After winning Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos are faced with a task that hasn’t been accomplished in over a decade. The NFL champions will try to win back-to-back titles next season, but even a trip to the 2017 Super Bowl might be a surprise.
Despite defeating the one-loss Carolina Panthers by two touchdowns to win the Super Bowl, Denver isn’t among the favorites to win next year’s championship. Six NFL teams have been given better odds to win the 2017 Super Bowl, and the Broncos have +1600 odds to repeat. Two AFC teams, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, have been given better odds than the Broncos to win the Super Bowl.
Because the salary cap forces teams to make so many roster changes, the NFL is the most difficult sport for champions to repeat. Of the last 11 Super Bowl winners, only last year’s Seattle Seahawks were able to reach the conference championship game the following season.
The Broncos were the AFC’s No.1 seed, but they were far from dominant this season. All but four of Denver’s 15 wins came by one score, and a lot of questions have to be answered surrounding the team’s roster for next year.
Most importantly, the Broncos have to figure out who their quarterback will be for the 2016 season. After winning his second Super Bowl and with his 40th birthday approaching, Peyton Manning is expected to retire. Even if the veteran quarterback decides to return, Denver is almost sure to release him, since he’s set to earn $19 million and he’s coming off the worst season of his career. The Broncos held off the Panthers in spite of Manning's lackluster play.
Brock Osweiler might be the favorite to start for Denver next season, but he’s set to become a free agent and earn a significant raise. The career backup showed flashes in Manning’s absence, but he was nothing special, posting an 86.4 passer rating. In the six games in which Osweiler played from start to finish, the Broncos averaged just 19 points per game.
Denver was carried by their defense, and the team will have to spend some money to keep the unit together. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller could command a $100 million contract in free agency, or the team could use the franchise tag to keep him for one more season. Either way, the Broncos won’t have much money to spend on the rest of their roster.
Releasing Peyton Manning and tagging Von Miller (est. $14.1M) leaves the #Broncos w/ about $21.6M in space to work with this offseason.
— Spotrac (@spotrac) February 8, 2016
Defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan are also set to hit free agency. Jackson had five tackles and a fumble recovery in Super Bowl 50, while Trevathan led the Broncos with eight tackles.
If Denver can keep their defense together, they should be among the NFL’s best teams in 2016. The unit was one of the best the NFL has seen in recent seasons, ranking first in total defense and leading the league in sacks. Denver managed to win the Super Bowl with virtually no help at quarterback while defeating three of the league’s top signal callers in the playoffs.
During an era in which having a top quarterback seems to be a requirement in order to be a Super Bowl contender, the Broncos are an anomaly. Not since the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers has a team won the title with such little production from the game’s most important position. With Brad Johnson returning to play quarterback the next season, Tampa Bay went 7-9 and missed the playoffs. The 2000 champion Baltimore Ravens were also similar to this year’s Broncos team, and they lost in the divisional playoffs the following season behind a dominant defense and Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
With Tom Brady at quarterback, the New England Patriots are the last Super Bowl champions to repeat (2004-2005), and did so with a top defense. Prior to New England, it was Denver who were the last back-to-back champions, winning the 1998 and 1999 Super Bowls with John Elway at the helm.