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Denver Broncos 2014 season preview extravaganza

Welcome to Mile High Report's look at the 2014 Denver Broncos season, featuring predictions galore.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I recently read the perfect metaphor for the Denver Broncos' 2014 season.

Enter Peyton Manning, 38 years old, and the reigning League MVP, his 2013 record-breaking season tarnished by a 43-8 Super Bowl blowout. Manning dusts himself off and checks his body. He flexes his neck, ankles, elbows, and wrists, making sure he's physically ready for the toll ahead. He meditates on the sport he plays, ensuring his mind and his heart are both still "in it." He decides that, yes, he is ready.

And he bends his knees, takes a few backward steps, leans against the boulder, and begins pushing it up the mountain.

2014 Broncos Season

Denver's 2013 season was fun; Denver's 2014 season will be focused. The 35-point loss looms large - "thirty-five!" became the offseason motto of Broncos players, reminding each other of the gap they need to cross and encouraging them to push for one more rep - while the Broncos hope the offseason spent getting healthy and fortifying the defense will prove fortuitous.

The Broncos don't want Peyton Manning to be shouldering the load of their ascent up the NFL mountain this year. They want to help him out. They want DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas, and Terrance Knighton to bear the weight of this boulder as well this year. All the way to the top.

With so much emphasis on the destination, one has to give effort to remember the journey. The odds of winning a Super Bowl are slim even for the most talented teams - most oddsmakers and simulations put Denver's chances at no better than 15% - simply because there are so many variables involved in a five-month NFL season.

Can Broncos fans remember and appreciate these long odds and enjoy the season ahead? Are we too focused on February to enjoy September? Let's strive not to be. There are four months of spectacular football ahead of us, and at the end of the day, enjoying the sport is what it's all about.

And Peyton Manning can move boulders better than perhaps anybody in NFL history.

The Mile High Report staff answered three questions and filled out a number of predictions for the 2014 season. Find those results below.

Broncos 2014 predictions
Author Record AFC CG NFC CG Super Bowl
Kyle 15-1 Broncos over Chargers Seahawks over Packers Broncos over Seahawks
Mike 14-2 Broncos over Patriots Packers over Eagles Broncos over Packers
Tim 14-2 Broncos over Patriots Saints over Seahawks Broncos over Saints
Laurie 14-2 Broncos over Patriots Packers over 49ers Broncos over Packers
Scotty 16-0 Broncos over Patriots Packers over Seahawks Broncos over Packers
Topher 13-3 Broncos over Colts Packers over Seahawks Broncos over Packers
Brian 13-3 Broncos over Bengals Packers over Saints Broncos over Packers
Pete 14-2 Broncos over Ravens Saints over Eagles Broncos over Saints
Jacob 13-3 Broncos over Colts Packers over Seahawks Broncos over Packers
Sadaraine 14-2 Broncos over Patriots Packers over Saints Broncos over Packers
Amy 12-4 Broncos over Patriots Saints over Seahawks Broncos over Saints
Joe 13-3 Broncos over Ravens Panthers over Seahawks Broncos over Panthers
Consensus 13.75 wins Broncos over Patriots Packers over Seahawks Broncos over Packers

This offseason was all about Denver's big free agent acquisitions. Which one will give the Broncos the most bang for their buck in 2014?

Kyle: That's like asking which is better, peanut butter or jelly. Can't I choose the sandwich? Heading into the preseason, my answer would have been T.J. Ward, in a heartbeat. But then the preseason happened; Ward was mostly quiet, while Emmanuel Sanders exploded to show the beautiful potential he and Manning represent, all in less than two minutes of game time. Give me Sanders, and hold the bread.

Brian: Ouch, that's hard. I can see the case for Ward, Talib and Ware. While I cannot discount the need for the defense to be improved, I'm starting to think that the pick up of Emmanuel Sanders may prove to be huge, given the recent suspensions of both Welker and Prater. The addition of Sanders will help the offense not miss a beat during the weeks that those two are out.


Mike: DeMarcus Ware.  Coupled with Von Miller and the pass rush on the interior, these guys are going to make things easier for the folks in the secondary.  Having another elite pass rusher who is physically built more like a LB will also give Del Rio a lot of flexibility with scheming.

Amy : I'm going to go with Ware. Not only because I think the pairing of Ware and Miller will be scary for offenses to handle, but because of Ware's value as a leader for the defense. He's already been a good influence on Miller and he is a great person for the defense to look to in hard situations. A great pass rush will make things easier for Ward and Talib and Ware's leadership will help this new defense gel together quickly.

Pete: DeMarcus Ware will, without a doubt, be the biggest free agent acquisition this year. The premise of my stance is that the Broncos defense was sorely missing defensive end pressure. Yes, last year we didn't have Von Mill for most of the season, but even when we did, our defense wasn't as good as it was the previous year. Why you might ask? It is because the Broncos never filled the void left by Elvis Dumervil. Demarcus Ware fills that void with alacrity. He's everything Elvis was and then some. Defenses will have to pick their poison between him and Von Miller; But make no mistake, the poison is still lethal, and they will still succumb to it.

Laurie: Can I take all of them? Since the question asks for most bang for their buck, I'm going with DeMarcus Ware. Now that he's healthy, his skill as one of the NFL's top pass rushers will be back in full swing, in my opinion. But more importantly, his long-term affect on this team through his mentoring, his work ethic - not to mention that laugh! - are not as tangible on the stat sheet but every bit as important. What his leadership on this defense this year will mean for the Orange Crush years to come (and how it will impact the current players, mainly Von Miller) to be leaders in the future is immeasurable ... and worth every penny of his free agency deal.

AFC Playoffs 2014 predictions
Author AFC West AFC East AFC North AFC South Wild Card #5 Wild Card #6
Kyle Broncos Patriots Ravens Colts Chargers Bengals
Tim Broncos Patriots Ravens Colts Chargers Bengals
Scotty Broncos Patriots Bengals Colts Chargers Ravens
Brian Broncos Patriots Bengals Colts Ravens Chiefs
Sadaraine Broncos Dolphins Bengals Colts Patriots Texans

Tim: T.J. Ward is the long term answer to the Denver Broncos need at safety. Having grown up during the Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith era, nothing screams Broncos defense than having two dominating safeties keeping the opposing offenses honest. The biggest question now is can Rahim Moore grow into that dynamic duo? I think so.

Sadaraine: TJ Ward is the answer to a lot of problems for our defense.  He's a safety that can play in the box or in coverage. He is at least twice the talent of anything we had at the SS position in the past few years.

Scotty: This is a tough one for me. I want to say T.J Ward because he can do everything on defense, and will have a huge impact on our defense but i'm picking someone else. My pick is DeMarcus Ware. Having an elite pass rush makes everything else on your defense that much better. Pairing him with Von Miller will make Talib's and Ward's jobs easier, and make them have bigger years because of that.

Jacob: T.J. Ward needs to be, and should be the best investment that John Elway made in the offseason. Ward is a versatile, hard-hitting, and smart safety, who completely changes the landscape of this Broncos defense. The Broncos have struggled to find consistency at the safety position for quite a few years, and the addition of Ward changes that immediately. A player like Ward will impact the defense with his run-stopping ability, in addition to the impact he will have in the passing game, with the strength and speed to line up against tight ends, running backs, and wideouts. The freedom that Ward brings to Jack Del Rio in playcalling is invaluable, and his signing came at a rather affordable rate, thanks to John Elway and the team he has assembled in Denver. Without a doubt, T.J. Ward is the most valuable acquisition of the 2014 off-season, although there were many.

Joe: I'm gonna go with Aqib Talib here, only because he is the non-obvious choice and there are questions about his ability to play 19 games. If he does manage to complete a full season, he could end up having a career year with the quick pressure that our front should be applying to the QB on a regular basis.

Who is the 2nd-most important player, behind Peyton Manning, for a successful Broncos run this season?

Kyle: There are so many key role players on this Broncos team. Denver needs Ryan Clady to perform well, otherwise they risk losing Peyton. Terrance Knighton needs to step into that leadership role he's earned as captain. So I found this question difficult; I decided to think of it this way: Which player, if they perform at an exceptional level, wins the Broncos the Super Bowl? The answer is Von Miller.

Sadaraine: This is a no-brainer: Von Miller. Defenses MUST account for him. We even saw that last year when he was playing overweight and slow.  If Von can stay healthy, we will be in such superb shape on defense (and that isn't counting DeMarcus Ware).

Scotty: No doubt it's Von Miller. He is the player offenses have to gameplan around the week before the game, and the guy they account for before every snap. Without Von the Broncos defense is an average to good group, with Von this defense can be tops in the league.

Joe: Ryan Clady. My answer is biased because I played OL in college, but I truly think that Ryan Clady is the second most important player on this team behind Manning. We only need to think back to what a difference his presence made against the SEA DL in the preseason relative to how poor our OL fared without him in the Super Bowl.

Tim: The one guy that probably cost the Broncos any chance at competing with the Seattle Seahawks was Ryan Clady. My homer screams Von Miller, but my brain can't get over how important the Seahawks pass rush was to ensuring that dominating victory in the Super Bowl.

Mike:  Ryan Clady.  Without him you just hoped that week to week Peyton could get the ball out fast enough.  His loss finally caught up the team in the Super Bowl.

Pete: Ryan Clady! Last year when Clady went down, so did my hopes at a championship season. Yes, the Broncos got close, but they were abused in the Super Bowl by edge rushers. If the most important player (Manning) doesn't have time to work his magic, then the Broncos will ultimately stumble unless the defense is ridiculously good. With Clady starting, Peyton will always have a little bit of time to throw the ball. History has shown that it doesn't really matter who he throws the ball to, so I have to eliminate any WR/RB combo. Additionally, unless the defense is the second coming of the 1985 Chicago Bears, then they just have to be "good enough" to allow a bit of struggle before the offense hits their stride and hauls in the Broncos' third Lombardi Trophy.

NFC Playoffs 2014 predictions
Author NFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South Wild Card #5 Wild Card #6
Kyle Seahawks Giants Packers Saints 49ers Buccaneers
Mike Seahawks Eagles Packers Saints Bears Vikings
Laurie 49ers Eagles Packers Saints Seahawks Panthers
Pete 49ers Eagles Packers Saints Seahawks Panthers
Joe Seahawks Eagles Bears Panthers Packers 49ers

Amy: At first I wanted to say Demaryrius Thomas because I think the chemistry he and Manning have is a thing of beauty and is the heart and soul of this team. Then I obviously need to take a look at Von Miller as I could not be more excited about the rebound I truly believe he is going to have this season. And those two choices may be true for the AFC. But for the NFC I have to say Ryan Clady. Because there's no way the Super Bowl would have gone down the way it did had Clady been playing that day.

Jacob: T.J. Ward. I had a very hard time choosing an answer to this question, and I came very close to writing about Von Miller or Ryan Clady, because they are two integral parts to this team if they hope to win a Super Bowl. Ryan Clady and Von Miller are unquestionably two of the most important players to this team; that being said, I think that T.J. Ward is the X-factor this season. Ward embodies the new, tougher and more aggressive attitude that this defense has taken on, and the team signed him with the idea that he could be the piece that was missing in their pursuit for a Super Bowl. Ward, and the new defensive attitude that he embodies, is the second most important factor to this team winning a Super Bowl in 2014.

Laurie: I'm going with the entire O-Line. I know, I know - one person. But even though our offensive line is made up of some really great individual players like Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez, their absence or ineffectiveness on a few plays would be absorbed by the line. But the chemistry of the offensive line working as one person is crucial play after play and game after game to keeping Peyton Manning upright, so I'm choosing Clady and Co.

Brian: This may be a bit lame, but I'm going to go with whoever ends up being our most effective rusher. We know that Manning can shred defenses with his passing, but that attack also needs a rushing attack that keeps opposing defenses honest.

Photo credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Give us your 2014 Denver Broncos season predictions

Sadaraine:  I'm not one to chug kool-aid with this kind of thing, but I think even with what looks like on paper one of the toughest schedules in the NFL we are going to have a great season.  I'm thinking 14-2 is where we'll end.  Our defense barring injuries will be top-5.  Our offense is going to score around 27 points per game which will be more than enough to win early and often.

Scotty: 19-0 until we're not. Our offense will be top 5 in the league again. Manning will top 40+ touchdowns, but probably won't surpass 5,000 this year. Montee Ball with get 1,200+ yards rushing, and Demaryius will have his 3rd straight 90+ catch, 1,400+ yard, and 10+ TD season. Our defense will be top 3 in the league as well, and Miller/Ware will come close to 40 sacks combined by the two. Strahan's record could be challenged too.

Joe: Health. It all comes down to health. Barring any major injuries I can see us going 14-2. If we lose major contributors like we did in 2013 I think we still win the division, but it could be with an 11-5 record instead. Three players will top 1000 yards receiving (DT, JT and ES). Ball will be in the top 10 in rushing yards. Manning will throw for fewer TDs and yards than last season, but much of that will be the result of him sitting during a good portion of the 4th quarter when we have big leads. Our run/pass split will be up to 44/56 from 40/60 in 2013. Our defense will be as good as or better than our 2012 D. We will both turn the ball over less on offense and force more turnovers on defense.

Brian: Call me a bit cynical but I'm not jumping on the 19-0 band wagon. In today's NFL with all of the reasons a player can be suspended, injuries, etc., it just appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. On the positive side, the Broncos had the #1 ranked offense in terms of points scored and yards amassed and I don't see them falling off by much. If the defense can rise into the top 10, after being ranked 22nd in points given up and 19th in yards surrendered, I think 13-3-0 will be an easy mark to reach. So . . . I'm running with a 13-3-0 record, a second consecutive AFC Championship and a Super Bowl win.

NFL Award 2014 predictions
Author League MVP Off POY Def POY Rookie Comeback Coach Exec
Kyle Peyton Manning Philip Rivers J.J. Watt Brandin Cooks Von Miller Lovie Smith John Elway
Laurie Peyton Manning Aaron Rodgers DeMarcus Ware Cody Latimer Von Miller Pete Carroll (just kidding)... Bill O'Brien John Elway
Topher Andrew Luck Jamaal Charles Earl Thomas Blake Bortles Von Miller Lovie Smith John Mara
Jacob Peyton Manning Peyton Manning J.J. Watt Blake Bortles Von Miller Sean Payton John Elway
Amy Peyton Manning Drew Brees J.J. Watt Jadeveon Clowney Von Miller Sean Payton John Elway

Amy: I'm not superstitious but I find myself really not wanting to go 13-3 again this season even though that number seems like a reasonable guess. But I think with a schedule that has us not only playing the NFC West but also playing 3 road games in a row we are more likely to go 12-4 than 14-2. I also like to expect the worst and then be happy when I'm wrong. So 12-4 for me with a Super Bowl win to make that not matter one bit. Top 5 offense and defense (the games we lose will be close ones). Manning has 40 + touchdowns.

Laurie: I am superstitious, so even though I do think losing three games would be a reasonable guess, I'm not going to pick 13-3. AND, since I hate rooting against us, I'm going with only two regular season losses - Seattle and St. Louis. I really want us to beat the Seahawks and will be the happiest fan when we do, but that is going to be a tough game to win. It's in Seattle, they're already jazzed from the beating they handed the Packers, we won't have every starter back yet (most likely) and we have a big mental hurdle to win in that game. Aside from winning obviously, best case scenario is a close game in which our defense dominates and our offense competes. A loss - but a close one - would help our team get fired up for what is going to be a long, tough schedule but will make it a great revenge game when we meet the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

Pete: I really want to say that the Broncos will go 19-0, but too many things have to fall perfectly in place to accomplish that. Plus, we all know that Peyton sometimes struggles in high pressure games, so being 18-0 entering Arizona isn't exactly the carefree atmosphere I want surrounding the reigning MVP. The Broncos will drop one or two games, most likely to teams that don't deserve it such as the Chargers and Dolphins, and that's perfectly fine by me. I'd rather the Broncos be able to treat the Super Bowl as a stepping stone on their way to their ultimate goal (a championship) instead of a history altering event. Because of that, I'm rolling with a 14-2 record with losses to the Chargers and Dolphins. I expect a sweep throughout the playoffs, beating the Bills and Bengals. All of this will be capped off with a victory over the New Orleans Saints so Manning can have his revenge on Drew Brees.

This team can compete with anyone, and now they have the defense to help with those games where the battle just goes back and forth.

Jacob: The start of the regular season appears to be an uphill battle, with Danny Trevathan, Wes Welker, and Matt Prater all missing from the lineup for the first three-four games. I'd expect the Broncos to drop at least one of the first four, with four tough opponents on the schedule. Other than that, the toughest stretch of games lies in Week 7, 8, 9, where the Broncos will face the 49ers, Chargers, Pats. I don't like guessing these things far in advance because all of the variables that will come into play that are not known as of yet; however, if I were a betting man, I would predict a 14-2 season, although I have no clue where the losses will come into play. Peyton Manning will surpass 45 touchdown passes, while the Broncos defense will be top-3 in the league in points against and yards against, barring any major injuries. I'd expect a far higher turnover ratio for the Broncos in 2014, mainly as a result of the revamped defense. A Super Bowl rematch with the Seahawks would be all too satisfying, but count me as someone who does not believe the Seahawks will repeat as champions or even runners-up. Peyton Manning will be too much for the Packers' defense, although the game will be sealed with a key defensive play.

Mike: This team can compete with anyone, and now they have the defense to help with those games where the battle just goes back and forth.  The 2014 Denver Broncos will win the AFC West, Homefield Advantage, and make a return trip to the Super Bowl--this time ending with a parade through Downtown Denver.

Kyle: The Broncos finish the 2014 year 18-1. But this isn't a Patriots-esque last minute meltdown; this is a strong finish, including a Super Bowl victory. The Broncos lose in Week 3 to the Seahawks in Seattle, and that's the only game they lose the entire year. The two face off again in Super Bowl XLIX where the Broncos get the best possible revenge.

And Peyton Manning lets that boulder roll down the other side of the mountain, enjoying the view at the top.