Last season, quarterback Peyton Manning bounced back from missing the entire 2011 season by leading the Denver Broncos to a 13-3 record on his way to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors. By season's end, Manning had broken every major single-season franchise record among Broncos quarterbacks.
Going into 2013, there is not much more Manning has to prove. He's won a Super Bowl MVP, multiple regular season MVP awards and holds many all-time passing records. But there are some areas where Peyton can improve in his second season as a Bronco.
1) Improve overall ball security.
Last season, Manning threw 11 interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles in the regular season before throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in Denver's 38-35 second overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Considering how many times Manning passed the ball last season (400), 11 interceptions is a respectable number. Below 10 would be even better.
2) Improve pocket presence.
Manning has said that sometimes he knows he needs to get rid of the ball when the fans in attendance at Sports Authority Field gasp—fearing that Manning is going to be sacked. As a veteran, Peyton should never have to rely on the fans when judging how well the pocket is holding up.
In 2012, Manning was sacked 21 times. In his final season with the Colts (2010), Manning was sacked only 16 times (while throwing 50 more pass attempts) and the year before that he was sacked just 10 times. Manning needs to lower his sack total next season.
On one play against the Ravens, Manning held the ball for nearly five seconds—far longer than a quarterback can afford in the pros.
Manning's pocket was originally intact, but holding the ball too long (something Manning usually doesn't have a problem with) allowed Baltimore's defense to get to Peyton.
Manning fumbled on the play and Baltimore went on to score and eventually win the game—and later, the Super Bowl. If Manning hadn't held the ball too long on the play, perhaps Denver would have gone on to defeat San Francisco in New Orleans.
3) Perform the best when it counts the most.
Peyton's biggest mistake against the Ravens wasn't his fumble but his overtime interception that led to Baltimore kicking a field goal and winning the game. Earlier in the regular season, Manning threw a similar pass across his body to receiver Brandon Stokley, which resulted in a touchdown.
After the plays, Manning told Stokley, "That's the old rule No. 1 you never do, but when you're in your fifteenth year, you just say, 'Who gives a [bleep].'" as can be heard on NFL Network's Week 10 SoundFX piece.
Well, Peyton, your teammates care, your coaches care and your fans care. Obviously, Peyton cares, too, but if the Broncos are going to get past the first round of the playoffs next season, Peyton will have to perform at his best when it matters most.
In his career, Manning is 9-11 in the postseason. Granted, all of the blame should not be cast solely on Peyton for those losses, but he must prove in 2013 that he is not just a regular-season quarterback.
He won a Super Bowl (in 2007), but in today's NFL, fans only care about what you have done lately. Next season, Peyton needs to get Denver deep into the postseason to begin squelching the belief that he collapses in the playoffs. Otherwise, that belief will continue to solidify itself as a fact.