The San Francisco 49ers get the pleasure of facing the defending AFC and NFC Champions in 2014. They will face the Seattle Seahawks twice this coming season, and then travel to face the Denver Broncos at some point. We'll know more about the schedule in April, but we already know defeating both teams will be a tall order.
We've talked plenty about the Seahawks, but the Broncos are having one heck of a start to free agency. The Broncos offense was historically good in 2013, but their defense was pretty awful at times. They overcame it with the help of a great offense, but a bad defense is not something to consistently overcome. And so, the Broncos are using the 2014 offseason to thoroughly beef up their defense.
Just a bit ago, Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos had agreed to terms on a 3-year, $30 million deal with former Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Ware. This move follows a busy Tuesday in which they signed cornerback Aqib Talib to a 6-year, $57 million deal, and safety T.J. Ward to 4-year, $23 million deal. They are re-making their defense into a potentially solid force. Add in a potentially full season of Von Miller, and that's an impressive group.
The Broncos are expected to let Knowshon Moreno walk in free agency, but they have some young talent to replace him. Eric Decker is also making the rounds and is likely to walk in free agency. While it would not be a good loss, the Broncos offense has enough play-makers that it should not be a huge issue.
Is this enough to get them over the hump after their embarrassing Super Bowl loss? It remains to be seen given what "dream teams" have done in recent years. But it's certainly a big step forward. It remains to be seen if they have the physicality to deal with the NFC West behemoths in the 49ers and Seahawks. We saw Seattle absolutely have their way with the Broncos, and I have to think the 49ers would have beaten them in the Super Bowl as well. Although the Broncos and Patriots (and Colts, among others) are strong teams, the AFC was still a clear step behind the NFC. We'll see if that changes at all.
For the Broncos, they know they're in Peyton Manning's "championship window" and they can't mess around. I imagine they are going to have to pay the salary cap piper at some point, but given that they are in position to win a Super Bowl now, I think it's reasonable to argue for this course of action. Some might say the 49ers should consider something similar, but given the youth of Colin Kaepernick compared to Manning, I would argue otherwise.
The goal is to win championships, but the 49ers are in position to compete for championships for more than a year or two. The increasing salary cap provides the 49ers with a chance to retain a lot of their young talent and extend this championship window. That being said, the Broncos aggressive approach can't really be faulted either. Expectations re high, but that's the way it goes.