The 2016 Denver Broncos are better than last year’s version

Denver Broncos fans

Earlier this week, Terrell Davis said that last season’s championship team was an “aberration,” a fluke.

He couldn’t be more right.

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl with the second-worst quarterback rating in the NFL. That, in case you’ve missed the last decade of NFL football, is not a winning formula. In fact, discounting Denver’s 2015 season, the average record of the 31st-ranked passing offense (in terms of quarterback rating) over the last five years is slightly less than 5-11, with none of those teams making the playoffs.

The Broncos, though, went 12-4, grabbed the No. 1 seed in the AFC and took home their third Lombardi Trophy.

That, my friends, is an aberration.

Now, you can make the argument that the defense was so unbelievably good that it didn’t matter how poor the offense played; you could argue that the defense, on its own merit, was talented enough defy history. And you’d be right. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fluke.

Remember, at halftime of the Broncos’ Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, it looked as if Denver might miss the playoffs entirely. The next week, against the Chargers, the Broncos looked as if they were trying to throw home-field advantage down the drain.

Yes, that team turned it around and won the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t as if they were historically dominant. For as good as the defense was, the offense was equally as debilitating. If one ball doesn’t bounce the Broncos’ way – if the Denver defense doesn’t return just one of those turnovers for a touchdown – not only do they miss out on the Super Bowl, but they likely miss the playoffs altogether.

The Broncos walked the thinnest of tight ropes through the most wicked of winds and managed to reach the other end; more times than not, teams like that fall.

This year, though, will be different. While the Broncos will still have to perform a balancing act, the conditions will be much more tame.

Looking across the web, following along on TV, the Broncos aren’t getting nearly the respect they deserve. Denver, despite appearing in two of the last three title games, is no longer considered among elite teams like the Seahawks, Patriots, Cardinals and Packers.

And why’s that? Well, because Peyton Manning, the face of the franchise and the catalyst for the Broncos’ success, is gone. The national media, even the local media, have equated the loss of Manning to the exodus of talent the Baltimore Ravens endured following their title in 2012. The difference, though, is that the Ravens lost two Hall of Famers in Ed Reed and and Ray Lewis, they lost their No. 1 receiver in Anquan Boldin, they lost to No. 1 tackler in Bernard Pollard and they lost both starting cornerbacks, along with three or four other key departures.

The Broncos, essentially, lost Manning, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. Everyone else that left was mostly for the best.

Those are not equal situations. Unlike the Ravens, the Denver Broncos are returning nine of 11 starters from one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, and while the losses of Jackson and Trevathan hurt, they’re far from debilitating – I could make the argument that they were the ninth and 10th most-important players on the defense; without the secondary and pass rush, they’re not half the players they got paid to be this offseason.

Do I expect the defense to replicate their performance from last season? Yeah, I do. They may not be as lucky. They may not have as many balls bounce their way – Bradley Roby may not have a game-winning fumble jump directly into his bread basket. But I expect them to be just as dominant, if not more so.

Remember, this unit, aside from DeMarcus Ware, is in the prime of their careers. Chris Harris, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Von Miller … they’re all playing better than ever. Some may even be getting better. Guys like Bradley Roby, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett sure are. And, let’s not forget, they’re entering their second season under Wade Phillips.

That means something.

Many of the Broncos’ mistakes last season were the result of miscommunications or misunderstandings, where the receivers were able to sneak past the secondary for long touchdowns, especially during the final stretch of the year. That won’t happen as often this season, as Phillips’ scheme becomes second nature for these guys.

But, as we all know, the most important factor in the Broncos’ success will be the offense, and I can guarantee you that it will be significantly better in 2016 than it was in 2015.

Let’s start with the quarterback — we always do.

Mark Sanchez isn’t a sexy name, but it’s an effective one, much more effective than Peyton Manning was last year. Please, for one moment, erase the Butt Fumble from memory, clear your mind of The Sanchize and look at Sanchez for what he is:

Sanchez’s Last 10 Games: 65% completion; 14 touchdowns; 13 interceptions; 84.7 QB rating

Manning’s Last 10 Games: 60% completion; 9 touchdowns; 17 interceptions; 67.9 QB Rating

Now, is Sanchez’s track record going to earn him a bust in Canton? Of course not, but it’s fine. And fine is something the Broncos did not have last season.

I don’t want to hear, “Yeah, but Sanchez doesn’t have Manning’s brain! You’re underrating all the other things he did for the Broncos last year! Remember when he audibled into that run play in Week 17? Mark Sanchez wouldn’t have done that!”

Give me a break … You know who else has a great football mind? Bill Belichick. But I’m not about to put him behind center because he knows when to flip the play away from a blitzing safety.

Manning was miserable last season. Sure, he audibled out of a few plays, but he also threw 17 interceptions in 10 games, and he had about 25 more passes that fluttered incomplete or went in and out of a defender’s hands.

Now, to be fair, Sanchez will be given much better tools to work with this season — the offensive line looks much improved and C.J. Anderson seems to have finally received the message that the season starts in September, not November. That only furthers my point: The offense could not have been worse in 2015, and with the talent around the quarterback position, all it takes is a few minor improvements to spark exponential change.

This team is not worse than they were last season; they’re better.

Does that mean they’re set to repeat as champions? No. Like TD said, last year was an aberration. Last year’s version probably shouldn’t have won the title. If they want to secure a fourth Lombardi Trophy, they can’t expect to do it in the same fashion.

If the offense can take a step forward in 2016, they won’t have to.