Denver Broncos superstar quarterback Peyton Manning is armed with a stupendous supporting cast. Barring significant injury to Manning or his key contributors, he should continue at his current record-setting pace en route to a fifth NFL MVP award.
Manning is on pace for 64 touchdown passes this season, which would obliterate the record of 50 set by New England Patriots rival Tom Brady:
Peyton Manning on pace to throw 64 TD passes this season. The record is 50 by Tom Brady in 2007.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 24, 2013
According to Manning's statistical projections on ESPN.com, he's on track to throw for 6,096 yards, too.
As likely as it is that he will slow down, it is nevertheless impressive and a testament to how good the players around him are.
Who will lead the Broncos in receiving this season?
Everyone has a role in the Broncos' passing game. Demaryius Thomas is the big-bodied, No. 1-caliber receiver. He has the speed to be a deep threat and the freakish athleticism to be a threat in the open field after the catch.
Starting opposite Thomas on the outside is Eric Decker, a 6'3", 214-pound specimen with strong hands and the frame to be a dependable possession receiver and a valuable red-zone target.
Free-agent acquisition Wes Welker was a huge pickup. He's the slot receiver extraordinaire who can beat just about any single coverage, and he's drawing even more favorable matchups since defenses have to focus on both Thomas and Decker.
The biggest surprise is Julius Thomas, a tight end who has come into his own in his first year as a starter. Thomas burst onto the scene in catching two of Manning's seven touchdown throws in the season-opening blowout of the Baltimore Ravens.
Manning is considered by many to be the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time. Nothing he's doing so far in 2013 is taking away from that bold proclamation.
What was most incredible about his recent Monday night performance against the Oakland Raiders was that of his five incompletions on 37 attempts, four were drops, per Pro Football Focus:
How ruthless was Peyton Manning yesterday? Of his 5 incompletions, 4 of them were drops. #inthezone— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 24, 2013
But that's how Manning is wired, and he won't let the men around him slack off in their preparation or slow down in his latest pursuit of football history.
At age 37, Manning looks better than ever, but he's also not forcing the issue.
Part of it is the Denver defense, coordinated by Jack Del Rio, which is first in the league in defending the run, since teams are having to throw so often while Manning and the offense light up the scoreboard.
The great playmakers around Manning are making his job much easier, though:
Broncos receivers have 355 yards after the catch this season, most in NFL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 24, 2013
To be clear, that's not to take away anything from Manning, whose adjustments at the line of scrimmage and uncanny ball placement make his teammates far better.
Take Knowshon Moreno, for example. He looked like a first-round bust until he began playing with Manning. He has now morphed into a viable running back and a respectable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
It's not as though Manning has never had any trust in his complementary pieces in the past, but at this late stage of his prolific career, he seems more at ease and in command.
The nerve damage he suffered from four neck surgeries has not taken away from his accuracy, but Manning doesn't quite have the zip on the ball he used to. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes Manning's judiciousness on every throw even more intense.
As long as Manning continues not to force the issue and distributes the ball with patience, the Broncos will remain borderline unstoppable, and he will rack up his fifth MVP award with ease.