While the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are beginning their final week of preparation for Super Bowl LI, the Denver Broncos are beginning to look forward to next season. With new head coach Vance Joseph filling out the bulk of his coaching staff, he can now begin to turn his attention to the coming year.

The Broncos may not have reached the playoffs this season, as they fell short with a 9-7 record, but make no mistake, they can still be a contender. With a defense that could be a few adjustments away from returning to an elite status, Denver should find themselves right back in the mix for the postseason in 2017.

What are the key areas that must improve if they are to give themselves a chance to appear in yet another Super Bowl?

The vertical passing game

Trevor Siemian showed some flashes of having a very nice touch on the deep ball, and Paxton Lynch has a cannon, but the Broncos were definitely a “dink and dunk” team in 2016.

Siemian connected on 12 of 39 passes of over 20 yards, with four of them going for touchdowns. Yet it was rare that he forced the defense to concern themselves much with the vertical passing game. The second-year quarterback averaged just seven yards per attempt, ranking him 20th among starting quarterbacks.

Despite that strong arm, Lynch was actually worse. His 5.99 yards per pass would rank him just ahead of Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (5.80), but just behind Philadelphia Eagles rookie Carson Wentz (6.23).

It may have been the conservative offense of Gary Kubiak, but the lack of downfield passing allowed defenses to stack the box, eliminate the running game and smother Broncos receivers.

Get tougher up the middle

Following a season that may have seen the greatest defense in Denver Broncos history, the 2016 version resembled the proverbial doughnut. They were pretty good on the edges, and non-existent in the middle.

After leading the league in defense, by allowing just 83.6 yards per game on the ground in 2015, Denver took a huge step backward. Their 130.3 yards per game dropped them clear back to 28th this season, and as a result, we saw the vaunted Orange Crush defense fade in big moments.

The center of the defensive line was soft, and the inside linebackers must be much more of a presence, as safeties Darian Stewart and TJ Ward combined for 155 tackles. That is far too many for your last line of defense.

Give Von Miller some help

Von Miller was once again spectacular in 2016, finishing the season with 78 tackles, 13.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. It is even more impressive when you consider that he didn’t get nearly as much help from his teammates.

In 2015, the Broncos racked up 52 total quarterback sacks, with Miller accounting for 11. Fast forward to this season, when the defenders around Von combined for just 31 sacks total. That means that opposing offenses were able to send more and more people at Miller, hence why we saw him battling double and triple teams all season.

Whether it comes from the defensive tackle position, like we saw with Malik Jackson in 2015, or Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett begin to step up their game, the Broncos need more pass rushing production around Miller.

Value the football

We hate to oversimplify this, but it seems pretty easy.

When the Broncos won the turnover battle, they won the game, and when they didn’t…they didn’t fare nearly as well. In 2016, when Denver won the turnover battle they were 7-0; and when they didn’t, their record was 1-5. Sometimes the football just bounces your way, and that didn’t happen very often this year. In 2017, the Broncos will need to put some extra focus on both protecting the football, and forcing some more turnovers of their own.

Offensive line play

This is the big one.

The Denver running game was completely non-existent this season, the Broncos averaged just 92.8 yards per game, ranking them 27th out of 32 teams. Broncos quarterbacks were sacked 40 times, and hit a whopping 104 times. When you are getting hit this often, it is easy to see why the Broncos turned the football over 25 times.

The play of the offensive line seeps into other areas of play too. The offense is unable to maintain drives, the defense is on the field too long, and they eventually begin to wear out. Stop me if this all sounds familiar.

New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson have a big task ahead of them to improve this unit. If they find a way to do it, the payoff could be monumental.