Jussel: Broncos can win Super Bowl ... next year

Occasionally, the guy or gal at the other end of the bar will turn and ask the all-knowing sage THE question.

“So, what do you think of the Broncos chances?” the fool on the stool is always asking, sure in his or her intent that the answer to be received will be The Gospel as It Truly Will Be.

Those seeking wisdom seldom complete the thought but always imply: “What are the Broncos chances of winning the Super Bowl?” because winning the AFC West, as we saw at the end of the Tim Tebow Era, is never enough.

Nor, said sage thinks, would winning two playoff games or coming up a point short in any Super Bowl be enough.

The Broncos had no chance of winning any Super Bowl in the Tim Tebow days, not if a Tebow-led team had been given a decade-plus of building an offense around his talents.

However, the question asked in this, the year of the reincarnation and importing of Peyton Manning, has brought about a gradually changing answer from our sage.

In July, the answer was “No chance in hell.”

In December, the answer is “It’s possible, if the stars align just exactly right.”

Yes, Denver, now 10-3 on the season and AFC West champion for a second straight season, could have a Super Bowl champion this season — if they can find a way to beat the Texans in Houston, the Patriots in their New England home, the Ravens in Baltimore (maybe twice), then the likes of the New York Giants or San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans.

Tough tasks any or all, but within the realm of possibility if everything breaks Denver’s way for the next two months.

But don’t get too excited.

Our sage says the Broncos are still too flawed. This isn’t their season to win it all.

That will come next season.

Let’s examine Denver’s season further, starting with the strengths:

The most obvious has been the passing game as Manning has become more and more accustomed to his receivers. It is, along with the aerial attacks in New England and Green Bay, right there at the top.

There is the pass rush that has them among the league leaders in sacks as Von Miller has graduated from incredible prospect to legit NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate (either he or Houston DE J.J. Watt). Denver and Houston rate at the top of the heap when it comes to pounding passers.

Denver also boasts at long last a secondary that has been consistent, at times spectacular.

Special teams play, like the secondary a mess for years, has also grown up, providing plenty of return fireworks and bottling up the opposition with bad field position. Britton Colquitt, Matt Prater and tiny Trindon Holliday are huge threats in their own ways.

And, let’s add as a strength the coaches and executives who have kept bad decisions before, during and after games to a minimum.

Those are reasons the Broncos have a shot at picking up all the marbles.

Here’s why they won’t:

The running game is not strong enough to win in January snowstorms or to keep the rush off Manning in bad weather. Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno have been OK. Terrell Davis they ain’t.

Denver also doesn’t have enough speed on the outside to stretch defenses that will creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage as the season plays out.

Demaryius Thomas has been one of the league’s best after catching the ball, and Brandon Stokley, Eric Decker and a good tight end tandem allow for pedestrian possession, but not explosive TDs. Think of how good this team would be right now if Brandon Lloyd were around.

Perhaps the biggest concern, however, is the Broncos can still be pounded by the opposition’s running attack. Houston and New England have already been ultra-successful against the Broncos on the ground and will certainly try the same tactic the next time around.

These are reasons next season will be THE season.

Denver’s relatively minor issues, our sage says, will keep them from being No. 1 this time around, but they can and will be addressed relatively simply via the draft, trades and free agency.

The Broncos are no longer a team with a seven-page, single-spaced wish list to hand to Santa.

It’s more like a couple of seconds of whispering in his ear: “Hey, we need a bit more bulk on both lines and a speedy wideout that will keep safeties 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.”

Then — and our sage will address possible additions soon — look out.

The Broncos will be a Super team.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.

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