DENVER -- Multiple factors conspired against the Broncos reaching the playoffs. Their coach Gary Kubiak fell ill, disrupting the staff, which was already struggling to field a productive offense. Their quarterbacks boasted a single NFL snap prior to last season, and it showed. And their terrific defense revealed two weaknesses, alarming ineffectiveness against opponents' first drives and an inability to stop the run.
It proved too much to overcome. The Broncos finished 9-7 with their nosed pushed up against the postseason window pane. As Vance Joseph and his new coaching staff return to work this week, let's look back for a second.
The NFL passes out its top awards on the eve of the Super Bowl. I can't wait until then. A look at those receiving my Broncos' (virtual) hardware, some of which is more coveted than others:
Let's take the hardest first. This could have gone in multiple directions.
Outside linebacker Von Miller remains a strong candidate to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Thus, it makes little sense to believe he's not the Broncos' top defender. His 13.5 sacks ranked second in the league as he received first-team All-Pro honors for a third time. He provided relentless pressure, even while double-teamed. He posted a career-high 78 tackles. Can't go wrong with Von. He's the choice.
But cornerback Aqib Talib provided a compelling case as the NFL's best coverage defender. All he did was take names and chains.
And Chris Harris' versatility and knowledge provide the back bone of the No Fly Zone, which helped Denver lead the league in pass defense for a second straight year.
Take a few deep breathes. Squeeze a racquetball. Visualize a unicorn. Anything to reduce stress. Despite the angst and frustration it caused fans, the offense featured a few strong performers. No one was more consistent than Emmanuel Sanders. He made his second Pro Bowl. He plays tough, delivers in big moments and avoids injuries. Demaryius Thomas finished strong, but inconsistency again hurt him. Had C.J. Anderson stayed healthy, he was poised to win the award, but a knee injury cost him the final nine games. For durability and reliability, center Matt Paradis deserves a mention. He was the team's best linemen and enjoyed a terrific season. Sanders needs better body language at times when the quarterback misses him wide open (see at Kansas City) -- but his statistics are solid: 79 catches, 1,032 yards, five touchdowns.
I admit my choice, at a glance, looks contradictory. The offense provided reason to hike, ski or build a puzzle during too many games. At one point, the Broncos went through their worst scoring drought since 1966. But as a seventh-round pick, Siemian, who nearly left football after college to pursue a career in commercial real estate, beat out veteran Mark Sanchez and first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the starting job. In 14 starts, Siemian completed 289 of 486 passes for 3,401 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. There's no guarantee he keeps his spot. The uptempo attack should help Lynch, but he will not be guaranteed anything. And obviously if the Broncos pursue Tony Romo -- if he's cut and the Broncos improve their offensive line, it increases the likelihood they will express interest in the veteran -- then Siemian's situation changes. Nonetheless, Siemian showed promise in his first season, and met expectations as a complementary piece to a running game that, um, never reached its potential.
Those deserving honorable mentions include: safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, punter Riley Dixon and linebackers Corey Nelson and Todd Davis.
When a Super Bowl defending champion misses the playoffs, there is a line for this unfortunate achievement. Pick among the offensive tackles -- Russell Okung, Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo. The tight end position remained a mystery of lacking production with Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and A.J Derby unable to sustain success. Defensively, the Broncos had no run stopper to help Derek Wolfe. Sly Williams could not build on his breakthrough 2015 season as the team sorely missed Vance Walker. Lynch also didn't appear ready to capitalize on his start at Jacksonville, given an ultra conservative game plan that produced zero third-down conversions in the second half.