With their 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, the Denver Broncos earned the right to play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Their soon to be eighth Super Bowl appearance will push the Broncos into a four-way tie with the Patriots, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most appearances in league history, and will be their second trip to the Big Game in the past three years.
While the Broncos have undoubtedly been one of the most successful franchises in NFL history when it comes to getting to the Super Bowl, their fortunes have not been nearly as prosperous when it comes to winning on the game’s biggest stage. They do have Lombardi Trophies for wins in Super Bowl XXXII (1997) and Super Bowl XXXIII (1998) to their name, but the Broncos also currently hold the record for the most Super Bowl losses in league history with five (1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, and 2013). And to make matters worse, their five Super Bowl losses have come by a combined score of 58-206. Well, in a bit of good news for the Broncos and their loyal fanbase, we believe that the 2015 Broncos team closely resembles the 1998 squad that brought home a world championship with a 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
The most obvious parallel is at the quarterback position where both teams have (or had) a legend nearing the end of his career leading the way – Peyton Manning this year and John Elway (pictured above) in 1998. Often forgotten in the retelling but arguably more eerie is the way both players missed lengthy stretches during the regular season — Manning missed six full games, and Elway missed four — and neither player played at a level anywhere near the level they played at during the peaks of their respective careers.
The next major similarity is that while their quarterbacks may have been the ones stealing the media headlines, both teams’ success was due to the play of one of the team’s other units. For the 1998 Broncos, it was their rushing attack, spearheaded by NFL MVP Terrell Davis, who rushed for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season. For the 2015 Broncos, it has been their No. 1 ranked defense paced by linebackers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Brandon Marshall, defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, and defensive backs Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, and T.J. Ward, who all played at a Pro Bowl level this season. Furthermore, we could argue that the 1998 Broncos’ offensive line and the 2015 Broncos’ defensive front seven are both worthy of being listed as two of the best in NFL history.
Other similarities include the presence of two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers on each team – Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith in 1998, and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in 2015 – and a steady group of kicking specialists – Jason Elam and Tom Rouen in 1998, and Brandon McManus and Britton Colquitt in 2015.
So what exactly do the similarities that we pointed out between this year’s Broncos and the 1998 Broncos mean heading into Super Bowl 50? Not much, to be perfectly honest with you. However, if you are an individual who believes that some things are “just meant to be,” then you have to like the Broncos’ chances at capturing the third Lombardi Trophy in franchise history with a win over the Panthers on Super Bowl Sunday in just under two weeks time.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.