Broncos find themselves full circle -- again

Broncos CB Aqib Talib will face expectations of a return trip to the Super Bowl with his new team. John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Hope, in the NFL, annually springs in April, a little more in May and is routinely in full bloom in August's summer sun.

And with the formal start of the shorts/T-shirts workouts, the “Phase I" portion of what's allowed in the collective bargaining agreement (or what a good friend in the league simply refers to as "recess"), it all makes for a heady mix of fresh starts and optimism right out of the gate.

So, things get said, about how it's all going to go.

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said in a recent interview his team "must" win a Super Bowl. And that anything less than a Super Bowl victory "would not be acceptable."

Recently signed linebacker LaMarr Woodley then said during a radio interview the Oakland Raiders, his new employer, were "a playoff team." The fact the Raiders haven't been to the postseason since the 2002 season seems to have escaped him and that over two dozen players have started at least one game at quarterback for the team during that playoff drought.

In the it-ain't-braggin' department there is Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who is fresh off a contract extension that came with a dominating Super Bowl win. He didn't go all Joe Namath, but Carroll did publicly offer "we're in the middle of something really special here." Now, Carroll hasn't exactly strolled on to shaky ground there as the Seahawks have a youthful roster, a quarterback they believe is "The Guy" for the long haul and a championship trophy already in hand.

And while there may be no more non-story story than the consistently overblown and breathless coverage of any prediction of victory, there is something about dragging around very public statements of potential awesomeness for whatever becomes of a season. For most of the past two years, the Denver Broncos have lived the life, having lugged Super Bowl expectations around with them, almost from the moment Peyton Manning put pen to paper on a five-year deal with the team in March 2012.

During that season, on the way to a 13-3 record, a division title and home-field advantage in the AFC, the Broncos were likely the league's most balanced team with a top-five offense to go with a top-five defense. And they managed the swirl fairly well until what became a shocking, crushing, historic double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.

The Broncos let all 24 carats of a golden opportunity slip through their collective fingers because of some sideline and line of scrimmage decisions that many across the region still second-guess, to go with some lightning-strikes playmaking from the Ravens and a little misfortune when running back Knowshon Moreno injured his knee during the game and could not return.

They then spent the 2013 season talking about how that loss was fuel for the season, as they again dealt with being one of the title-game favorites in a remarkable year on offense, one that finished with the team having put up a record 606 points in the regular season. Denver again secured a 13-3 record, a division title and home-field advantage in the AFC. And after weeks of wrestling with the is-the-season-a-failure-if-you-don't-win-the-Super-Bowl, it finally seemed to matter when the title game rolled around.

The Broncos said they were fresh, said they were sharp, said they were ready to make the most of the opportunity in front of them and yet they looked weary of it all as Super Sunday unfolded. They looked like a team that didn't respond because it may not have had anything left in the tank.

The Seahawks played loose, with energy, and they played like a champion on a day when they could become one, a sure sign of a team ready for a title. For their part, the Broncos have now carted the role of favorite along for the ride for two seasons, like some kind of hype-filled roller bag, and even with the good they have done they still don't have a title to show for it.

In the days that followed the Super Bowl loss, John Elway -- who played through plenty of football disappointment before the team around him was good enough to win the Super Bowl -- referenced how things would go when the Broncos re-convened this month.

"April 21st -- everybody that knows it comes in here and the people that we bring in here when it gets to 85-90 guys on the roster ... the goal has not changed and it will not change," Elway said then. "We will use this as an experience that we went through, be disappointed that we didn't play better, but the bottom line is this organization and what (owner) Pat Bowlen wants from this organization -- that has not changed and it will not change. The bottom line is we're going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder."

April has arrived and the work has begun with the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders having been added to a Super Bowl team that is otherwise largely intact. The Broncos are again a title favorite, saying they are fueled by disappointment and driven by the pursuit of another chance. Which puts them back, almost full circle, where they were at this time last year, but with even a little more to carry.

With Manning behind center and all involved saying they'll do the work as they have learned their lessons, there is plenty of optimism growing in their football garden as well.

With that, the Broncos are once again toting the baggage of a Super Bowl favorite, with even a little more bulk from the year before packed away as they will go about the business of seeing if it's too heavy or not.