Training camp has opened for your Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, and the truest, orange-and-bluest fans are optimistic about another fantastic season.
Not Colin Cowherd, though. The ESPN star turned Fox Sports personality, who hosts The Herd on FS1 and Fox Sports Radio (heard locally on Denver Sports 760), thinks anyone who expects big things from the Broncos this year is a flat-out moron.
Or, more specifically, a "pompom-waving sycophant" who's willfully ignoring four major reasons why the team is "going to fall off a cliff."
Let's check out his reasoning first before putting it under the microscope.
On yesterday's broadcast, Cowherd said he'd gotten significant push-back from Broncos followers in regard to his low expectations for the squad — so, he said, "Let me give you some context for why I think Denver is going to be a bad football team. One, their schedule's brutal. Number two, they have the worst quarterback in the division. Number three, they lost key personnel. And number four, we have recent history."
Regarding the schedule, Cowherd said, "Nobody in the league starts with three tougher teams: Carolina, Indy and at Cincinnati. Cam, Andrew Luck and bottom-line Pro Bowl-level Andy Dalton. In all three instances, you're going to be at a significant quarterback disadvantage. You end the season with New England, at Kansas City and Oakland. Again, significant quarterback disadvantage." Moreover, he went on, "the middle of the schedule, it's no day at the beach. At Oakland, at New Orleans. Beginning, middle and end, your schedule's rough."
As for the Broncos' quarterback situation, Cowherd sees it as "the worst...by far," especially in comparison with division rivals the Oakland Raiders (featuring on-the-rise Derek Carr), the Kansas City Chiefs (helmed by the solid Alex Smith) and the San Diego Chargers, whose Philip Rivers he sees as still being a likely Pro Bowler, too.
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Denver, meanwhile, is "down to Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch — albeit talented, not even close to starting." For this reason, he says the Broncos' only NFL rival when it comes to nightmare quarterback scenarios is the (eeesh) Cleveland Browns.
On to number three, the loss of key personnel. Cowherd named departees Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan on the defensive side of the ball, Evan Mathis and Tyler Polumbus from the offensive line, and even QB Peyton Manning, cited not for his obviously depleted playing ability, but for "his incredible IQ and leadership."
Finally, there's NFL history.
"Fifteen Super Bowl champs missed the playoffs the following year," Cowherd pointed out. "That's 30 percent. And those teams often brought back a good QB: a Big Ben or a Joe Flacco or an Eli Manning. You're bringing back Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch."
The Broncos have already been down this road, he continued. "John Elway won the Super Bowl before he retired; the next year, they were 6-10." And even though Tampa Bay and Baltimore had historically good defenses in their Super Bowl-winning seasons, they went into the tank the next year anyhow.
"I don't know how you can make an argument that Denver won't take a massive step back," Cowherd concluded. "You can quibble with my picks, but you have to be a pompom-waving sycophant to think Denver is going to be a double-digit-win team this year. Where do you see that? What would lead you to believe that unless your area code is in Denver metro?"
Maybe so — but plenty of Cowherd's logic is suspect no matter where you live.
The hard schedule is a given, as it is for every champion. The historical precedent isn't exactly overwhelming: If 30 percent of Super Bowl winners didn't make it to the playoffs the next year, that means 70 percent did. (Even we can do that math.) And Cowherd's contentions about player losses is both weak and uninformed.
Yes, Malik Jackson was and is amazing. But the linebackers who'll step in for Danny Trevathan (whose name Cowherd could barely pronounce) are at least as good as he is, Evan Mathis was a high-priced bust and Tyler Polumbus, though a great guy, was clearly at the end of the line last season — which is why he retired shortly after the Super Bowl. Moreover, the return of Ty Sambrailo, who was knocked out last season due to injury, and the blossoming of talents such as Max Garcia suggests the Broncos' O-line will be better than last year's version, not worse.
That leaves the quarterback dilemma, which is every bit as dire as Cowherd implied. Sanchez isn't known as the butt-fumbler for nothing, Siemian throws a nice ball, in coaching parlance, but is completely untested, and Lynch played in a college system at Memphis so different from ones in the NFL that he'll need lotsa time to adapt.
That's why I think an 8-8 record constitutes reasonable expectations for the Broncos in 2016-2017 — although a couple of more wins aren't totally out of the question.
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Such numbers would qualify as a mild letdown, but not the cliff-tumble foreseen by Cowherd, who's been off-base about the Broncos before. Note that in 2015, he called on Denver to trade Peyton Manning before his final, Super Bowl-winning season because his arm was cooked.
Which it was — but the Broncos took home the Lombardi Trophy anyhow. May Cowherd be just as wrong again.