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Peyton Manning-led Broncos suddenly AFC favorites?

The long wait is finally over: Peyton Manning is going to be a Bronco. Denver went 8-8 last season and won a playoff game without Manning at quarterback. Does the veteran superstar's presence in the lineup immediately make the Broncos favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans next February?

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Denver's certainly in AFC title race ... as long as Manning stays healthy

I am not sure it makes Denver the AFC favorite, but the Broncos are in the mix for sure. New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston might have something to say about that.

Still, with Manning making this decision now, the Broncos can begin formulating a playbook and a roster to fit his needs. That will be a radically different offense from last season, so they can get off to a quick start because a lot of teams won't know what to expect.

Denver will be dangerous as long as Manning stays healthy.

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  • Jason La Canfora NFL Network
  • Broncos have basic components of a contender, and Manning can cover up warts

You have to fancy Denver's chances to win that division with some ease -- if Manning stays healthy -- and Denver has a great home-field advantage. It's not a dome, but the altitude and crowd help the defense. Also, the power run game and weapons are there. It doesn't take much. As we came to realize last season, Peyton covered up plenty of warts in Indianapolis.

Denver won a playoff game with Tebowball, for goodness sake. Manning has a full offseason ahead and plenty of time to get up to speed.

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  • Charley Casserly
  • Denver is the AFC West favorite, but plenty of questions remain

Hold those horses! Denver has to win the division first. Despite notable losses, San Diego and Kansas City have added some players, too.

With Manning, the Broncos will be improved, but also will have a target on their backs with great expectations. How will they handle that? How long will it take for the offense to click?

Denver's secondary must improve if it hopes to beat New England and get to the next level. But yes, the Broncos have to be the favorites to win the AFC West. The bottom line is Denver just got better, and that is what you try to do as an organization.

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  • Bucky Brooks
  • With Peyton, Broncos among top three AFC teams

The acquisition of Peyton Manning doesn't make the Broncos the definite favorite in the AFC, but it certainly puts them among the top three teams in the conference.

If healthy, Manning is arguably the best quarterback in the game. His ability to raise the level of the Broncos' offense will make them a dangerous team to face in 2012. John Elway and John Fox must add a few pieces (pass-catching tight end, vertical receiver and dynamic running back) to maximize Manning's talents, but the framework and structure is in place for the Broncos to field an explosive offense. If the defense can continue to improve upon the performance from a season ago, there isn't any reason why the Broncos can't compete for the AFC crown this year.

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  • Dave Dameshek
  • Yes, Peyton is great, but let's temper instant expectations

Believe me, I understand why John Elway and Broncos fans are so excited. They very likely just put a stranglehold on the woeful AFC West. But before Denver city officials start blocking off the streets for a February victory parade, let's take a look at the facts:

Peyton Manning is coming off four neck surgeries.
Peyton Manning is starting over with a whole new supporting cast (with the possible exception of Jeff Saturday).
Peyton Manning is a consistent winner -- in the regular season.
Peyton Manning is 9-10 in the playoffs.

I just heard one of the myriad talking heads describe Manning as "the quarterback of our generation." He is? Misters Brady, Roethlisberger, Brees, Rodgers and the Giants' two-time Super Bowl MVP QB might all disagree. Yes, Manning is great -- an obvious upgrade from that weak-armed lefty they started last year -- but let's temper the hyperbole and remember these Broncos (just like Manning's Colts) will still need to find their way past the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens and Texans to get to the Super Bowl.

All that cynicism aside, a Peyton vs. Eli Super Bowl in the Superdome sure would be fun -- right, Archie?

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  • Adam Rank
  • Don't forget: Chargers own Peyton Manning

My question would be if the Broncos should even be considered the favorites in the AFC West, because that is certainly not a given.

Let's be honest, the Chargers have squandered some talent over the years. And sure, the team has made some questionable decisions during that stretch, too. (Oh, hey Norv Turner, I didn't see you standing there. Welcome back for another year of Chargers football!) But one thing the Chargers have gotten right over their years is their mastery of Peyton Manning. The Chargers ended the Colts' bid for perfection in 2005 with a win at Indianapolis in Week 15 of that season. The Chargers notched back-to-back playoff wins over the Colts in 2007 and 2008. Heck, Manning was personally responsible for getting Antonio Cromartie into the 2008 Pro Bowl, when the then-Chargers cornerback intercepted Manning three times (in part of a six-interception performance for San Diego).

I would even contend the only reason Manning won a Super Bowl is because the Chargers gagged against the Patriots in the 2006 playoffs. When you look at the overwhelming evidence, it's a shock Archie Manning would let his son sign with the Denver.

So before we pencil in the Broncos to the playoffs, let's see if Manning is going to get over on his old nemesis in San Diego. And to be honest, I don't think he will.

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  • Jason Smith
  • With monster schedule, don't expect much improvement on last year's 8-8 mark

I think Peyton's presence gives Denver a chance to be 8-8 or 9-7 next season. I'm only being realistic. If you take it in absolutes, it looks great. But remember, Denver hasn't signed any free agents because they've been waiting for Peyton's decision. So they're far behind, with an offense that doesn't really have many game-breakers. There's no Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne to throw to (even though Demaryius Thomas has great potential). Manning will have to get used to his new surroundings and teammates. No longer will he be able to feast on a weak division like he did for years in the AFC South, where you could pencil in 5-1 automatically. The Chargers are just as good as Denver, with their own stud QB; the Chiefs are better than people think and improved in free agency; and the Raiders are better than they've been in years.

Peyton is Peyton, and he makes everyone better. But have you seen the Broncos' schedule this year? At home, they play at three playoff teams from 2011 that should be even better in the coming season: Houston, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. They'll also host a revamped Buccaneers squad that should be far more competitive in 2012. On the road, they visit four more playoff teams from a year ago: Baltimore, Cincinnati, New England and Atlanta. They also take a trip to Carolina, which has a pretty decent guy under center, too. Denver can be very good but still not show improvement in the win column because of this monster schedule.

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  • Elliot Harrison
  • Texans, Patriots still trump Broncos in AFC race

No. I still like Houston more at this point come playoff time. While the Texans lost Mario Williams to Buffalo, Wade Phillips' defense hardly seemed to notice when the former top overall pick was hurt last year. Matt Schaub's injury really affected the team more, as T.J. Yates had his problems in the playoffs at Baltimore. If Schaub is healthy, Houston can beat anyone in the playoffs.

If Houston is 1A, then New England would be 1B. Once again, the Patriots seem set to win 12 games or more.

That said, Denver is obviously much better with Manning's arrival. Considering this team has some young playmakers on both sides of the ball and a distinct home-field advantage come playoff time, look out. It's not a stretch to say Denver could win 11 games this season. Will it be the top seed in the AFC? Doubtful.

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