Every year I post my prediction on this blog before the first game for the Denver Broncos season. Here are my thoughts for 2014:
The Broncos will again have a successful season, winning the AFC West with a record of 11-5. They will not make it to the Super Bowl, however, losing on the road in the playoffs at New England. Reasons?:
1. The Broncos have a difficult schedule this year, being matched with the NFC West for their out of conference games. Playing the defending Super Bowl champ Seahawks on the road in addition to the 49'ers and Cardinals are tougher matchups than the NFC East teams the Broncos played last season.
2. The Broncos again draw New England on the road in the regular season, where they have lost the past two seasons. New England figures to be stronger this year with Rob Gronkowski back at tight end and a full off season to address their depleted defense (adding Darrelle Revis at cornerback). While Denver overcame the Patriot loss to still claim the AFC West #1 seed in each of the past two seasons, I don't see that happening in 2014. The home field advantage will be key in the playoffs, allowing the Patriots to beat the Broncos on their home turf in the AFC Championship game.
3. The Broncos ARE improved in 2014, provided they stay healthy. The defensive additions of Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward will give the team a better defense. However Ware and Talib have been injury prone the last two seasons and I wonder if they can stay on the field for the full 16 game schedule.
4. Peyton Manning will again have a stellar season. The Broncos will miss Knowshon Moreno, though, with Montee Ball not matching Knowshon's 2013 production.
5. Seattle looks awesome. They remind me of the young 1993 Dallas Cowboy team that won their first Super Bowl the previous season, and were even better the next year in winning the championship again. Having Percy Harvin for a full season, the continued maturation of quarterback Russell Wilson, and the best defense in the NFL will lead the Seahawks to a second straight Super Bowl title.
Playing Seattle on the road in game 4 will be the litmus test for this 2014 Broncos team. Will the improvements on defense, a beefed up offensive line (with Ryan Clady back), and a full offseason for offensive mastermind Adam Gase to figure out how to attack the Seahawks D lead to a different result than Super XLVIII? The Broncos don't have to win this game, but if they can play the Seattle close and neutralize Seahawk's pass rush, that'll be a good sign that Denver can exceed my predictions above. That's what I'm hoping for.