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Selections of history say Broncos can go from 5-11 to the Super Bowl

Maybe Case Keenum can become the next Jake Delhomme.
(Left) Jake Delhomme when he played for the Carolina Panthers and (right) Case Keenum when he played for the Minnesota Vikings (Photos courtesy USA Today Sports Images)

KUSA – Selective history says the Denver Broncos can do it.

They can go from 5-11 in 2017 to playing in the Super Bowl to cap 2018. They can do it with a second-year head coach. Been done before. They can do it with a journeyman, free-agent quarterback in his first year with the team. It’s happened before.

They can do it with their top two receivers older than 30. Yep, it’s happened. They can do it with a third-round rookie running back. Look at two playoff teams from last year.

They can do it with a 29-year-old, future Hall of Famer pass rushing from one side, and another dynamic rookie pass rusher coming from the other. If so, it would be an NFL repeat, repeated.

Such scenarios haven’t happened often since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. But if the Broncos turn it around -- flip it with their draft, at certain positions and with their team -- it would not be an unprecedented feat.

Here’s how a select view of history lends hope for the 2018 Broncos.

*Three teams since 1978 have played in the Super Bowl a year after going 5-11 or worse. The Patriots went from 5-11 in 2000 to winning the Super Bowl in 2001. The 1998 St. Louis Rams went 4-12 only to win the Super Bowl in 1999. And the Cincinnati Bengals bounced back from 4-11 in 1987 to almost knocking off Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl to cap 1988.

*In 2003, the Carolina Panthers signed unrestricted free agent Jake Delhomme, who had been cut twice and spent his career as a backup quarterback. He then led Carolina to the Super Bowl in his first year there and threw for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns in XXXVIII to nearly beat New England.

Maybe, Case Keenum can become the next Jake Delhomme. Keenum has been cut three times and was mostly a backup before breaking out last year in Minnesota. He then signed with the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent.

*Bradley Chubb, the Broncos’ first-round pick, would do well to match the rookie season of Jevon Kearse in 1999. Kearse, Tennessee’s No. 16 overall selection and nicknamed “The Freak,’’ had 14.5 sacks to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and key the Titans’ surprising run to the Super Bowl, where they were 1-yard short of sending the Rams and XXXIV into overtime.

Von Miller, the other Broncos’ star pass rusher, would do well at 29 years old to have the kind of season Hall of Famer Michael Strahan had at 29. Strahan’s New York Giants reached the Super Bowl in the 2000 season before falling to Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens.

*Broncos receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are young up-and-comers compared to the 2002 Oakland Raiders' pass-catching duo of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown.

Rice finished with 92 catches and 1,211 receiving yards in the season he turned 40. Brown, who played at 36, had 81 catches for 930 yards. A combined 173 catches and 2,141 yards to help Rich Gannon – who has been mentioned when people talk favorably of Keenum – carry the Raiders to the Super Bowl.

Granted, Rice and Brown are Hall of Famers. But Sanders, 31, and Thomas, 30, are still young. They have time. As recently as the 2016 season, Thomas and Sanders combined for a Rice and Brown-like 169 catches and 2,115 yards.

*Bill Belichick went 5-11 in his first year with the Patriots in 2000. Vance Joseph went 5-11 in his first year with the Broncos in 2017.

I’m not saying Joseph is the next Belichick. What I am saying is I bet New England fans didn’t think they had a very good head coach entering the 2001 season.

*New Orleans’ running back Alvin Kamara, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, was drafted in the third round. Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s rushing leader last season, was drafted in the third round.

The Broncos’ top rookie running back this year, Royce Freeman, was drafted in the third round.

There. Take a slice of history here, and another piece of history there, and the Broncos can play in the Super Bowl this season. And they wouldn’t even need a once-in-a-lifetime turnaround to pull it off.