Quick Review of 2011
Offense—No. 31 passing, No. 1 rushing, No. 23 total.
Defense—No. 18 passing, No. 22 rushing, No. 20 total.
Coming off a dismal 4-12 season in 2010, not much was expected of the Denver Broncos in 2011.
They had a new coach, John Fox, and there was disagreement—at least among fans—of whether Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow should be the starting quarterback. Orton won the job in preseason.
After a 1-4 start, the decision was made to switch to Tebow. The results were magical.
Tebow was 7-4 as starter, including six straight at one point. Most of his wins were close, and he led more than one last minute drive to win.
The Broncos were able to win a three-way tie with Oakland and San Diego to win the AFC West at 8-8. Then, Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime to beat Pittsburgh in an AFC first-round playoff game.
The New England Patriots brought them back to earth with a 45-10 pounding that ended Tebow-mania—at least for a while.
It was the defense though, that set Tebow up to win. Linebacker Von Miller, the Broncos top 2011 draft choice, was arguably the best rookie drafted last year.
S Mike Adams, DT Justin Bannan, WR Andre Caldwell, G C.J. Davis, TE Joel Dreessen, CB Drayton Florence, FB Chris Gronkowski, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Jason Hill, QB Peyton Manning, LB Cyril Obiozor, CB Tracy Porter, WR Brandon Stokley, TE Jacob Tamme.
DT Derek Wolfe, QB Brock Osweiler, RB Ronnie Hillman, CB Omar Bolden, C Philip Blake, DE Malik Jackson, LB Danny Trevathan.
Undrafted Free Agents
DE Jamie Blatnick, LS Aaron Brewer, LB Elliot Coffey, LB Jerry Franklin, S Duke Ihenacho, WR Cameron Kenney, S Anthony Perkins, OT Mike Remmers, WR Gerell Robinson, G Wayne Tribue, G Austin Wuebbels.
DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, CB Andre' Goodman, LB Mario Haggan, DE Derrick Harvey, G Russ Hochstein, FB Spencer Larsen, DT Ryan McBean, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario, WR Eddie Royal, QB Tim Tebow, DT Marcus Thomas, CB Cassius Vaughn, CB Jonathan Wilhite.
Outlook for 2012
The Broncos will look much different in 2012. General Manager Brian Xanders is gone, and John Elway is making the decisions now.
Unless you have been totally out of contact with the modern world for the last six months, you know he traded Tim Tebow to the Jets and signed the biggest free agent on the market—Peyton Manning.
There is no questioning Manning's ability or knowledge of the game.
After missing all of the 2011 season, will his surgically repaired neck be able to stand up to hits and get him through an entire season?
Though he may look good in the controlled environment of training camp, how good will he be when the hits are real?
His receivers are also questionable. Can their wide receivers become an elite unit with Manning at quarterback?
With Manning running the offense, the defense should not be under so much pressure this year. The Broncos defense, though not among the league's leaders statistically last year, kept them in games. With new coordinator Jack Del Rio and young players like Von Miller, overall defensive statistics should improve.
Even so, the season will hinge on Manning's ability to stay healthy all year long. Signing him was a "win now" move, and how good and how much he plays will be the determining factor as to how far this team can go.
Sept. 9 Pittsburgh
Sept. 17 at Atlanta
Sept. 23 Houston
Sept. 30 Oakland
Oct. 7 at New England
Oct. 15 at San Diego
Oct. 28 New Orleans
Nov. 4 at Cincinnati
Nov. 11 at Carolina
Nov. 18 San Diego
Nov. 25 at Kansas City
Dec. 2 Tampa Bay
Dec. 6 at Oakland
Dec. 16 at Baltimore
Dec. 23 Cleveland
Dec. 30 Kansas City
With Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos will be in the national spotlight all season.
James Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the first to test Peyton's neck under real game conditions. The Steelers will seek revenge after being knocked out of the playoffs in Denver last season.
There will be four other prime-time games in 2012. They play two Monday night road games, at Atlanta and San Diego, another Sunday night against New Orleans and a Thursday night at Oakland.
The schedule starts with three consecutive 2011 playoff teams, and six in the first eight.
The second half of the season shouldn't be as tough.
One game not in prime-time, but that could be interesting will be at Carolina. Head coach John Fox had a successful run from there 2002 until 2010, and the defense will be tested by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
Trying to predict how many games the Broncos will win is not easy.
There will be some experts who, because of Manning, will pick the Broncos to win the division, and maybe even the Super Bowl.
Have the Broncos surrounded Peyton Manning with the players he needs to reach those heights?
Because I am not 100 percent convinced of Manning's overall health, I will make two predictions.
If he's healthy and plays all year, they can finish 10-6, but I don't expect a Super Bowl win.
If he's not healthy, and doesn't play every game, 5-11 is a more likely result.