The Denver Broncos were unable to match the incredible success of their 2015 campaign last season, falling from Super Bowl winners to missing the playoffs.
Following the retirement of Peyton Manning and the departure of Brock Osweiler, second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian was thrust into the starting role.
The 25-year-old had a decent year for the club, although he was not able to rely on the same outstanding level of support from the defense that his predecessors enjoyed in 2015.
Denver’s defense had one of the finest years produced by a unit in NFL history, and it was only natural that they would take a small step back – which proved to be enough to see the club miss out on the post-season and the defense of their Vince Lombardi trophy.
Head coach Gary Kubiak retired at the end of the year due to health reasons, with Vance Joseph hired as his replacement. He and along with general manager John Elway have a lot of work ahead of them to maximise the talent on the roster to get the Broncos back into the playoffs in 2017.
The opening match of the 2016 campaign was a repeat of the Super Bowl, with the Carolina Panthers travelling to face the Broncos at Sports Authority Field.
Carolina appeared to be on the path to revenge at half time after building a 17-7 lead through touchdowns from Kelvin Benjamin and Cam Newton.
However, CJ Anderson notched two scores to hand the Broncos the advantage, although they were grateful to a missed field goal in the final seconds of the game from Graham Gano to secure the win.
Defensive scores were crucial in their next outing against the Indianapolis Colts as Siemian failed to fire in his second match. However, Aqib Talib returned an interception for a touchdown before Shane Ray gathered a fumble late in the contest to ice the game and clinch a 32-20 victory.
Siemian enjoyed a break out game against the Cincinnati Bengals by throwing four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to orchestrate a comeback win for his team.
The Broncos then moved to 4-0 in a complete performance on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, brushing Jameis Winston and company aside with ease in a 27-7 hammering in stormy conditions in Florida.
The first chinks in Denver’s armour appeared in their clash against the Atlanta Falcons at home. The Broncos could have extended their lead at the top of the AFC West with a victory, but were put on the back foot by the speed and tenacity of the Falcons’ running game.
Matt Ryan was efficient as he connected four times with Tevin Coleman for 132 yards and a touchdown through the air, while Devonta Freeman was productive on the ground, rushing for 88 yards and a score. Paxton Lynch stepped in for the injured Siemian and had a poor first outing as he struggled to make the most of his opportunity.
Siemian returned against the San Diego Chargers on the road, but it was not enough to get his side back to winning ways. The Chargers were always in control of the match thanks to an early score from Hunter Henry, while Josh Lambo’s boot took them away from the Broncos.
The defense was back to their best to torment their former team-mate Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans, allowing Kubiak’s men to end their poor run with a comfortable win.
However, the Oakland Raiders’ running game put them back under pressure. Latavius Murray scored three touchdowns and rushed for 114 yards to hand Jack Del Rio’s men control of the AFC West.
Denver battled Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a thriller on the road, but their efforts looked to be in vain when Brandin Cooks scored late in the game.
Will Lutz only needed to send the extra-point through the posts to hand his team a one-point lead, only to see his kick blocked and returned for a two-point score by Will Parks to hand Kubiak’s men the win.
They were on the receiving end of a miraculous comeback in their next match. Alex Smith led the Kansas City Chiefs back in the final minute with a touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill before connecting with Demetrius Harris for the two-point conversion. Cairo Santos then delivered the win in overtime kicking a 34-yard field goal as time ran out.
That defeat was the beginning of the end for the Broncos as the Tennessee Titans stymied their offense in a 13-10 defeat on the road before the visit of the New England Patriots.
Denver’s defense played brilliantly to hold Tom Brady and company in check, only for their New England counterparts to limit Siemian and his men to just three points.
The Chiefs ended Kubiak’s side’s playoff hopes with a hammering victory at home, putting 33 points on the board to boost their own hopes for the AFC West crown. Denver signed off with a win over the Carr-less Raiders, but a nine-win term was not good enough.
The majority of the speculation surrounding the Broncos so far in the off-season has been a potential move for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The 36-year-old has lost his place to Dak Prescott and will either be traded or released by the club.
A move for Romo would be reminiscent of their deal for Peyton Manning, which was enough to secure one Super Bowl and a trip to another. He is not of the same quality of Manning, but would provide an upgrade over Siemian and Lynch, along with easing the pressure on the defense.
The Broncos have already upgraded their offensive line by signing Ronald Leary from the Cowboys and Menelik Watson from the Oakland Raiders.
Pass protection was a huge issue for the club last term – so those two deals should give the man calling signals time in the pocket next term.
Their defense should remain dominant, although they will be facing decisions over the future of Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby in the secondary, with the former boasting an expensive deal for a 31-year-old, while Roby’s contract expires at the end of the 2017 season.
Drafting a cornerback in a year where there is an abundance of talented players available in the secondary could be the way to go for Joseph and Elway. The Broncos could also use a third option in their passing game to complement Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, alleviating the strain on their talented tandem.
A lot hinges on a potential move for Romo. Should they sign the veteran then the Broncos could become the side that could topple the Patriots at the top of the AFC.
The 36-year-old has the ability to put a lot of points in Denver’s offense with Sanders and Thomas at his disposal, providing a legitimate threat to Bill Belichick’s men.
Should they remain with only Siemian and Lynch battling it out for the QB spot – it’s hard to see them beating the powerhouses of New England, the Pittsburgh Steelers or even the Oakland Raiders in the conference.
Neither player has the ability to go score-for-score with those teams unless there is another world-class effort from the defense.
With stars such as Von Miller, Chris Harris, TJ Ward and Talib anything is possible, while Shane Ray and Justin Simmons could take the next stage in their development to complement the senior players.
As a result, backing the Broncos at +700 with TopBet sportsbook to win the AFC may be a savvy option, especially if they lure Romo to Colorado.
Denver Broncos To Win AFC Conference