ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Elway and the Denver Broncos will be watching the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, not competing in it. But that doesn't mean they have to like it.
All you have to do is cue up Elway's mantra to know they don't want to be sitting at home: "Our goal has never changed -- our goal is still to win a world championship. That's still our sight."
The 4-1 finish for Drew Lock notwithstanding, the jury is still most definitely out on the Broncos quarterback following his rookie season.
But youth shouldn't be considered the issue. The expected league MVP -- Lamar Jackson -- just turned 23 earlier this month. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is just 24 with an MVP award already in his trophy case and now poised to be the fifth-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl.
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is 28 years old, and even though he has thrown just 27 passes in two playoff games this month, the 49ers have gone 21-5 in games he has started. He was a key piece in the massive rebuild coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch did to get the 49ers into the title game in Year 3 of their football administration.
It's important to remember, no matter how the rest of the roster was constructed, that the list of quarterbacks for seven of the Broncos' eight Super Bowl trips includes:
The Broncos are expected to have more than $60 million in salary-cap space and a projected 12 draft picks. Whether they believe Lock is the guy for the long game or not, this is the best position they have been in during Elway's tenure as a team executive to make the depth chart as strong as possible at the most important position on the field.
The 49ers' signing of cornerback Richard Sherman in 2018 has paid massive dividends, as has a defensive line constructed of five former first-round picks.
The top four players on that line -- acquired via the draft, trade and free agency -- accounted for 33 sacks this season, and that group includes Pro Football Writers of America Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who was taken second overall in last April's draft. In this year's postseason field, the 49ers lead in total defense, scoring defense, forced fumbles and are tied for the lead in sacks as well as interceptions.
The Chiefs found their groove down the stretch and into the playoffs, holding offenses to fewer than 12 points per game during the final seven regular-season games and racking up eight sacks in two playoff games.
Having a solid defense has proved critical for teams making a deep playoff run, even for those teams with prolific offenses. Of the 40 teams that have averaged at least 30 points per game during the Super Bowl era -- that includes all teams in the coveted 500-point club -- just five have won the Super Bowl (12.5%). The Baltimore Ravens, who lost in the divisional round, were the league's only 500-point team this past season. The Chiefs were a 500-point team last season but were let down by their defense in the AFC Championship Game.
The 49ers averaged 29.9 points per game this season, with the league's No. 8 scoring defense. The Chiefs averaged 28.2 points per game this season with the No. 7 scoring defense.
Bottom line: The Broncos, with the No. 10 scoring defense in 2019, have to maintain their integrity on that side of the ball while searching for more offense.
The two Super Bowl coaches -- Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan -- have been deservedly lauded throughout the league for creativity, finding weaknesses and being able to consistently move the ball and finish drives.
Reid's version of the West Coast offense with Mahomes at the helm has rippled throughout the league. Shanahan -- taking what he has learned from Super Bowl winners such as his father, Mike, as well as Gary Kubiak and Jon Gruden -- has the most difficult offense in the league to defend. Shanahan's offense has used the most pre-snap shifts of any team in the league, while Reid is routinely among the league leaders.
If the Broncos want to join the postseason fun, they need to do better than the 16 or fewer points they scored in nine games this past season, when they lost three games in the final 22 seconds. It isn't just the points -- it's the fact opposing defensive coordinators rarely feel like they are on their heels, and many have privately said as much.