Mile High Expectations in Denver
WR W.Welker, S Q.Jammer,
LB S.Phillips, G L.Vasquez,
CB D.Rogers-Cromartie, C R.Lilja
LB E.Dumervil, LB D.Williams,
CB T.Porter, DE T.Warren,
It took Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a few weeks to gel, but once they found their rhythm they were pretty much unstoppable in 2012. At least in the regular season.
After an underwhelming start that saw Denver drop three of their first five games, things clicked.
The Broncos didn't lose again in the regular season, tearing off 11 straight wins to grab the top seed in the AFC for the playoffs.
The dream season came to an abrupt end in the playoffs though as the Broncos fell to the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens 38-35 in double overtime in the divisional round. The loss was highlighted by some brutally blown coverage on a 70-yard Jacoby Jones touchdown.
The Broncos have put the playoff disappointment behind them though and look to be even stronger for 2013. As long as Manning is healthy, the Broncos should cruise to another division title in a weak AFC West.
It's win now time in Denver and a Super Bowl title is the only acceptable outcome for this season.
Peyton Manning came in last year and promptly rewrote the Broncos record book setting franchise marks for completions (400), completion percentage (68.6), passing yards (4,659) and touchdown passes (37). And that was with him coming off a year out of the game recovering from various neck surgeries.
An extra year with the offence and an extra year of recovery should make for an even better 2013. Manning's arm looks much better heading into this season and he is throwing the ball with more velocity.
Manning also doesn't have to deal with the growing pains of installing a new offence this year which will make the hurry-up style of offence he favours all the more effective.
And, as if Manning needed any more weapons, the team went out and added Wes Welker to a receivers group that already featured Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for Manning to throw to. Those three give the Broncos arguably the best receiving corps in the entire NFL. Between them they racked up 297 receptions for 3,852 yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
In the running game, the Broncos parted ways with last year's leading rusher Willis McGahee and look like they'll use a running back by committee approach. Second year back Ronnie Hillman figures to get the nod as the team's opening day starter though after adding 15 pounds over the off-season and improving his blocking and pass protection. He has battled fumbles in the pre-season though and could fall out of favour unless he starts to hold onto the football.
2013 second round pick Montee Ball, who ran for 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns in his final two years at Wisconsin, will also get plenty of looks as the team sees them as a future every down back. Veteran Knowshon Moreno might be the best pass blocker of the group and will also be in the mix thanks to his receiving ability.
Centre of Attention
The Broncos offensive line is a very solid unit led by left tackle Ryan Clady who signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract in the off-season. The team also added former Chargers guard Louis Vasquez in free agency to bolster the right side.
The big question mark for front five though is in the middle. Denver thought it had addressed their need at centre when they brought veteran Dan Koppen back into the fold during the off-season.
Koppen went down to a season ending knee injury in workouts though leaving the Broncos to scramble for a replacement. At the moment, Manny Ramirez looks to be in line for the starting job but the team also brought Ryan Lilja out of retirement and he may win the job.
By no means is the question mark at centre going to hurt the Broncos playoff chances, but it may take the line a few extra weeks to gel. (-TSN.ca)
Where's The Rush?
Elvis has left the building. In one of the strangest off-season stories in the NFL, defensive end Elvis Dumervil is no longer a Bronco after a weird series of events and fax mishap kept the team from receiving his signed re-negotiated contract in time. The Broncos released him and he bolted for Baltimore in free agency.
Oh, and the Broncos will also be without linebakcer Von Miller to start the season as he serves a six game suspension for a violation of the NFL's drug policy.
Dumervil and Miller formed maybe the most fearsome pass rush tandem in the NFL last season racking up 29.5 of the Broncos NFL best 52 sacks between them last season.
Robert Ayers will is the likely starter at Dumervil's old end and will see significant action. Ayers will be relied on heavily especially since fifth round draft pick Quanterus Smith suffered a setback in his ACL recovery and was placed on IR.
AFC WEST PROJECTIONS
Division Winner, 1st round bye
Moving in right direction
Severe lack of talent
Arguably worst team in NFL
To fill the hole left by Miller for the start of the season, the Broncos will likely go with a committee approach. One lineup that will likely be used often would see Wesley Woodyard shift to the middle with Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving playing on the outside. Shaun Phillips will also see time at linebacker in addition to his role at defensive end.
The additions of tackles Sylvester Williams in the draft, and Terrence Knighton in free agency should also be a huge help in overcoming Miller's absence for the Broncos.
Once Miller returns, Irving could be in line for a breakout year in the middle in his first year as a starter. That is of course if he can hold off seven-year vet Bradley Stewart for the job.
On the weak side, Woodyard will look to continue his solid play after a breakout 2012 that saw him record 117 tackles and three interceptions. He is in the final year of his current contract and in line for a steep pay increase.
Forgive and Forget
While Broncos fans still have safety Rahim Moore's blown coverage on Jacoby Jones' 70-yard touchdown fresh in their mind, the players and coaches have moved on from the blunder.
The Broncos are sticking with Moore at free safety and he will be out to prove himself.
Denver also signed corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to help shore up their coverage.
Rodgers-Cromartie will slide in and start opposite Champ Bailey while Jammer makes the move to safety.
The group that also includes Chris Harris, Quinton Carter and Mike Adams can be an effective coverage team for the Broncos even if they didn't look so good against Baltimore.
What It All Means
Denver should be considered a favourite in the AFC and for the Super Bowl again this season. Barring a catastrophic injury or two, the Broncos should have no problem wrapping up a weak division early in the year giving them plenty of time to gear up for the playoffs. And that's when games will start to count. Another top seed would be nice, but it won't mean anything if the Broncos go one and done. (-TSN.ca)
Special Teams: K M. Prater, P B. Colquitt, KR T. Holliday, PR T. Holliday
Special Teams: K M. Prater, P B. Colquitt, KR T. Holliday, PR T. Holliday
Fantasy - By The Numbers
After a year out following multiple neck surgeries, QB Peyton Manning returned to action and passed for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2012, the second-highest marks of his career in both categories.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF
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2013 Auction Values: Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Depth Charts: AFC | NFC
That Manning will be productive isn't much in question, but how the balls will be allocated becomes more interesting. The arrival of Wes Welker adds a new possession dimension. From 2007-2012, Welker was far-and-away the NFL leader with 672 receptions, so he figures to be a significant part of the Broncos' passing game and that will affect everyone else.
WR Demaryius Thomas had 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, with Eric Decker serving as a fine complement, posting 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. Presumably, the balls will be spread throughout that trio, reducing each of their invidual numbers (and possibly taking some targets away from tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen as well).
The running game is a slightly different story, with second-round pick Montee Ball the most likely to lead the way, after running for 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns (!!) in his last two seasons at Wisconsin, but Ball faces competition from Ronnie Hillman.
Defensively, the Broncos aren't hugely productive and face the prospect of not having OLB Von Miller for four games due to a possible suspension. Miller has 30 sacks in his first two seasons, so he's a force when he plays but, if he misses a quarter of the season, Wesley Woodyard may prove to be the most productive Broncos defender. (-Scott Cullen)