Can Peyton Manning Lead the Broncos to the Playoffs?

Nick Kostora@@nickkostoraContributor IIIOctober 14, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 7:   Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos prepares to throw against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have struggled at times this year, but this is still a team primed for a playoff run.

At 2-3, Denver has not looked quite like the elite squad John Elway envisioned when he signed the future Hall of Famer this past offseason. There have been issues with the running game, as well as along the defensive line and in the secondary.

However, the Broncos do play in one of the weakest divisions in football, the AFC West, and they have a favorable schedule moving forward.

Consider for a second the teams that have beaten Denver thus far. The Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and New England Patriots have a combined record of 13-2.

Denver did not exactly emerge unscathed from the grueling first third of the season, but at 2-3, the Broncos have now had time to become a cohesive unit and contend for the playoffs.

It would have been ludicrous to expect Peyton Manning to dominate from Week 1 this season. Even the greatest of quarterbacks needs time to adjust to both a new offensive scheme and the weapons around him.

He has been good, but Manning is only going to improve as this season wears on. He's thrown upwards of 300 yards in each of the Broncos' last three games and tossed eight touchdowns in that time frame. But he was held under 260 yards passing in the team's first two games, with a mere three touchdowns to his credit.

The big question here is whether or not Denver will develop the kind of offensive balance usually required to compete in the AFC.

The Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and even the New England Patriots have all found success on the ground early in this season. Contrarily, the Broncos rank 17th in the league in rushing yards per game and have fallen into the trap of having Manning throw the ball more than 40 times per game.

That kind of offensive philosophy is not sustainable for this team if it plans to win games and make the playoffs.

And Denver can and should make the playoffs. Panicking over a somewhat sluggish 2-3 start would be unwise, because the Broncos have such a favorable road ahead.

Manning is still Manning; the defense still has elite playmakers in Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey and Von Miller; and games with the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs (x2) remain on the schedule.

Manning may be 36 years old and nearing the end of his illustrious career, but there is more than enough gas left in the tank to lead Denver to the postseason.