Demaryius Thomas runs into the end zone in Denver's 29-23 playoff win over Pittsburgh.
The Denver Broncos had a pretty hectic season.
Then, they had a pretty hectic offseason.
Derek Wolfe, Brock Osweiler, and Ronnie Hillman were Denver's first three draft picks. Hillman could take over the starting running back role, while Osweiler could replace Peyton Manning in the event of an injury.
While the team hasn't changed much, they are certainly ready to compete for a championship. Here are four bold predictions for the Broncos in 2012.
San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman breaks a tackle in SDSU's bowl game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Hillman is now on the Denver Broncos.
Personally, I can't get enough of Hillman.
He is fast, has incredible vision and he can accelerate through holes. He fights for every yard, and although he is small, he can break tackles and make defenders miss.
Willis McGahee is Denver's current running back. He averages 4.8 yards per carry, although he often gets stopped for no gain or a loss. Including the postseason, McGahee had six fumbles (four were lost) and five touchdowns.
That's not what you look for in your starting running back.
John Fox is a coach that likes to run the ball, although his approach may change now that Peyton Manning is Denver's quarterback. Hillman is a good target out of the backfield for Manning, as he can get open downfield with his speed. He can catch, but he doesn't have great hands.
Expect Hillman to get a good amount of carries and expect him to burst through every hole he can find. I think once Hillman shows how his size doesn't affect his game (he is 5'8 and 200 pounds), and he shows how well he runs in the open field, he'll be a starter in Denver.
And once he takes over there, he'll run his way to the Rookie of the Year trophy.
Peyton Manning proudly shows off his Broncos jersey after signing with the team.
Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. However, I expect him to return with a bang.
Manning threw for 4,700 yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2010, his last playing season. He easily eclipsed everything I put in the slide title, and I expect him to do it again.
While Denver has a very tough schedule, and Manning is recovering from injury, I expect him to return to his old form for a few more seasons. Denver doesn't have the best receivers, but Manning makes wide receivers better by throwing hard, accurate passes to them.
Manning is a very smart quarterback, and he rarely makes bad decisions. If pressure is coming, he always frustrates the opponents by getting the ball off and completing a pass to avoid the sack.
It's hard to predict Manning's stats, but I think he can be an elite quarterback for another few years. He is tough and determined, and he will do whatever it takes to win. That's exactly the kind of guy the Broncos need.
That's also the kind of guy that will make his teammates better.
Eric Decker catches a pass in Denver's 29-23 playoff win over Pittsburgh.
If you're just a casual football fan, you may not know Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas. By the end of the year, you will.
Decker and Thomas are both good receivers, and they can both get open and catch deep passes. When Tim Tebow played quarterback, Decker and Thomas didn't get many chances to show how good they can be.
Denver ran the ball too often and didn't throw much at all. A lot of the throws intended for one of the two receivers were off-target, thanks to the pressure applied to Tebow. However, with Manning, that won't happen.
Manning knows how to pick apart a defense with short passes, and Decker and Thomas will likely be running a lot of short curls and slants. If pressure does come quickly, Manning will be able to fire an accurate pass to a receiver.
Denver signed Jacob Tamme, and they also have Matt Willis. While Willis doesn't have great hands, he should be a good third target for Manning. Tamme could be a good option on short routes, and since Manning knows him, Tamme could get a lot better.
I am a huge Tim Tebow fan, but even I have to admit that Manning is a better quarterback and a better fit in Denver. Bronco receivers will improve rapidly, and eventually, they will be stars.
Peyton Manning shakes hands with Tom Brady after the Colts lost to the Patriots in 2010. These two will face off October 7 in Massachusetts.
The AFC will be a very tough conference. With Peyton Manning playing in Denver, the AFC won't get any easier.
The Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Jets and Bengals are just a few of the competitive teams in the AFC. Denver has to play all of those teams (except the Jets) this year, and they may meet another of those teams in the playoffs.
On October 7, in what could be the best game of the year, Denver will travel to Massachusetts to take on the Patriots. The Patriots usually beat the Colts in Brady vs. Manning battles, but Manning will be determined to net his team a win.
I expect the Broncos to play in a lot of close games, and in close games, Manning is good. He isn't fazed by bad field position or tough opponents.
In tight contests, Manning stays calm and plays at his best.
A lot of people are picking the Broncos to lose in the first two rounds, or to even miss the playoffs. But I expect Brady and Manning to meet in the AFC Championship. While both QBs are clutch, Brady has failed to get his team a Super Bowl win for seven years.
I think Denver will beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship, and advance to the Super Bowl. It's too early to pick a champion, but I think the Broncos have enough talent to make the Super Bowl.