Manning to Broncos...more coming on Espn— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) March 19, 2012
That being said, the Broncos (provided that Manning reverts back to his prime form), are legit AFC title contenders.
So, how will Denver pan out in the 2012 regular season? Well, let's breakdown the Broncos' division, conference and inter-conference games to find out.
The toughest opponent here are the Kansas City Chiefs. They have a stout defense with Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.
Also, the Chiefs offense is solid with a healthy Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. K.C. will get pressure on Manning, so it's up to Denver's ground game to setup the pass and keep the Chiefs offense off the field.
Provided that Darren McFadden can return to normal, the Raiders ground game remains a threat; however, the Raiders' defense still has some question marks (ranked No. 29 in total defense last season).
And Oakland has just two draft picks.
San Diego on the other hand, still has Philip Rivers, but no longer Vincent Jackson. Also, the Bolts rush defense needs to improve, and Manning's presence will prevent a stacked box. The Broncos will get pressure on Rivers, while the rushing offense bowls over San Diego's front seven.
Division Record: 5-1
Certainly more difficult than their division, the Broncos have a tough outing against other AFC opponents.
The AFC North is on the schedule after sending three teams to the postseason in 2011; and because Denver won the AFC West, the two other division champs (New England and Houston) are on the schedule.
Cleveland at home will be tough, simply because the Browns have two first-round picks, but it still won't be enough to shutdown the Broncos. Pittsburgh will be difficult as usual; however, if Tim Tebow can best the Steel Curtain, so can Peyton Manning.
With good pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, the Broncos defense helps out in this aspect all season.
Baltimore's defense is only getting older, and the offense revolves around Ray Rice. Get pressure on Joe Flacco with Von Miller and Co. and the Ravens can be defeated. Cincinnati can't go overlooked, as their offense has great explosion, and Denver's weakness is defending the pass.
But, Cincy's rushing attack isn't presenting enough to setup play-action, so the line of scrimmage favors Denver.
New England and Houston, however, are the most difficult. The Texans have a sick defense and rushing offense; not to mention Andre Johnson. The Pats still field one of the NFL's most complete teams and have six picks in the first three rounds of the draft.
Also, Denver does need to get Manning another receiving target and spruce up defensively a bit more.
AFC Non-Division Record: 4-2
Arguably the best NFC division from top to bottom, the NFC South has the offensive explosiveness to keep pace with anyone. However, there are no impressive defenses from an all-encompassed perspective either.
New Orleans and Atlanta are obviously the more difficult teams. The Saints offense, as long as Drew Brees is under center, can and will dominate. The Saints defense also allow tons of passing yards, but is better than advertised at causing pressure.
The Falcons have a high-flying offense, but are still skeptical on defense. They lack at consistently stopping the run and getting pressure, so it will come down to Denver's defense in these two games.
As for Carolina, the Panthers offense is more than capable of burning up the scoreboard. Cam Newton's mobility will buy his receivers time, and a healthy linebacker in Jon Beason creates a strong front seven.
Tampa isn't a lock win either; with some solid offseason acquisitions and a top five draft pick, the Bucs have increased confidence expectations.
NFC South Record: 2-2
Overall Record: 11-5
The Broncos' 11-5 record in 2012, is not bad by any means and it's quite realistic.
We have to remember that although Manning will be 36 years old before next season, his health will always be concerning. Denver has a promising receiving corps and rushing attack, not to mention the revival of The Orange Crush defense.
However, improving against the pass is still needed, and seven of their opponents were playoff teams from last season.
They'll battle with the Chiefs for the division, and having (at least right now) arguably the toughest schedule in the AFC, Manning under center gets Denver into the postseason.
John Rozum on Twitter.
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