Peyton Manning Will Move One Step Closer to MVP with Huge Game vs. Bucs

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 25:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass down field against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half on November 25, 2012 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  Denver defeated Kansas City 17-9.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos took a chance on Peyton Manning. He's repaid the team by turning the offense into a juggernaut, and now the Broncos stand one win shy of a division title. He'll make sure they earn that victory as he moves one step closer to another MVP award on Sunday.

It's been an interesting journey for Manning since training camp. Questions were raised about his ability to play at an elite level, especially after it became apparent during practices that his arm strength wasn't all the way back yet.

Then, just two weeks into his comeback season, the Atlanta Falcons picked him off three times on Monday Night Football and scribes around the country surely started writing the legendary quarterback's NFL obituary.

Lost in the shuffle of that game was a sign of things to come. Manning almost led the Broncos to a comeback victory that night. He got them back within one score, but the defense wasn't able to get another stop before the clock ran out.

While the stories of Manning's rough outing were already out, his performance in the second half looked a lot more like the player fans came to know during his days with the Indianapolis Colts.

He's been on a roll ever since.

Since that point, the Broncos are 7-2 thanks mostly to Manning's return to normal, which for him is a level most QBs will never reach. He's thrown 23 touchdowns and been picked off just five times in those nine contests.

Add in a defense that's improving on a seemingly weekly basis and the Broncos are suddenly one of the league's most dangerous contenders.

It took some time and a lot of hard work, but the 36-year-old field general is now on the same page with his main receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. And, just like he was with the Colts, Brandon Stokley is around to fill in the gaps.

The Broncos offense has undergone an amazing transition since last season. At this time last fall, Tim Tebow was leading the team to wins, but mostly through smoke and mirrors. Denver ranked 23rd in yards per game.

Enter Manning. The Broncos now rank fourth in yards per game. And the only major change was at quarterback. If that doesn't scream valuable, nothing does.

He's caught up in a tight MVP race with perennial contenders like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, along with some newcomers such as J.J. Watt. But if Manning continues to put up big numbers down the stretch—and the schedule is favorable—he deserves the award.

He gets a favorable matchup this weekend against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that ranks dead last against the pass. Manning should be able to pick their secondary apart en route to another performance that makes even the biggest doubters appreciate how far he's come since training camp.

Far enough to be leading the MVP conversation once again.