New England in week 10.
3. Quarterbacks fall short of playoff-caliber
How many playoff teams begin the season not knowing who their starting quarterback is at the start of training camp?
Siemian exceeded all expectations last season by first, starting 14 games, and secondly, throwing for 3,401 yards and 18 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.
But Siemian was not given the starting quarterback job heading into training camp for two reasons. One, his play last season wasn’t enough to lead the Broncos into the playoffs. And two, he was a seventh-round draft pick two years ago while last season’s backup Paxton Lynch was a first-round draft pick in 2016.
If Lynch becomes the starter at some point this season, there promises to be growing pains.
The team decision-makers may deem it best for Lynch to play now, even if he struggles, in exchange for a greater good. But that still would mean growing pains in 2017.
4. Jamaal Charles isn’t the same
There was excitement when the Broncos signed former Kansas City star Jamaal Charles to a one-year contract. He is a sensational back who can catch and run when healthy.
But this is somewhat of a trial-and-error deal because he’s undergone two knee surgeries the previous two years and he turns 31 in late-December.
If Charles doesn’t make it, and if C.J. Anderson isn’t quite the same coming back from his season-ending knee surgery, the Broncos’ running game could consist of Devontae Booker, who averaged 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie last season, and sixth-round rookie De’Angelo Henderson.
5. Rookie head coach
Vance Joseph has all the leadership qualities to become a successful head coach. But you never know about head coaches until they do it.
There are dozens of game-day decisions a head coach must make – with the best ones able to think a couple plays ahead.
How will Joseph handle the first rough stretch that all teams, even the best ones, encounter each season? How will he address the first signs of locker room discontent? How well will Joseph and first-year defensive coordinator Joe Woods adjust at halftime?
New England’s Bill Belichick is unquestionably the league’s best head coach. But he went 6-10 in his first season with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and 5-11 in his first season with New England in 2000.
He didn’t immediately become the league’s best coach.
6. Rookie left tackle
Garett Bolles was so good in college, he was the first left tackle taken in the 2017 NFL Draft as the Broncos’ first-round selection.
But now he’s just a rookie and rookies aren’t usually very good in the first half of their first NFL season. Bolles may be playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level by season’s end but there figure to be a few missteps along the way.
The Broncos will also open camp with a question mark at center where two-year starter Matt Paradis is coming off surgeries to both hips.
7. Elway’s contract
It’s not unusual for Broncos general manager John Elway to engage in difficult contract negotiations. The twist is Elway is sitting opposite of the team at the bargaining table.
Elway’s contract doesn’t expire until next spring so there remains plenty of time to get it done. But team president and chief executive officer Joe Ellis initially indicated he thought Elway would have a fresh deal soon after the Super Bowl.
And now training camp is two weeks away and there remains a hold up.
Soon, Elway’s non-extension might become a distraction, both in terms of media coverage and the coaches he just hired wondering about security.
8. Miles check on No Fly Zone
Talib and Ward played at a high level during their three previous seasons in Denver, but both are staring at 31 years of age while playing young-man’s positions. Talib is 31; Ward reaches that number in December.
Talib also missed three games last year with a lower back injury. Ward missed the final two games with a concussion.
The Broncos are set up well for a transition as Bradley Roby is young and ready to start at corner and the safety position is backed by Justin Simmons and Will Parks, who each had impressive rookie seasons.
But those players are not Talib or Ward in their prime.
9. Playmakers reach that age
The previous three seasons, the Broncos’ top two offensive weapons were receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both are confronting that disconcerting 3-0 number this season. Sanders is 30 and Thomas has his 30th birthday on Christmas.
Neither has shown signs of slowing down. In fact, each says they’ve never felt better. But 30-year-old legs must start finding alternative ways to separate from 20-something legs that cover.