Five years ago Seattle and Denver were the top teams in the NFL. The Seahawks and Broncos were the class of their conferences, reaching Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey in what was anticipated to be a close game.
The Seahawks strolled to a 43-8 victory. Two years later the Broncos won their title in the same fashion Seattle did – with a dominant defense.
Those glory days are in the distance.
Both teams are trying to reach the postseason after missing out last year, and the journey starts when they meet in Week 1 in Denver on Sunday. The Broncos seem to have the bigger climb after finishing 5-11, but with a new quarterback and running back, it could be a quick turnaround.
It will have to be quick if second-year coach Vance Joseph hopes to keep his job. Denver hasn’t had consecutive losing seasons in 46 years, and another sub .500 mark could end his tenure.
“In my second year, I’m more comfortable with all of it — having a quarterback that I feel good about and having a better offensive line and those things, because players play,” Joseph said Wednesday. “It’s a players’ game and I’m a coach and I don’t play. But, it definitely feels better my second time around.”
That confidence is rooted in having an experienced quarterback in Case Keenum. Keenum began 2017 third on Minnesota’s depth chart but injuries thrust him into the starting slot and he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. The Broncos signed him in the offseason after two years of average-to-poor quarterback play from Trevor Seimian and the recently waived Paxton Lynch.
Keenum will start his first season opener Sunday, and he’ll have rookie running back Royce Freeman in the backfield.
“Obviously, you want to start fast, you want to start the season right being at home,” Keenum told reporters on Wednesday.
Keenum may have to deal with Seattle free safety Earl Thomas, who ended his holdout and practiced Wednesday. Thomas was looking for a long-term deal but instead he’ll play out the contract. He didn’t sound happy about the situation in an Instagram post.
“I’ve never let my teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend,” Thomas wrote. “With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten. Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”
His status for Sunday is undetermined. Thomas is the final remaining original member of the fabled “Legion of Boom” secondary with Kam Chancellor (neck) retired and Richard Sherman (released, signed with 49ers) gone. Retread Byron Maxwell was placed on injured reserve last week, ending a bid to resurrect his career after leaving for the Eagles and a stint with the Dolphins.
Seattle’s defense is stronger with Thomas, and with ever-dangerous Russell Westbrook at quarterback the Seahawks could be vastly better than their 9-7 record in 2017.
“I know they had some injuries last year and they lost some guys, but they still look good,” Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “I don’t see a big drop-off like that. I think they’re still really good.”