Well hello there, football.
It was a long and eventful offseason for the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning retired, Brock Osweiler left, the team took a chance on Paxton Lynch, Aqib Talib possibly got blacked out and survived a shooting, the Broncos visited the White House and Von Miller finally got his money. Did I leave anything out? (Ed. note: Yes, you left out that Von Miller wore lots of different costumes and also no clothes.)
Thankfully, the real games start tonight. The Broncos and Panthers kick off the 2016-17 season on NBC at 6:30 p.m. As you count down the hours until you leave the office to watch the game, here are some questions Denverite has about the defending Super Bowl champs.
1. Can Trevor Siemian at least be average?
The Broncos don’t need good at the quarterback position. They just need adequate. Siemian, the team’s seventh-round pick in 2015, overcame long odds to win the starting job this year. Denver just needs him to avoid turnovers.
2. When will Paxton Lynch look ready to take the reins?
The Broncos are taking it slow with their quarterback of the future. Good. Lynch needs time to develop. Denver’s offense is infinitely more complex than the one he played in at Memphis. I’m willing to bet he’ll get a handful of starts at some point. The question is, how early in the year?
3. Can C.J. Anderson shoulder the load?
Anderson has a habit of starting off slow and picking up steam as the year goes on. He averaged 30 rushing yards per contest his first six games of 2015; over his last 12, if you include the playoffs, he upped that number to 64.5. Denver needs Good C.J. Anderson from Jump Street this year.
4. What can Devontae Booker contribute?
The rookie earned the backup job. He’s a powerful one-cut runner who seems like a great fit in Gary Kubiak’s offense. He’s also a capable pass catcher. It wouldn’t be shocking if he wrestles the starting job away from Anderson down the road.
5. How will the offensive line’s new bookends hold up?
Fresh faces will start for the Broncos at left tackle and right tackle in 2016. Russell Okung, who negotiated his own deal with Denver, will protect Siemian’s blind side on the left. Donald Stephenson, who came over from Kansas City, will play right. Siemian needs all the help he can get. We’ll see how these two men protect him when he does drop back to throw.
6. Is Aqib Talib going to be the same guy?
The Broncos’ fiery cornerback is getting up there in age, by NFL standards. He’s 30. Talib is also roughly three months removed from getting shot in the leg. Is it possible he slips a little bit?
7. How much will DeMarcus Ware’s back issues limit him?
Ware missed five games last year and the entire offseason with a lingering back injury. We already know he’ll play on a snap limit Thursday. This is his 12th NFL season. Like Talib, he is someone to worry about on defense.
8. Is Jared Crick ready to be the starter at defensive end?
Vance Walker was supposed to start in this role, which was vacated when Malik Jackson left to sign a mammoth deal with Jacksonville. Then Walker went down with a torn ACL in training camp. Crick will now start at defensive end opposite Derek Wolfe. He was underwhelming if four seasons with the Texans. He’ll need to step up.
9. How motivated will Von Miller be after getting paid?
Success often leads to complacency. It’s just human nature. Miller earned the Super Bowl MVP. He got the most guaranteed money ever for a defensive player (about $70 million). Will he attack quarterbacks with the same ferocity?
10. How much will Von Miller dance this year?
A lot, I’d imagine.
11. Can Demaryius Thomas limit his drops?
The Broncos star receiver struggled at times in 2015 hanging onto the football. He ranked fifth in the league with nine drops.
12. Will Denver have similar success in one-score games?
Last season, Denver went 9-3 in regular season games decided by seven points or less. Its .750 winning percentage in such contests was one of the best in football. The evidence suggests teams that do well in close games one year tend not to the next. Something to watch.
13. Can Denver do better in the takeaways battle?
The Broncos finished minus-4 in turnover margin a year ago, which ranked tied for-19th. The defense did its part in forcing 27. The offense didn’t, coughing up the ball 31 times. This is a critical area of the game where Denver can improve.
14. Will Denver regret parting ways with Britton Colquitt?
John Elway and Co. cut the team’s longtime punter to save some cash. Now all of the punting duties fall on rookie Riley Dixon’s shoulders. He looked shaky at times in the Broncos’ final preseason game. One of his punts failed to travel 20 yards.
15. How will Cody Latimer handle kick-returning duties?
Latimer, a receiver, is another Bronco thrust into a crucial special teams position without much experience. He’s returned two kicks in two NFL seasons. He returned one in the preseason against the Rams. Special teams might not seem important, but they can be the difference in close contests.
16. Will Denver return to the playoffs for the sixth-straight year?
Our guess? No.