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Peyton Manning faces defining year with Broncos

Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Denver Broncos.

Under Pressure: Peyton Manning

Will the Broncos get "the old" Peyton Manning or just an old Peyton Manning?

There's plenty riding on the answer to that question. John Elway's reputation as a front-office decision maker, for one. The fate of the 2012 Denver Broncos for another.

The massive scope of the Manning pursuit and acquisition hangs pressure all over Broncos headquarters. Elway put his faith in Manning over the magnetic-yet-inconsistent Tim Tebow. John Fox went from leading an underdog team to coaching a perceived Super Bowl contender. And then there's offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who was praised for changing Denver's attack on the fly last season and must now form a bond with a legend who's accustomed to complete control.

But make no mistake: It's Manning himself who faces the most pressure here.

He's now 36 years old. He's coming of multiple neck surgeries and hasn't taken a meaningful snap since January 2011. Manning should be given time to re-adjust to this type of stage, but he won't get that. The $96 million contract he signed in March means there's no dipping his toe in the wading pool. Into the deep end he goes, and his ability to swim will determine the fate of his new team.

Can Manning stay healthy and put up the 35-touchdown, 4,000-yard season we came to expect for 13 seasons in Indianapolis? It's a mighty challenge -- and the pressure is enormous -- but don't expect No. 18 to shrink from any of it.

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