Khalil Mack nearly destroyed the Denver Broncos Super Bowl dreams by himself in 2015.
They won’t have to worry about that this season.
After a prolonged contract dispute Oakland traded the linebacker to Chicago before the season, so he won’t be chasing Broncos quarterback Case Keenum when the Raiders (0-1) visit Denver (1-0).
“Obviously, he’s talented, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to play 11 guys,” Keenum said.
Mack was the most talented player on the field when lowly Oakland came to Denver in Week 14 in the 2015 season. The Broncos held the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and a win against the 5-7 Raiders would almost clinch the home-field advantage and an easier path to Super Bowl 50.
Mack terrorized backup quarterback Brock Osweiler that day, tying a team record with five sacks and almost single-handedly ruining Denver’s season by spearheading a 15-12 upset at Sports Authority Field.
Mack has become one of the fiercest pass rushers in the NFL since his debut in 2014. He has 41.5 sacks in four-plus seasons, including two in the Bears’ opening-week loss at Green Bay last Sunday, so good riddance from the Broncos’ perspective.
Denver isn’t the only team to benefit from Mack’s departure. Mack had 16.5 sacks against AFC West opponents in his first four years in the NFL.
“Good for us, I guess. Good for all of us,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said earlier in the week of Mack’s departure.
The Broncos have a force of nature in linebacker Von Miller, who had two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in Denver’s 27-24 win over Seattle in Week 1. He and Mack are friendly and he was shocked Oakland traded a player of Mack’s caliber.
“A guy like Khalil, he only comes around once every lifetime. You want to keep guys like that. It’ll be a little bit weird. I mean, that was the Raiders,” Miller told reporters earlier in the week. “It was (quarterback) Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. So, it’s a little bit different, but that’s the league.”
The 2015 Broncos recovered from Oakland’s upset to finish with the best record in the conference, thanks in large part to New England losing at the Miami Dolphins in Week 17. They went on to win the Super Bowl, with Miller capture MVP honors after a dominant day against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton – 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and six tackles in a 24-10 Denver win.
So, as Miller showed in Super Bowl 50, trading a defensive force like Mack is baffling. But the Broncos aren’t complaining.