Winning the Super Bowl in the modern era has become more about the pass rush of a defense than about having a franchise quarterback, as the Denver Broncos proved just this past February.
1. Denver Broncos: Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware
An elite pass rush can take over a game. Just ask the Super Bowl 50 champion Broncos.
In three playoff games last season, Denver racked up 14 sacks and 36 quarterback hits — the only two stats you need if you’re still wondering how a basically offense-less team ended up beating the Steelers, Patriots, and Panthers en route to a championship. According to The Boston Globe, they hit Tom Brady an unthinkable 19 times in their win over New England (the most in a single game since 2006), then racked up seven sacks in the Super Bowl, including Miller’s strip-sack of Cam Newton that led to a touchdown on Carolina’s second possession.
Denver’s ability to relentlessly harass, hit, and sack opposing quarterbacks laid out a new blueprint for how to win late in the year. And it’s the same blueprint they’re using this year.
The Broncos might’ve lost Malik Jackson in free agency over the offseason, but they still own the most dominant pass rush in football. They still lead the NFL in sacks (36). And they’re still tops in the NFL in total pressures (261 sacks, hits, and hurries combined), per Pro Football Focus. (All pressure stats are courtesy of PFF.) Von Miller, with his league-best 12.5 sacks, is still one of the game’s unstoppable defenders. The 34-year-old Ware, a future Hall of Famer, isn’t shabby as a bookend rusher (three sacks in seven games), and he’s back after missing five games with a broken arm. Even if Denver makes it into the playoffs only as the second wild-card team in the AFC, it’ll be a nightmare matchup for every offense.
Because they have the second and third best pass rush duos in the NFL. The Chiefs with Dee Ford and Justin Houston were named second-best, while Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin third-best. Hell, even the San Diego Chargers made the cut at tenth with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the quarterback.
What the Broncos have that these other AFC West pretenders don’t have is the depth behind their duo that enables them to maintain the pressure for an entire sixty minutes.
This should help them win some games (hopefully all of them) to close out the regular season.