Peyton Manning and Why the 2012 Denver Broncos Will Remain an Average Team

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Peyton Manning and Why the 2012 Denver Broncos Will Remain an Average Team
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Manning brings Mile High optimism to Denver

Every season there is a 'hot' team that gets a lot of preseason buzz in the National Football League. In 2007, it was the Arizona Cardinals, but they were famously a year away from their Cinderella run.

In 2009, the league was buzzing over the Dallas Cowboys, only for Big D to miss the playoffs altogether.

Just a season ago, everyone was calling the talent in Philadelphia "The Dream Team." But injuries and underachieving lead to a nightmare 8-8 season. 

The point is, as we rev up the 2012 training camps and preseason draws near, the flavor of the month is Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos.

Yes, before he has even taking a game snap, this is unequivocally Manning's team. And thanks to his addition, many of the typical talking heads are lining up to make Denver a Super Bowl contender.

I understand it. Even as a Raider fan, I really get it. Manning is a top-five all-time quarterback. The Broncos, despite getting some of the worst passing in the NFL last year, won a playoff game and have some solid pieces, namely future All-Pro linebacker Von Miller.

The natural assumption is take playoff team, add all-time quarterback, and voila! Super Bowl run.

Except historically, that never happens. And there have been some great quarterbacks that stepped into good situations that did not get their new teams to the Super Bowl.

Warren Moon never won a playoff game in Minnesota. Joe Namath flamed out with the Rams in 1977. Most notably, Joe Montana could not elevate a perennial playoff team in the Chiefs to the Super Bowl in his two years.

Two, the Broncos face a much steeper schedule than in 2011. So many things broke well for Denver during their improbable run. Miami was awful when they played them at Sun Life Stadium. Chicago was without Jay Cutler. Minnesota was missing Adrian Peterson. It was a charmed year for the Broncos. This year, the schedule appears to be difficult from start to finish.

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Although they open with three home games, two are against playoff teams in the Steelers and Texans. The other game is against the Raiders, a team they have not beaten at home since 2007.

Their first three road games are against the Falcons, Manning's nemesis the New England Patriots, and the other 'favorite' in the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers

There are also road games against the Bengals and Ravens and Panthers, as well as a home game against the Saints. If nothing else, it may be that the schedule alone is too daunting to generate a consistent flow throughout the year.

Three, and this cannot be understated: The Broncos are not as talented as the Colts teams Manning left. Conventional wisdom suggests that the 2-14 record Indianapolis had in his absence proves otherwise.

However, I defy you to name a quarterback that could have stepped in to that offense, which was completely nuanced to fit Manning. Their record did not prove that the Colts were a terrible team as much as it showed how much they were dependent on Manning offensively.

People love Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but they are not Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Jacob Tamme is a good pickup to bring over from Indianapolis as a security blanket, but Joel Dreessen is a better tight end. That said, neither of them is Dallas Clark.

The point is, there is no guarantee Manning gets back to 100 percent effectiveness and he will be in a situation where he may have to mask even greater deficiencies than he did in Indianapolis. I just can not see that happening for 16 games.

Ultimately, those who love to denounce what Tim Tebow did in 2011 fail to realize one major thing: When the Broncos were winning all those seemingly fluky games, there was a definite method to all the Tebow madness.

The Broncos controlled the ball and kept their opponents in ball-control situations that forced long, sustained drives against an improved defense to win. It was shades of Bill Belichick's master plan against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, except it worked over the course of two months. 

The problem is, that strategy put the team on a razor's edge that they managed to ease across with a lot of luck. This is a team that even with Manning, is much more smoke and mirrors than solid substance.

That much was proven when Tom Brady and the Patriots destroyed the defense in the 45-10 divisional game blowout. Much like 2011, for the Broncos to win the AFC West, lots of things have to work in their favor against tendencies for a long stretch of time.

That will not happen. This defense is too average, the weapons are too pedestrian, and the schedule is too tough for the Broncos to repeat as AFC West champions.

Prediction: Denver 8-8 (and if you think, there's no way Manning could be on a team that goes .500, just go back to 2001 when they finished 6-10. Lots of similarities between those teams.)

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