For fantasy owners of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the first quarter of the season ended with a huge reward for your early season patience.
After opening up his 2012 schedule with two straight mediocre fantasy performance, Manning blossomed over the past two weeks. The 36-year-old threw for 638 yards and five touchdowns while not turning the ball over against the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
While some could try to poke holes in both performances, his brilliance against the Raiders last Sunday should quiet the doom-and-gloom talk surrounding Manning. Though not the player he once was, the first two weeks were all about an all-time great finally getting reacquainted to playing every week.
With his play seemingly rising by the week, it's unquestioned that Manning is back among the NFL's elite fantasy quarterbacks. Here's a look at a few of the biggest reasons why.
Broncos Have Catered the Offense Around Manning's Deficiencies
First of all, let's dispel the notion that the Denver quarterback's arm strength will increase over the course of the season.
While repeated throwing motions may help restrengthen some muscles, the repeated hits he'll take in the pocket will certainly negate all of his improvements.
The Manning we see before us today will likely be the one we see in November, December and January. Considering Manning's abject inability to take passes down the field, that may seem like a massive red flag.
However, we're talking about fantasy football, not the Broncos' playoff hopes. What we saw last week against Oakland was Denver use five- to 10-yard passes and other intermediate routes to put receivers in a position for yards after the catch.
It's a system that is actually not all that dissimilar to what the Green Bay Packers do with Aaron Rodgers. Granted, Rodgers has the downfield arm strength that Manning doesn't currently possess.
Nonetheless, Manning's success on Sunday is certainly transferable to the rest of the season.
Manning Has Two Top Targets
After a ton of preseason speculation about whether Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker would emerge as Denver's top target, it's beginning to look like both will have a ton of value going forward.
While that may be frustrating for owners who wanted a Reggie Wayne-like breakout from one of these two youngsters, it only means good things for Manning.
Those who have watched the future Hall of Famer know he only throws to players he trusts consistently. A wrong break in a route that leads to an interception or an incorrect coverage read on an option route is usually all it takes to get in his doghouse.
Fortunately for Denver, it looks like both Decker and Thomas have gained Manning's trust. What that means for opposing defenses is that there is no one man to target more than the other and that the Broncos should have the entire field to work with.
The Schedule Is Incredibly Weak Going Forward
Anyone remember in the preseason when Manning detractors said that Denver's schedule would dictate a below-average season?
Well, we're a quarter of the way through the 2012 season and the Broncos' schedule in the final three quarters is filled with insanely weak defensive teams.
Using Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric, the toughest game Denver will play the remainder of 2012 comes against the Cleveland Browns, a team that currently has the 14th-best defense in the NFL.
Even if you are wary of advanced metrics, the counting stats back up that claim. Of the Broncos' remaining opponents, the best pass defense they face is the Kansas City Chiefs, which are 13th in the league.
After looking daunting in the preseason, it now seems as though Manning will face some cupcakes going forward and your fantasy team will benefit infinitely from his presence.