DENVER — Unless it’s “Dunkirk,” a 2-hour reminder worth seeing twice, there’s not a movie in theaters that offers more reliable entertainment than the annual blockbuster known as the Broncos.
You, too, could have naming rights on Mile High! John Elway has a new job title! And what if I told you the starting quarterback gig will go to a Northwestern grad or a pirate-looking fellow named Paxton?
But as the team arrived for a training camp that starts Thursday down in the 'burbs, one comment jumped off the dais where Elway, now the president of football operations, took questions from assembled media.
“I saw one ranking where they had us 24th,” Elway said.
As in, the 24th-best team in the NFL. As in, ouch. It’s one thing to hear that from one of the talking heads on ESPN. It’s quite another to hear it from a man with seven Super Bowls to his name.
"Our goal has not changed. The bottom line is that we want to compete for world championships," Elway said.
Football is back. According to everyone outside the Front Range with an internet connection, the Broncos are not.
Forget about through the roof. Expectations are buried below the floor.
This is different from the sour predictions of last year, when little more than a dozen-or-so Von Miller sack dances was expected of the Broncos. Then, critics pointed mainly at quarterback, where Peyton Manning was gone and there was no obvious replacement. Now they’re pointing at the entire roster.
They’re pointing at an offense that has regressed every season since 2013, when Manning’s Broncos scorched record books with 606 points. (Since then, in order: 482, 355 and 333 points.) They’re pointing at a bunch of running backs with more knee surgeries than recent good seasons.
“I think we can do more things (on offense) and I think we can be better,” Elway said. “If you look at where we were last year there’s only one way for us to go, to continue to get better.”
They’re pointing at a first-time coach, Vance Joseph. They’re pointing at a defense they say has seen its best days, that the window on the “No Fly Zone” is slipping downward.
“I don’t believe in windows,” Elway said.
If you take the indirect route, they’re pointing at Elway. His front office put together a roster that, according to something he read on the internet, is only eight slots above the worst roster in the NFL. To top off this poop sundae, the two teams that chap your hide the most — the Patriots and Raiders — are on top and on the rise, respectively. Goodness. When do the locusts arrive?
What I’m saying is the Broncos have a ton to prove. They laughed off the predictions last year that pegged them third or fourth in the AFC West. Now the outsiders are laughing at their Super Bowl chances.
“Everybody’s already doubting us,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said.
It’s been written here a couple times that the NFL teams outside New England are playing for second. Unless Tom Brady runs headfirst into the age wall that tackled Peyton Manning, the Patriots are head, shoulders and perfectly mussed hair above everybody else.
“I don’t think it’s a big gap at all,” Thomas doubted.
I don’t think there’s a gap between any of the four teams in the AFC West. But I get where the doubting Thomases are coming from. Sports Illustrated analyst Andy Benoit, who is worth the read, ranked the top 400 players in the NFL. To no one’s surprise, the Broncos defense put 11 guys on the list — six in the top half, led by Vonnie Football at No. 3. The offense had four. Total.
It’s true that all eyes are on the quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Joseph said on Wednesday that Siemian — not Lynch — will open training camp taking snaps with the starters. So nothing’s changed there.
“The attention (inside Dove Valley) is not so much on that position as it is out in the fanbase or what you guys have been talking about,” Elway said.
What must change is all around Siemian or Lynch. The slim expectations bestowed on the Broncos aren’t just a quarterback thing. They’re an entire roster thing, and the entire roster must be better.