Any time I wanted to pick the Chargers I remembered Norv Turner is still the head coach, Romeo Crennel helped me not even think about the Chiefs, and I figured 80 percent of Peyton Manning is still better than 100 percent of Carson Palmer.
Then, the more I thought about it, the more confident I felt in the pick. Head coach John Fox is now in his third different offense in only his second year coaching the team. I still don't think Fox gets enough credit for changing last year's offense midseason from a conventional offense run by Kyle Orton to letting Tim Tebow do Tim Tebow things.
This season, Fox is letting Peyton Manning do Peyton Manning things and it has already paid off. Once the Broncos went to a no-huddle offense against the Steelers, Manning found his rhythm and looked like the Peyton Manning we were all used to watching.
Manning put up pretty good numbers (19/26, 253 yards, two TDs) against a Steelers defense without safety Ryan Clark and linebacker James Harrison, ranking him third in Football Outsiders' YAR (Yards Above Replacement) and fifth in VOA (Value Above Average) after Week 1, but the Broncos won't need Manning to put up a 2004-like season to contend.
Manning's football smarts on the field is going to be more important to Denver than whether or not his arm strength returns to full strength.
This was already on display during the Sunday night game against the Steelers. Manning teased a blitzing Troy Polamalu by delaying the snap in a way an older sibling would tease a younger sibling by holding an object up above the head out of reach of the younger sibling's jumping range.
This is the Peyton Manning the Broncos need. Manning already seems to have grown confidence in both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, targeting both seven times, completing five each, in Week 1 and combining for 164 of Manning's 253 passing yards. Expect the trust to grow exponentially over the course of the season.
On Monday night, the Broncos could see a bigger challenge against the Atlanta Falcons, who will be without cornerback Brent Grimes. Though the true test of where Manning is as a quarterback will be the Week 5 matchup in New England. If Manning can stay smart and stay away from the occasional four interception game he's been prone to have, Denver could be set up for a nice season and a return to the playoffs.
Watching Peyton Manning play football on Sunday night made me realize how much I missed watching Peyton Manning play football last season. It's good for the NFL that he's back. Arm strength or not, it won't be as good for other NFL teams.
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