To call the AFC West one of the league's better divisions would be inaccurate, but to say it is without talent is equally incorrect.
The San Diego Chargers are certainly an enigma; Philip Rivers has been one of the league's most consistent quarterbacks since 2004, and despite solid defenses and fellow offensive weapons, he and his Chargers are known for one thing: choking.
The Kansas City Chiefs will be Denver's greatest competition in 2012. The two almost certainly seem paired for a one-two finish. The Chiefs are a lot like a cat on their second life; returning to the field will be starting quarterback Matt Cassel, star running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric "The Fifth Dimension" Berry.
With the Chiefs feeling healthy and rejuvenated, Denver will have to make sure that they use all of their upper hands to their best advantage. Here are six areas that Denver holds the higher card.
Denver benefits very much from two men on the roster: kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt.
Matt Prater certainly uses the thin Denver air to his advantage, as he boasts tremendous accuracy from over 50 yards out. Prater is actually coming off of one of his worst seasons to date, where he sank only 76 percent of his field goals. Not bad if he were in the NBA, but Prater should easily finish the season with a percentage in the 80s. Hopefully the franchise tag and four-year contract that Denver gave him will bolster his confidence.
Colquitt is from a punting dynasty. His father was a punter, his uncle was a punter, his cousin is a punter and his brother, Dustin, punts for the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. The Colquitts are to punting what Bubba's family was to shrimping.
Britton was statistically the best punter of the 2011 season in all-around categories. He booted 101 punts for an average of 47.4 yards—33 of those kicks fell within 20 yards of the opposition's end zone.
No team in the AFC West boasts a tandem as complete as Prater and Colquitt.
San Diego has an injury-prone and aging Antonio Gates, Kansas City has Kevin Boss and a subpar backup in Tony Moeaki, and Oakland has literally no one worth noting. Denver, on the other hand, has Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.
While the only star listed above is Antonio Gates, it's very easy to make the argument that Denver is in the best place with tight ends, as they have two guys who have been useful and successful starters for their former teams.
It'd be delusional to say that Denver's tight ends are significantly better than their division foes; they aren't. The chemistry that Tamme has had in the past with Manning, however, combined with Dreessen's size and blocking ability, allows Denver to be the only team to run a realistically effective two-tight end set.
I've spewed this fact in almost every article that I've written on Denver lately, and that's because it's so damn impressive: Denver is the only team in the NFL that started the same five linemen in every game last season.
A perfect offensive line is never noticed, and that's the way teams want it. If an offensive line is being discussed, it's usually negative.
Needless to say, Denver's offensive line did not make many headlines last season, and that's a good sign. Critics will point out that they gave up 42 sacks, the ninth-highest in the league, yet a high amount of sacks were inevitable with Tim Tebow's unconventional style of quarterbacking.
With Peyton Manning under center and staying in the pocket, the amount of sacks that Denver allows should go down significantly.
The Oakland Raiders do have the best offensive line in the AFC West, yet the consistency of Denver's line is certainly a great strength. If everyone stays healthy again, (and Chris Kuper recovers from his ankle injury that he sustained in the last game of the 2011 season) then Peyton should be safe under center, and Denver will have one less thing to worry about.
Peyton Manning is a class act with supporters throughout the country; he's also one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His personality, morals and athleticism make him a triple threat of media popularity, and this gives Denver the support of the national media.
With the polarizing Tim Tebow as quarterback, the media was torn between rooting for Tebow to succeed and hoping he would fail. They would have had a story either way, and they didn't quite know what the better angle would be.
With Peyton, there is no question; everyone wants to see him succeed. Denver is a popular team to start out with, and with Peyton on the squad, they are unquestionably the media darlings of the AFC West.
Denver's head coach, John Fox, is entering his 11th consecutive season as an NFL head coach. He took over the Carolina Panthers after they miserably went 1-15 and turned them into a Super Bowl team. He's been working with defenses since before many of his current players were born, and he has a great rapport with team VP John Elway.
Working on his right and left shoulder are offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and newly signed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
McCoy has been the OC in Denver since 2009 and has dealt with two drastically different quarterbacks in Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. What's really telling, however, is that both quarterbacks had their best years under McCoy running very different styles of offense. This is evidence of McCoy's versatility.
Del Rio is entering his first year on the job, following the end of an eight-year stint as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville had some good years under Del Rio, yet no coach would have been able to do anything with the poor offense that the Jacksonville general management has put together. Del Rio joins Fox in bringing years of defensive experience to Denver and rounds out a very solid and stable coaching staff.
Around the AFC West, Oakland and Kansas City are both starting their seasons with new head coaches in Dennis Allen (the former Denver DC) and Romeo Crennel (interim head coach for the last three games of the 2011 season), respectively. San Diego's Norv Turner has been on the hot seat for so long that his butt must be killing him.
Denver easily has the most stable and experienced coaching staff in their division.
With the exception of a man named Brady, no quarterback has read and dissected defenses over the last 15 seasons like Peyton Manning.
His career numbers are simply astonishing: 208 consecutive regular-season starts, an average of over 4,200 yards/season and a career passing percentage of 64.9.
He transformed the Indianapolis Colts from a laughable shell of the their former selves in Baltimore to an AFC powerhouse. He led his team to two Super Bowls, won one and was a consistent fixture of the postseason. His rivalry with Tom Brady is one of the greatest of all time, and Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Colts, is often referred to as "The House That Peyton Built."
Ya think having Peyton is an advantage?
Many have accused the Denver faithful of being overzealous about the impact Peyton will have, and to be fair, the cynics do have their arguments. Peyton is 36 years old and not getting any younger. He is recovering from a very serious neck injury that could sideline him at any moment if re-aggravated. He has been a subpar playoff quarterback despite his ridiculous career numbers.
Peyton isn't perfect, there's no denying that, but in the fields of leadership, experience and prowess, very few even come close.