-- From 1967 to 1999, 22 of 33 defending Super Bowl champions started a future Hall of Famer at quarterback in Week 1. Since then, only one quarterback for a defending champion is even eligible for the Hall of Fame right now ( Kurt Warner), but 12 of the past 16 defending champions started a QB who will likely end up in Canton ( Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger?and Warner).
So it's rare for a defending champion to have a questionable quarterback situation going into the season. But that's exactly where the Denver Broncos find themselves, with former 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian being named the Week 1 starter. Only one other champ has kicked off defense of its title with a quarterback in only his second NFL season. That team, of course, was also the Broncos.
But which defending champs had the worst Week 1 starters? In compiling the list below, our goal was to judge the quarterback situations based on how they looked at the time, not how they look in retrospect. That's why the 2001 Baltimore Ravens do not make our top five. We think of Elvis Grbac as one of the worst quarterbacks to ever start for a defending champion, but going into that season he actually looked like an excellent free-agent signing by the Ravens.
Grbac had been Kansas City's starter for two years. He was coming off a Pro Bowl selection, back when QBs selected for the Pro Bowl actually went to the Pro Bowl. Grbac threw 28 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in 2000. Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric ranked him fourth in passing value among all quarterbacks in 2000?and sixth in 1999.
Here are five defending champions with quarterback situations that looked even shakier than the Ravens replacing Trent Dilfer with Grbac.
5.) 2003 <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/team/_/name/tb/tampa-bay-buccaneers">Tampa Bay Buccaneers</a>
We think of the 2002 Bucs as not having a great offense, but Brad Johnson was chosen for the Pro Bowl that year. He had 22 touchdown passes with just six interceptions and finished 10th in Football Outsiders' passing DYAR. However, that year was much better than Johnson's performance in 2000 and 2001, and he was 35 years old entering the 2003 season. There certainly was worry that Johnson could break down. His backup was Shaun King, the mediocre quarterback who Johnson replaced when he signed with Tampa in 2001.
4.) 1991 <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/team/_/name/nyg/new-york-giants">New York Giants</a>
The Giants had a quarterback dilemma entering the 1991 season. Should they go with long-time starter Phil Simms, who was entering his age-36 season and was the second-oldest quarterback in the league behind Steve DeBerg? Or should they turn to longtime backup Jeff Hostetler, who had taken over for an injured Simms with two games left in the regular season and quarterbacked the Giants to a Super Bowl title? Hostetler won a camp competition for the job, but it was still a bit strange for a Super Bowl champion to turn its quarterback position over to a guy with just four regular-season starts in nine NFL seasons.
Hostetler ended up having a strange season. In 12 games, he had only five touchdowns -- but he also had only four interceptions. He broke his back with a month to go and the Giants sitting at 7-5. Simms then took over and went 1-3 over the final four games.
3.) 1986 <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/team/_/name/chi/chicago-bears">Chicago Bears</a>
Jim McMahon's problem wasn't the quality of his play; it was the quality of his health. McMahon was a rookie in the strike-shortened 1982 season; in his next three seasons, he only started 33 out of 48 regular-season games. It didn't help that McMahon spent the offseason celebrating the Bears' Super Bowl championship and gained 25 pounds. McMahon only managed to start six games in 1986.
Chicago did not properly prepare for the strong possibility that McMahon would not be able to play the whole season. The Bears had four quarterbacks on the roster, and ended up starting all four, but the other three weren't very good. Second on the depth chart was Mike Tomczak, a second-year undrafted free agent. He started seven games and was horrendous, unable to complete even half his passes with two touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The third-string quarterback was former Kansas City first-round pick Steve Fuller, who had washed out with the Chiefs and was in his third year as a Bears backup. He had started five games for the 1985 Bears when McMahon was injured; the Super Bowl Shuffle defense carried him to a 4-1 record even though he couldn't complete half his passes either. He started two more games in 1986 and the Bears lost both.
The Bears even gave one start to USFL refugee Doug Flutie. But the Flutie who played sporadically in the NFL from 1986 to 1989 had not reached his potential, unlike the Flutie who came back from the CFL in the late '90s.
2.) 1999 <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/topics/sports/football/denver-broncos.htm" class="r_lapi">Denver Broncos</a>
It's good when to be a Denver fan when the Broncos win the Super Bowl, and bad to be a Denver fan when the quarterback retires afterward. There's no question: When it comes to the quality of the Week 1 starter for a defending Super Bowl champion, there's a gigantic chasm between two Broncos teams and the 48 other defending champs.
The Broncos chose Brian Griese out of Michigan in the third round of the 1998 draft, and he spent his rookie year on the bench learning the system. When John Elway missed four games in Griese's rookie year, those starts went to veteran Bubby Brister instead of Griese. But the Broncos made Griese the starter in his second year.
When comparing this group to the Broncos' 2016 QBs, it's reasonable to argue that a rookie chosen 26th in the draft ( Paxton Lynch) is a better quarterback option than a second-year player chosen 91st in the draft (Griese). Lynch's college production was certainly much more impressive than Griese's, even after adjusting for the more pass-friendly environment in today's college game. But this would be a better argument if Lynch had won the Broncos' starting job, and he hasn't -- at least, not to start the season.
In addition, the rest of the Broncos' depth chart in 1999 was more impressive than in 2016. Brister had played phenomenally well in those four starts in 1998, throwing for nearly 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns. The Broncos also had former Falcons and Rams starter Chris Miller, who had retired due to concussions after 1995 but was attempting a comeback at the age of 34. (He started three games when Griese was hurt, but had to re-retire after another concussion.)
1.) 2016 Denver Broncos
It's unfair to compare every late-round quarterback to Tom Brady. So instead, let's say that perhaps Trevor Siemian is the next Matt Hasselbeck or Marc Bulger, two other late-round picks who became quality NFL starters. It's possible. But it's not probable.
Ignore the hype and the small sample size from a couple of preseason games against vanilla defenses, and you have a seventh-round pick who couldn't complete 60 percent of his passes in college and had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (7) as a senior while averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt. There really is no successful NFL starter who had worse numbers in his senior year of college.
Behind Siemian, at least for now, is Mark Sanchez, although he might not make the team if he falls to third on the depth chart. Sanchez's name is synonymous with subpar NFL quarterbacking for a reason. He has played in six different seasons and has never been above-average in Football Outsiders' ratings. The only year he managed more than 7 yards per attempt or a QBR over 50 was in 2014 for the Eagles, whose offensive scheme bore no resemblance whatsoever to the one Gary Kubiak runs Denver.
Lynch has promise but will need to adapt to the NFL game. Our QBASE projection system was lukewarm on Lynch because his college stats were boosted by Memphis playing the No. 86 toughest schedule in FBS last season. QBASE scored him as a likely second-round pick, not a first-rounder.