Denver Broncos: How High Should Expectations Be in Peyton Manning's First Season
He's got 54,828 passing yards, 399 touchdown passes, 10 playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win to go along with being a four-time NFL MVP.
The star player who was the prize of this year's free-agent class signed a five-year, $96 million contract and immediately, expectations from fans were sky high.
But what would Bronco fans consider a successful season in 2012? After all, they did reach the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011, further than the team had been since the 2005 season.
The Broncos will have to be a completely different team than they were last year for Manning to come in and succeed, going from a read option offense led by Tim Tebow to something similar to what Manning ran in Indianapolis for 13 seasons.
Manning will also have to prove he can still compete at the high level we all became accustomed to, after sitting out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury.
Manning reportedly threw the ball very well at his annual passing camp and he himself says he's feeling as good as 90 percent healthy. Most everyone expects him to be fully ready to go when the season kicks off Sept. 9 on Sunday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we'll all see the Manning of old.
But many questions remain. How long will it take Manning to hit his stride? Will a new offensive line be able to give him the protection he needs? How will he respond to playing his home games outdoors?
How far will the Broncos advance in the playoffs in 2012?
Then there is the matter of the schedule, which is easily one of the most difficult in the league.
ESPN's NFL Live program does a "5 in and 5 out" series, and its analysts feel that the Broncos will miss the playoffs this season.
If they missed the playoffs entirely, after getting to the round of eight last year, would there already be panic amongst fans? Or do the Bronco faithful have the patience to let the 'Peyton Experiment' materialize?
For the Broncos to experience success this season, it has to start early. Peyton needs to assert himself in week one against the Steelers and be able to play on a consistent level. He'll need help from the run game, maybe not as much help as Tebow had last year, but they need to stay committed to the run. Finally, the defense needs to step up too, especially on the defensive line.
John Elway and Co. made it clear that they have the Lombardi trophy in their sights when they brought Manning in this past March. However, it will likely take more than one year to reach the promised land.
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