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5 Reasons why Denver Broncos will/won't be repeat champions

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 8, 2016 at 5:32 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO -- As soon as Super Bowl 50 ended with the Denver Broncos taking a 24-10 decision over the Carolina Panthers, the annual discussion began on the possibility of a repeat, or even a dynasty.

Such discussions are usually narrowly focused on the positives, negatives and concerns that come from the game itself. But such discussions go well beyond that.

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Here is a look at five reasons why the Broncos may repeat, and five reasons why they may not:

Five Reasons Broncos may repeat:

5. Wide receivers. Broncos Sanders misses TD pass during the 2016 AFC Championship game in Denver

Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders stretches for a touchdown catch against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI

Any receiving unit with Demaryius Thomas has a great jump on a passing attack. He returns after spending the last two seasons catching 216 passes for 2,923 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also returning is Emmanuel Sanders, whose 2015 stats show 76 catches, 1,135 yards and six touchdowns. He has one year left on his deal with Denver.

4. Cap budget in good shape: Panthers Newton sacked by Broncos

Denver Broncos Derek Wolfe (95) sacks Cam Newton. On Jan. 15, Wolfe signed a four-year deal worth $36.7 million. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

If quarterback Peyton Manning retires, the Broncos will have approximately $30 million with which to shop in free agency. The team might re-do some existing agreements to create about $10 million more cap room. Key cap hits are those of linebacker DeMarcus Ware ($11.6 million), right guard Louis Vasquez ($6.75 million) and punter Britton Colquitt ($4 million). That would help them keep a few key players from leaving in free agency, including linebacker Brandon Marshall and defensive end Malik Jackson, who recovered a fumble for a TD Sunday. Jackson and Derek Wolfe are keys to Denver's run defense.

3. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Perhaps the Broncos' key move before the 2015 season was hiring Philips, whose career was in limbo. On Saturday he was announced as the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year and on Sunday he showed why with an aggressive defensive game plan that crushed the top scoring team in the league. The Broncos' defense was just the fourth since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry and fewest yards allowed per throw.

2. QB heir apparent in place. Broncos backup Brock Osweiler will start against the Chicago Bears in place of injured Peyton Manning

Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI

Assuming quarterback Peyton Manning does retire, the Broncos will need long-term intern Brock Osweiler to at least manage the team efficiently with the help of a defense that should keep every game within range of low-scoring victories. He has the physical tools and showed some promise during stints as a starter.

1. Key defensive players likely to return. Broncos Von Miller forces Panthers Newton to fumble

Denver Broncos Von Miller (58) celebrates a sack of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Reports indicate that the Broncos will franchise outside linebacker Von Miller, SB 50's MVP after two strip sacks and constant pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. It doesn't matter how the team keeps the 26-year old Miller -- franchise or new contract -- but certainly the top reason the Broncos could return to the Super Bowl next year is to have Miller and DeMarcus Ware putting the squeeze on opposing quarterbacks. Ware's contract has remaining time on it.

Five reasons why Broncos may not repeat:

5. Running back position lacks talent, depth. Denver Broncos C.J.Anderson runs in the second quarter

Denver Broncos C.J.Anderson. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

C. J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman battled for the No. 1 job in 2015, but it was not a high level battle. The team slugged out decent yardage, especially down the stretch. Still, Anderson struggled to repeat his success from 2014, but it didn't happen. Hillman eventually took over lead-back responsibilities. It is unusual for runners suddenly to sprout into stardom, so a logical approach would be to find a potential star runner in the draft or free agency.

4. Contract problems. Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers.

Photo by Shelley Lipton/UPI

Although the team seems to be working through the roster's rollover in a conscientious manner, contract issues are often skewed and out of control after winning a Super Bowl. The Broncos re-signed lineman Derek Wolfe and can boost cap room by redoing a few deals and, of course, regaining a chuck if Manning retires. But what if Osweiler decides to leverage his situation? What if he is lured by substantial offers from any of those many teams in need? Just sayin'

3. Offensive line to help QB. Broncos Clady Blocks Chiefs Dorsey at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver

Denver Broncos left offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI

If the Broncos cannot establish a threat running the ball, the beginning of the Osweiler era could be a tough one for the big quarterback. Regardless of who rises to top of running back chart, the offensive line needs to get its act together or nobody is going anywhere on the ground. Ryan Clady needs to stay healthy at left tackle. Tackle Ty Sambrailo will be back from surgery on a torn labrum and bone spur that also needed surgical attention. However, the front line needs players more talented than Evan Mathis to be formidable..

2. Brock Osweiler is no Peyton Manning. NFL San Diego Chargers vs Denver Broncos in Denver

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (L) with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler behind him. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI

Although he is younger, more athletic and has a stronger arm, Oseweiler will not be as good at dissecting defenses before or after the snap. That is the great intangible that very few quarterbacks can handle as well as Manning. So even if everything else comes together perfectly, there is no guarantee that Osweiler can hold his own at quarterback.

1. It's a Long road just to get back. Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50

Confetti flies after the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

While fans and media are still praising Broncos for a great Super Bowl, they often lose track of the many obstacles Denver will need to overcome just to get in the playoffs next year. Not to be confused with some of the easy divisions, the AFC West already plays at a high level and is improving. The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the top teams in the NFL and should have been 2-0 against Denver in the 2015 season, but Jamaal Charles fumbled twice. The Chiefs' blitz rattled the Broncos much as the Broncos rattled the Panthers in SB 50. The AFC West also includes the homeless but talented Raiders, who showed in 2015 they can beat any team in the NFL. And in a non-division game, the Broncos play the Panthers, who should be in a nasty mood for that one.

--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a member of the Seniors Selection Subcommittee.

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