The 2017 offseason has seen the hierarchy of the AFC West, one often paced by the Broncos, take new shape. The Oakland Raiders brought in Marshawn Lynch, improving upon a running game and an offense that already tore through the league in 2016. The Chargers booked it up to Los Angeles with a new coach and one of the most underrated rosters in the league. The division champion Kansas City Chiefs bring back essentially the same team that earned them a bye week in '16.
Where does that leave the Broncos, less than 16 months removed from their Super Bowl title, but without a known franchise quarterback or consistent offensive line play? Could Denver, by virtue of elimination, be locked into fourth place in the AFC West? (The Around the NFL podcast crew sure thinks so.)
New coach Vance Joseph has a more optimistic outlook.
"I've said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game -- which I did several times -- it isn't broken," Joseph told reporters Friday. "Yes, there are things we could, and must, do better, places where we need to improve. But this team won nine games last season. But I also understand the expectations here. It's why it's a great job; it's why I can't wait."
Let's take a look through Joseph's rose-colored visor. Though it struggled in the ground game down the stretch, Denver's defense remains a top-five unit in the league, thanks to a lock-down secondary and an improving defensive line that boasts Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. The Broncos' linebacking corps, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray on the outside, is a game-changing force. The addition of a healthy Jamaal Charles to the running back room is a potentially disruptive complement to C.J. Anderson.
There's plenty to like about the Broncos' roster in a vacuum. It's only when you compare them to their improving division rivals that it's fair to wonder whether Denver is destined for the cellar.
The team may not be broken, as Joseph insists, but it won't be able to dominate the division the same way it did two or three seasons prior.