Denver Broncos: Examining Their Path Back to the Super Bowl

Baily DeeterSenior Writer IIIMarch 18, 2014

FILE - In this Jan 19, 2014 file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning calls out a play during the second half of the AFC championship NFL playoff football game against the New England Patriots in Denver. Unless Manning changes his habits, the Super Bowl-watching world will get to hear “Omaha!” again and again this Sunday. The Denver Broncos quarterback’s word choice at the line of scrimmage has cast a bright light on the Midwestern city over the past few weeks. Omaha has been mentioned thousands of times on Twitter and in media stories, and been visited by everyone from ESPN to the NFL Network. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The 2014 free-agency period is about a week old, but even in that short span of time, every team has made notable roster moves.

One of the most active teams has been the Denver Broncos. Denver officially signed DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on the same day, and it signed Emmanuel Sanders four days later.

They might have lost Eric Decker, Wesley Woodyard and Zane Beadles, but things are looking good for the Broncos in 2014. However, Denver's competition for AFC supremacy has also made roster changes.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the New England Patriots inked Darrelle Revis to a two-year, $32 million contract; the Indianapolis Colts signed potent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at a low price, and the San Diego Chargers signed Donald Brown.

Every team is different now than it was when free agency commenced, and these moves have shaken up the AFC. But how much has the balance of the conference changed?

It still seems apparent that Denver is the team to beat in the conference. It rolled to a 15-3 record before the Super Bowl, and it thoroughly outplayed the Patriots in a convincing AFC Championship win. Its Super Bowl performance was appalling, but that doesn't change the fact that Denver looked impressive in its previous playoff wins.

And with the influx of new talent, it appears that the Broncos will continue to put up impressive performances.

However, the Broncos likely won't be able to get through the AFC field without doing battle with the Patriots. New England has done enough to remain in contention for a Super Bowl bid. True, Talib departed for Denver, but the Pats found in Revis the only free-agent corner who's an actual upgrade to the guy they lost.

Other than that, New England hasn't been incredibly active. If it doesn't do a great job in the draft, the Patriots' chances of bringing home the franchise's fourth Lombardi Trophy will be slim.

Last year, the Patriots had monumental issues at wide receiver. Instead of signing a difference-maker to solve those issues, New England signed Brandon LaFell. LaFell has eclipsed neither 50 catches nor 700 receiving yards in his four-year career.

LaFell will likely be a slight upgrade over Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, who as rookies both struggled with injuries and weren't as productive as the Patriots needed them to be in 2013. However, LaFell is not going to make a huge difference, nor will he change the fortunes of the Patriots offense.

Even if the Patriots re-sign free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount, their offense will still struggle. Tom Brady is past his prime, and he can't carry the team by himself. Stevan Ridley is fumble prone; Rob Gronkowski is injury prone, and the wide receiver group is anemic.

Gronkowski is New England's most lethal offensive weapon, but Denver now can contain him.

With Ward in the mix, Denver should be able to control tight ends. Talib and Chris Harris, one of the NFL's most underrated cornerbacks, should both be able to stifle New England's less-than-formidable core of wideouts.

Now that DeMarcus Ware is in Denver to complement Von Miller, Denver's pass rush will wreak havoc on Brady. With all of this talent on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos definitely seem superior to New England.

However, the AFC has a handful of contenders. The Colts, the Chargers, the Chiefs and the Ravens are among the other AFC teams that could contend. Indianapolis has a solid triumvirate of pass-catchers, and its defense has talent.

The Colts beat the Broncos in 2013 by throwing off Manning's timing with his receivers. Corners Vontae Davis, Darius Butler and Greg Toler—the players who spearheaded Indianapolis' stellar defensive performance that day—are still with the Colts, which is bad news for the Broncos.

Still, the Colts haven't improved much this offseason. They're going to have to rely on the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw at running back, and their front seven doesn't have much talent outside of Robert Mathis.

Unless the injury bug hits Denver again, it appears to be superior to the inexperienced Colts. The same goes with the Chargers. San Diego added Donald Brown at running back, but he won't be much of an upgrade to an already-solid rushing attack. 

Otherwise, the Chargers haven't been active, and they're unlikely to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. As for the Chiefs, they have already lost key players such as Jon Asamoah, Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Tyson Jackson. They haven't yet added many players to compensate for their losses.

No other AFC team has improved as much as the Broncos, and when you consider that they made the Super Bowl fairly easily last season, it doesn't look too promising for the other 15 AFC teams.

Anything can happen in football, but the Broncos are determined to get back to and win the big game. Unless the draft dramatically changes something, or unless the injury bug hits the Broncos hard in 2014, it doesn't look good for the rest of the conference.

In other words, the Broncos' 2014 season looks to be promising.