In an ESPYs acceptance speech Wednesday night, Tim Tebow delivered a message to Peyton Manning, telling the Denver Broncos' new quarterback to "take care of" his old teammates. Begs the question: Will Manning's Broncos be able to best what Tebow's Broncos accomplished (AFC West title, playoff win) last season?
Upgrade at QB does not mean upgrade in team performanceTim Tebow and the 2011 Broncos were a great story: They showed heart, resilience and all of that. I am not discounting any of that heading into 2012 because last season's team knew it was outmatched most Sundays and never, ever quit.
With Peyton Manning in place of Tebow, it will be interesting to see if that relentlessness remains, week after week until the final horn. Manning could be a crutch that prompts players to not always go as hard because they believe he can bail them out.
The Denver Broncos' rough schedule can't be overlooked. Nor can the fact that other teams -- especially the one that I like to win the division, the Kansas City Chiefs -- have improved.
So while it's easy to assume Denver will be better simply because it upgraded at quarterback, I'm not so sure that will be the case.
Broncos' 2011 success about way more than just Tebow; Manning in prime positionWill Manning's Broncos be able to best what Tebow's Broncos did? Yes. Matt Prater's back, right?
Look, these Broncos weren't as much Tim Tebow's as they were the defense's. Or the placekicker's. Or coach John Fox's. After all, isn't he the guy who so brilliantly took what he had and retailored his offense to cover its flaws? The 2012 Broncos are largely the same ones who won the AFC West last year, except now they have Manning, a quarterback who'll make sure to top last year's 429 pass attempts. Manning will also take full advantage of talented young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. That means Fox can now tailor his offense to capitalize on its true strengths.
P.S. Anyone else notice how when Tebow dragged Thomas on stage last night, he said Thomas didn't want to say anything? Didn't want to -- or Tebow wouldn't let him?
Denver should expect rough start, but division title still realistic possibilityI think Denver will improve upon its regular-season record. Let's not forget the Broncos took the division with an 8-8 mark and won their playoff game in overtime.
There are two major differences this year:
1) With Peyton Manning, the Broncos will be a more explosive offense.
2) The division will be better. The Kansas City Chiefs were devastated by injuries last year. The San Diego Chargers have improved on defense. And the Oakland Raiders will have Carson Palmer for the whole year.
Also, Denver has a tough schedule early. Still, I think the Broncos will finish the season strong and win the division. They can win a home playoff game, but that's it.
A Manning-led team hasn't won less than 10 games since 2001Tebow should have said, "Sorry, Peyton, for giving you that first-place schedule ..." The Broncos face the second-toughest slate in the league in 2012, according to opponents' 2011 records. They have home games against Pittsburgh, Houston and New Orleans, along with road trips to Atlanta, New England and Baltimore. And this is all in addition to always-challenging games against division rivals.
That's a tough road to a division title, even for a quarterback of Manning's stature, especially considering he's coming off a season-long hiatus due to injury and installing a new offensive system.
But until I see a Manning team win less than 10 games, which hasn't happened since 2001, I won't doubt the future Hall of Famer's ability to lift his team. He'll need help, of course, from his receiving corps and pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller -- but a division title is a definite possibility. And Manning has already proven he can beat the top AFC teams in the divisional round of the playoffs if his teammates are up to the task.
Peyton was signed to do just that, but it won't be easy in highly competitive AFC WestPeyton Manning was signed to do exactly that -- take Denver beyond last year's unexpected accomplishments -- but the job will be difficult.
San Diego is fully aware that its window of opportunity is closing, and head coach Norv Turner's nine lives are down to one in Chargerland. Kansas City won the division just two seasons ago and is banking on a big improvement in Romeo Crennel's first full season at the helm, especially with the return of two of its best players (Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry) from season-ending injuries early in the 2011 campaign. And the Oakland Raiders? All is new there, but with an encouraging power structure of GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, as well as QB Carson Palmer being fully entrenched, optimism is in the air.
This could rival the NFC East as the most hotly contested division in 2012, and I'm picking Kansas City as my early favorite to win it. But, rest easy, "Tim Terrific" -- Peyton will take fine care of "your guys."
With absolutely brutal schedule, Broncos will be lucky to go 8-8 againTim Tebow will have the last laugh.
I have no doubt that Peyton Manning will be back to being Peyton Manning. His neck is as good as yours or mine. He has talent all around him. He'll throw for 4,500 yards and 35 TDs. And if the Broncos are lucky, they'll finish 8-8. And they'll miss the playoffs.
Let's even say they hit the ground running to begin the season and are operating at a high level with no "adjustment period." It still won't be enough. Of their 10 non-divisional games this year, seven of them are against playoff teams from a year ago who figure to be right back in the playoff hunt again this season: Pittsburgh, New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, Cincinnati. No 2011 one-hit-wonders in that group. They also draw Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers and an improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. But don't worry, they'll get a breather Week 16 with Cleveland.
The AFC West is also the best, top to bottom, that it's ever been, so forget making hay there. This is what we forget when it comes to Peyton Manning. For years, he feasted on one of the weakest divisions in football -- 5-1 overall against divisional rivals (Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston) was the norm. Not anymore. Tebow will be Tebowing in the playoffs in 2012, unlike his successor in Denver.
2012 Broncos will be a better team, but won't accomplish as much as 2011 groupWe discussed this very subject on the most recent episode of the "Dave Dameshek Football Program" with Around The Leaguers Dan Hanzus and Marc Sessler, so I feel obliged to request -- nay, demand -- you listen to it ASAP by clicking here.
Meantime, lemme give you the CliffsNotes: The Broncos will be a better team with (an albeit older, physically specious) Peyton Manning than they were with a weak-armed option quarterback. However, that might not equal a better record or deeper playoff run. Whereas the 2011 Broncos benefitted from playing in what was the NFL's worst division, Denver's AFC West rivals should be improved across the board this season. 8-8 will not be good enough.
Even if you don't buy that, look at the Broncos' out-of-division slate: road games at Atlanta, New England and Baltimore, plus the Steelers, Texans and Saints in Mile High. That's about as tough as it gets. To answer the question then, no, I don't think we'll see Peyton and his new pals in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
No playoffs in Denver -- Peyton can't instantly adjust to so much change after missing 2011The expectations for Peyton Manning are going to be at least making the playoffs, but that doesn't seem reasonable. You just can't plug-and-play quarterbacks like this is the latest version of Madden football. Manning would face enough questions if he was returning to the Indianapolis Colts, with the familiar faces of Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne, et al. Instead, he's in a new city, with a new coaching staff and a new set of players who are going to need to be in-synch with Manning, despite having limited practice time thanks to the new CBA rules.
Oh yeah, he's also 36 and coming off a year-long absence because of a neck injury. (Some might point to Joe Montana, but he played in the 1992 season before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.)
To expect a control freak like Manning to adjust to all of that, after taking a year off, is way too unrealistic. And take a look at the brutal schedule the Broncos face right off the bat. Denver opens with the Steelers, Falcons, Texans, Raiders, Patriots and Chargers. Realistically, the Broncos start off 1-5. Best-case scenario is 2-4. The Broncos won't make the playoffs.