2014 NFL Season Preview, Fantasy Sleepers, and Predictions: Can Peyton Manning lead the Denver Broncos to a Second Straight Super Bowl Appearance?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 13-3 (Lost Super Bowl)
Key Additions: DE DeMarcus Ware, WR Emmanuel Sanders, CB Aqib Talib, C Will Montgomery, S T.J. Ward, CB Bradley Roby (1st round), WR Cody Latimer (2nd round), OT Michael Schofield (3rd round)
Key Losses: WR Eric Decker, RB Knowshon Moreno, CB Champ Bailey, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Robert Ayers, DE Shaun Phillips, G Zane Beadles, CB Quentin Jammer, TE Joel Dreessen
Games to Watch: Sept. 7 vs. Indianapolis, Sept. 21 at Seattle, Oct. 19 vs. San Francisco, Nov. 30 at Kansas City
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
1. Who is named starting running back?
Montee Ball is working out as if he's been pegged Denver's opening day running back. Head coach John Fox's decision isn't so clear cut.
Knowshon Moreno left for Miami, leaving the Broncos without a proven pass protector. He reached career highs in rushing yards (1,038), touchdowns (10), and first downs (53), the latter emphasizing his importance in third-down situations.
A youthful core is vying for Moreno's starting spot. Ball is the obvious choice after handling 120 touches for 559 yards last season. He was a dependable backup for Moreno while vastly improving his pass blocking ability. This give the 23-year-old a foot up on the competition.
Ronnie Hillman was pegged as the team's starting back last year, but never lived up to expectations. He fumbled in consecutive games- one directly resulting in a Colts' victory- and found himself inactive throughout the playoffs.
Still, Hillman's explosive speed gives him the No. 2 back role. Depending on how he fares in preseason matchups, he still has a chance to overtake Ball.
2. How will the new-look secondary fare?
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be missed. He was the bright spot in an otherwise mediocre secondary ranking among the AFC's worst in yards per game (254) and total yards allowed (4,070).
Easily one of the league's top ten corners, Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Giants. Denver also loses veterans Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer, whose productivity dropped off over the last few season.
Bailey's departure won't mean much. He's dropped off over the last two years and didn't record an interception last season, though a foot injury limited Bailey to five games.
The Broncos' revamped secondary includes star cornerback Aqib Talib and former Browns' safety T.J. Ward. Both are major upgrades who complement Chris Harris Jr. well.
If Talib can avoid off-the-field issues-fights with teammates, assault and burglary charges-Denver may have gotten a steal. He's a top tier defender who keeps up, stride-for-stride, with the league's elite receivers.
Denver used its first-round draft choice on Bradley Roby, a cover corner who resembles Talib. Roby likely starts in Harris' slot while he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the playoffs.
Roby himself injured his knee last December but managed a 4.24 40-yard dash at the scouting combines. He has the speed, agility, and raw talent to keep up with NFL receivers. Having Talib lining up across from Roby only makes Denver better.
3. How will they fare against a taxing schedule?
Denver feasted on NFC East defenders last season. Manning averaged 350.5 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game in four contests, highlighted by a 414 yard, two-touchdown effort in Dallas on Oct. 6.
Their visit to AT&T Stadium was the only competitive NFC opponent as they edged out the Cowboys, 51-48.
It won't be as easy this time around. In addition to division matchups with Kansas City and San Diego, the Broncos have to deal with the NFC West. If their Super Bowl struggles are any indication, making the playoffs will be a challenge all on its own.
Manning never found his comfort zone against Seattle. Maybe his age had something to do with it-Manning turned 38 years old in March- but he couldn't keep up with the Seahawks' stifling defense. Denver committed four turnover after surrendering just 26 all season, including the playoffs.
The scary thing is Seattle may not have the NFC West's most dominant defense. Barring a suspension to Aldon Smith, San Francisco carries the league's scariest front line.
St. Louis' offense may be suspect but their pass rush constantly ranks among the league's best. The Rams' have ranked among the NFC's top three sacks leaders over the last two years. Then there is Arizona, who still carries potent linebackers despite Daryl Washington's suspension.
Nine of Denver's games are against playoff teams. None got significantly worse during the offeseason.
Emmanuel Sanders- WR
After posting career highs in catches (67), yards (740), touchdowns (6), and targets (112) with Pittsburgh, Emmanuel Sanders will see a lot more action with Denver's pass-heavy offense.
Demaryus Thomas, Wes Welker, and tight end Julius Thomas are higher on the depth chart but Manning's always been one to spread out the ball evenly. Factor in Welker's health and Sanders became bigger target.
Montee Ball- RB
Ball won't get 25 touches a game, but he doesn't have to with Manning behind center. He's worth a second or third round pick solely for what Moreno was able to accomplish last year.
Moreno caught 60 passes for 548 yards and three touchdowns last year. Ball is a better overall talent who can thrive given a starting opportunity. If he can avoid turnovers and become a formidable receiving option, Ball will have a breakout year.
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