DENVER (CBS4) – The Broncos will have plenty of unanswered questions as they head into the season. How will Peyton Manning do running Gary Kubiak’s offense? How will the 39-year-old hold up over the course of a 16 game season? Will Wade Phillips turn the talent on the Broncos defense into one of the NFL’s best units, or will they be more bark than bite? Is C.J. Anderson ready to carry the running game? Is Demaryius Thomas worth the money?
So needless to say this season could go in a lot of directions, ranging from Super Bowl contender to wild card pretender. Here are five different scenarios for how the Broncos season could play out:
1. OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK: Broncos kickoff the Gary Kubiak era with a win against his old team (Baltimore) and on a short week get the better of division rival Kansas City to start 2-0. Broncos slip up at Detroit, but win their next three in convincing fashion against the Vikings, Raiders and Browns. After a bye week the Broncos honor Pat Bowlen in Week 8 and get a win at home in prime time against the Packers. Peyton Manning loses again in his second return trip to Indianapolis to make the Broncos 6-2 halfway through the season. Broncos beat the Chiefs at home before beating former coach John Fox and the Bears in Chicago. Denver finally gets to host the Patriots this year, and the Broncos improve to 9-2, but the Chargers end the winning streak with an overtime win in San Diego. The Broncos also lose on the road to the Steelers in Week 15, but win their final three home games (Raiders, Bengals & Chargers) to finish 12-4 and win their fifth straight AFC West title. Broncos catch some breaks in the post-season and make it to Super Bowl 50 where they beat the Packers for the franchise’s third championship.
2. PESSIMISTIC APPROACH: The Broncos look shaky in Week 1 in Gary Kubiak’s new offense, but pull out a win in the 4th against the Ravens. Broncos can’t overcome their mistakes on the road the next two weeks and lose at Kansas City and at Detroit. Broncos start to find their stride with three straight wins against the Vikings, Raiders and Browns to get to 4-2 at the bye week. Aaron Rodgers is too much in Week 8 and the Packers spoil Pat Bowlen Ring of Fame night, and the Colts get the best of Peyton Manning again and the Broncos are back at 4-4. Denver gets a Week 10 win at home against the Chiefs, but a motivated Bears team gets a win for John Fox against his former team and losses to the Patriots and Chargers have the Broncos in big trouble at 5-7. They rally to win their final three home games, but it is not enough as they finish the season 8-8 and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
3. THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: The Ravens know Gary Kubiak’s entire playbook and blow the Broncos out in the season opener. On a short week the Broncos lose the Thursday nighter in Kansas City, and fall to 0-3 after Calvin Johnson catches 4 TDs in Detroit in Week 3. Broncos get one against the Vikings at home but then get embarrassed by the Raiders and the Browns on the road. On Pat Bowlen Ring of Fame night, the Packers get Super Bowl revenge and Aaron Rodgers proclaims “This one’s for Brett.” In Week 9 at Indianapolis Peyton Manning blows out his knee in what will be the final game of his career. After Brock Osweiler loses his first game to the Chiefs, the Broncos travel to Chicago where John Fox, Adam Gase and Jay Cutler win 45-10 on their way to winning the Super Bowl. In Week 12 Tom Brady uses fully inflated footballs to throw for 8 touchdown passes at Mile High, on his way to breaking Peyton Manning’s record of 55 TDs in a season. Chargers easily win in Week 13 to clinch the AFC West. Philip Rivers will turn down the Broncos contract offer in the offseason, saying he wants to stay with a contender. Zac Dysert gets a win in his first start against the Raiders, but gets hurt against the Steelers and the Broncos fall to 2-12. Osweiler leads the team to meaningless wins over the Bengals and Chargers, which ruins the team’s chances of having the No. 1 pick in the draft, and Brock plays well enough that the Bills offer him a contract the Broncos can’t match. Final record: 4-12.
4. THE DREAM SEASON: Gary Kubiak has no problem against his former team, and the Broncos start the season with a 38-7 win over the Ravens. Broncos are barely challenged in the next five games and are 6-0 when they host the Packers in Week 8. Peyton Manning, who is averaging 350 yards passing per game, breaks Brett Favre’s career passing yard record as the Broncos torch the Packers on Pat Bowlen Ring of Fame night. In Week 9 Manning gets a win in Indianapolis, and in Week 11 the Broncos blow out former coach John Fox to improve to 10-0. On Nov. 23 a judge rules in favor of the NFL in Tom Brady’s appeal, and in an unprecedented moved strips the Patriots of their Super Bowl 49 title (Broncos blow out New England to improve to 11-0). With the division already wrapped up, Denver finally slips up at San Diego, which allows the Broncos to rest Peyton Manning for stretches the rest of the way. The Broncos finish the regular season 14-2, and with a rested and healthy Manning, cruise to a win in Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning goes out on top, just like John Elway.
5. LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT: The Broncos do something in the middle of all of these scenarios, something similar to what they’ve done the last three years. 10-6, 11-5, 12-4, another division title, but another disappointing postseason.