The Denver Broncos have been riding high since they won Super Bowl 50 back on February 7 of this year…but today, when the team kicks off the NFL season against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, it’s time to get back to work toward Super Bowl 51. (Or will we go back to roman numerals? Super Bowl LI just doesn’t look right.) Most of the national experts aren’t giving the Broncos much of a chance. But Westword talked with one of Denver’s most ardent and longtime supporters — for the sake of privacy, let’s call him Superfan Dan — to list the ten most important things that the team needs to do in order to have a shot at the Bowl this year.
10. Keep a Level Head
Look, every Broncos fan loves our “No Fly Zone.” It’s a big part of how we won it all last season and one of the great hopes in the coming season, too. But there’s a difference between playing aggressive and playing unchecked. The new NFL rules are more restrictive, and you can bet that the refs will be testing those rules out. Play fierce, but play smart. T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib? We’re talking to you, gentlemen.
9. Protect DeMarcus Ware
Back in 1998, Broncos trainer Steve “the Greek” Antonopulos helped hold a fading but still vital John Elway together with chewing gum and baling wire — and pulled it off. He did it by resting Elway when the team could afford it and using Bubby Brister to spell him during the regular season. The result? Elway was healthy enough to march the Broncos straight through the playoffs all the way to the Lombardi trophy. This year, Denver needs to do the same for DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos are deep at outside linebacker; if Ware needs to come out here and there or even rest a game or two, so be it. Let Shane Ray do his thing, and Ware will be more ready when we need him.
8. Don’t Leash Siemian
The Broncos got used to playing a not-lose offense last season, and we have to be able to see what Trevor Siemian can do if he’s given the reins. This isn’t Peyton Manning in his final season anymore; put our new leader in, and leave him in. Let him make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be too quick to send in rookie Paxton Lynch. Both of these new quarterbacks need time. Make sure they get it.
7. Keep Sanders Healthy and Happy
In the first draft of this very list, this entry was all about re-signing Emmanuel Sanders — avoiding the distraction from the season with contract stuff, and for sure not letting negotiations get to the same point that the front office allowed with Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller. Luckily, the Broncos beat this article to press by doing exactly that. Sanders is now a Denver Bronco through the 2019 season, which means good things for all concerned. Sanders has gone on record as saying that he wants to keep wearing the orange and blue, and for the love of Elway, we ought to support that sort of loyalty in every way possible.
6. Work the Line for Wolfe
Defensively, the Broncos rightfully have a lot of confidence, but they still face the challenge of organizing the D-line in order to best support Derek Wolfe. “The Wolfman” is Denver’s best hope to step up and minimize the loss of Malik Jackson to Jacksonville.
Continue to count down our top five items on the Broncos' 2016 to-do list.
5. Don’t Get Stuck on Anderson
Every Broncos fan loves C.J. Anderson. The guy’s overflowing with heart, and he’s an asset to the team on-field and off. But Denver can’t rely on him to run us out of every clinch, and he doesn’t need to be our starter in every game. If Anderson needs time to recognize the holes in the zone-blocking scheme, give it to him. Move on to Devontae Booker, and use him until and unless Anderson can truly fill the role.
4. Same Goes for the Run
We’ve got to admit it: We no longer have a dependable arm (or even the presumption of one) to get us out of third-and-longs possession after possession after possession. Yes, we’re going to press the run this season, and we’re not making a secret of that. Everyone’s going to be ready for exactly that. Which means we’re going to have to be more than that, and have a few surprises left.
3. Pray Just a Little that Letting Britton Colquitt Go Wasn’t a Huge Mistake
Creating another Prater-style kicking emergency probably wasn’t the best way to start our 2016 season. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed that Riley Dixon can step up strong.
2. Listen to the “Experts”
You know, the ones giving the Broncos little to no shot at even making the playoffs this season, let alone the Super Bowl. Let the columnists crow about how Oakland or Kansas City will win the AFC West and how Bill “Bellicheat” will take his Patriots all the way. Broncos bridle at that sort of prognostication. Embrace that. Channel it. Make that chip on your shoulder become motivation — but do it wisely.
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1. ...But Forget Super Bowl 50
First and foremost: Play like last year never happened. Play like Westword contributor Brian Badzmierowski was right. Don’t play like we’re defending a title; play hungry, play smart, play like we have something to prove, because we do. What happened last year has no relevance to what will happen this year; we have no laurels upon which to rest. Get out there and leave it all on the field, for the Mile High fans here and across the country. Go, Broncos!