The Denver Broncos
Last Season: 8-8 Division Champions
Veteran Additions: QB Peyton Manning, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell, WR Brandon Stokley, TE Jacob Tamme, TE Joel Dreessen, DT Justin Bannan, CB Tracy Porter, CB Drayton Florence, S Mike Adams.
Offseason Losses: QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, DE Derrick Harvey, DT Brodrick Bunkley, DT Marcus Thomas, DT Ryan McBean, OLB Mario Haggan, CB Andre Goodman, S Brian Dawkins.
Round 2: Derek Wolfe DT Cincinnati
Round 2: Brock Osweiler QB Arizona St.
Round 3: Ronnie Hillman RB San Diego St.
Round 4: Omar Bolden CB Arizona St.
Round 4: Phillip Blake C Baylor
Round 5: Malik Jackson DT Tennessee
Round 6: Danny Trevathan OLB Kentucky
Sept. 9 Pittsburgh Steelers 8:20 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Atlanta Falcons (Mon.) 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 Houston Texans 4:15 p.m.
Sept. 30 Oakland Raiders 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 7 at New England Patriots 4:15 p.m.
Oct. 15 at San Diego Chargers (Mon.) 8:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 BYE
Oct. 28 New Orleans Saints 8:20 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m.
Nov. 11 at Carolina Panthers 1 p.m.
Nov. 18 San Diego Chargers 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Kansas City Chiefs 1 p.m.
Dec. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4:05 p.m.
Dec. 6 at Oakland Raiders (Thurs.) 8:20 p.m.
Dec. 16 at Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m.
Dec. 23 Cleveland Browns 4:05 p.m.
Dec. 30 Kansas City Chiefs 4:15 p.m.
Analysis: Denver is one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL and Iím not just saying that as a fan. By the time the season begins, the Broncos will be starting their third QB in 8 months. In fact the only QB left over from last year is Adam Weber. Fortunately they were able to sign the biggest free agent since Reggie White in Peyton Manning, who hopes to play at least two or three more years. The rest of the additions have all been quite solid, particularly in the defensive back group. Denver also snagged two very solid pass-catching tight ends to go along with their young receiving corps in Tamme and Dreessen. The offense is facing a large re-tooling with Tebow gone as they move back to a more traditional offense. Itís going to be sink or swim for both Decker and Thomas. Thomas is athletically superior, but has shown signs of laziness and fragility. Decker is less athletic but more technical. Whether his work ethic and consistency will take another step remains to be seen. The offensive line will get Kuper back and hoping a more intelligent QB under center will help the offensive line perform better. The interior is a still a huge question, and itís said that rookie Phillip Blake is going to push to start as Peytonís center this season. Manningís effect on the team has been immediate. Heís held personal practices away from the facility and is riding players hard on the field to push for perfection. He also is a much better passer then the Broncos receivers were used to last year. Manning inherited the number one rushing attack and number 31 passing attack in the NFL last year. Tebow was the reason for both those numbers being as high and as low as they were, respectively. It is unlikely Denver will run as effectively without Tebow on the roster, even if Ronnie Hillman has a good rookie season. However it is also very likely that Manning throws the ball with a good deal more efficacy than Tebow did. Jack Del Rio is perhaps the most underrated signing in the NFL this year. Brought in to help coordinate the Defense following Dennis Allenís departure, Del Rio inherits a unit that finished in the twenties. There were some good moments for Denverís defense, often rising to the occasion in clutch situations, but there were some ugly ones as well. Getting lit up by the Partiots, Packers and Lions really dragged their numbers down. Ty Warren is coming back, but his durability and motivation are a huge question mark, and with Bunkley gone to the Saints and Marcus Thomas unsigned, it is curious to see if Denver really thinks rookie Derek Wolfe is going to help out in any measurable form right away. Special teams will be looking to replace and underwhelming Eddie Royal as a returner and that should allow one of the low draft picks or even undrafted players a shot at making the team. Elway locked up Matt Prater with a new contract, and Britton Colquitt has quietly become one of the best punters in the league. Denver quietly had one of the best special teams in the league last year with the exception of their coverage unit which was middle of the road.
Prediction 10-6: Much has been made of Denverís brutal schedule, some calling it the worst schedule in the last 15 years in the NFL. What no one is mentioning is the rest of the AFC West has to play the same schedule except for two games. With the rest of the AFC West facing effectively the same gauntlet of a schedule, it makes it more likely for a team in the AFC West to win. There will definitely be some growing pains as Manning and the rest of the Broncos develop their identity on offense. However Del Rio should continue to develop the progress made on defense, and his softer touch with players will allow some who became burned out on Dennis Allenís scream sessions to find their confidence again. I think Denver wins the division because they are the most balanced. Adding Manning is a huge coup as his leadership alone pushes everyone to do more. This team is younger and more balanced than the one Manning last started for and Manning has a chip on his shoulder. Denverís defense does need work, but they are trending in the right direction and can rush the passer. They also will be able to actually throw the ball which means fewer three and outs and that will make for a less tired team. The Broncos running game will be a priority under Fox and give Manning some time to grow into his new team. There is a tough road ahead, but I think by the end of the year Denver will be clicking and take the division.