"Winning" free agency doesn't often translate to also winning a Super Bowl in the same season. Just ask a Washington Redskins fan since Dan Snyder took ownership of the team. That said, there does appear to be on clear winner so far in free agency this offseason: the Denver Broncos. They are given a wins total of 11 for 2014 on NFL odds.
Lets look at this line and decide if thee is any advantage in placing our NFL picks at this point in the off season.
Manning Is Back ... It's
All That Matters
The Denver offense doesn't need much tweaking with Peyton Manning back. He led the Broncos to the most points in NFL history last regular season with 606. That was a whopping 161 more than No. 2 Chicago. Manning set league records with 5,477 passing yards and an 55 touchdown passes. Denver was the first team to have four players -- receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas -- with at least 10 touchdown catches. Denver was held under 30 points just three times during the season and scored at least 50 three times.
The playoffs were a different story, however. The Broncos were held to 24 points in the divisional-round win over San Diego and 26 in the AFC title game against New England. The Super Bowl blowout loss to Seattle was a disaster from the start when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball past an unsuspecting Manning's head and Seattle scored a safety. Manning passed for just 10 yards in the first quarter. He only finished with 280 because the entire second half was essentially garbage time and he was picked off twice.
That offense has lost Decker to the New York Jets, but the team replaced him by signing former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders. He had career bests in catches (67), receiving yards (740) and touchdowns (six) last season. The team also lost guard Zane Beadles and running back Knowshon Moreno (13 total TDs), but the Broncos believe Montee Ball can be a capable replacement.
The Broncos ranked 22nd in points allowed last season at 24.9 per game and 19th in yards allowed but those numbers are somewhat misleading because Denver was in so many blowouts and thus gave up a lot of meaningless passing yards and points. It's on the defensive side of the ball where it looks like the Broncos hit a home run in free agency.
They added former Browns safety T.J. Ward, former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and ex-Cowboys defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Ward isn't much against the pass but is a terrific run-stopper. Talib is one of the NFL's top corners when he's motivated and stays out of trouble off the field; he did with New England. Plus his signing helps hurt the rival Patriots, although they rallied by landing Darrelle Revis for much cheaper than Denver got Talib. Ware is a seven-time Pro Bowler and should flourish opposite Broncos' star defensive end Von Miller. Ware had a streak of seven seasons with at least 11 sacks, recording 20 sacks in 2008 and 19.5 in 2011. He struggled a bit last year but so did the entire Dallas defense. Miller was limited to nine games in 2013 due to injury and missed the playoffs but he's a beast when healthy.
Denver played the easiest 2013 schedule at least in terms of teams' 2012 winning percentage. That was a flawed number because the Chiefs were terrible in 2012 but a playoff club last year. Same with the Philadelphia Eagles, who were also on Denver's schedule last season. Overall the Broncos had seven regular-season games against teams that would go on to make the playoffs in 2013 and went 4-3 (losses to Colts, Patriots and Chargers).
The 2014 schedule looks much tougher on paper as the Broncos have the second-toughest strength of schedule with their opponents combining for a 2013 winning percentage of .570. That number is obviously boosted by the fact the Chargers and Chiefs were both better last season. Denver will have nine games against playoff teams from last year: Chargers, Chiefs (home and away), 49ers, Colts (both at home), Patriots, Seahawks and Bengals (all on road). Denver also hosts an Arizona team that won 10 games but missed the postseason. Only four games are against teams that had losing records: two against the Raiders, vs. Bills and at Rams.NFL free picks: Over 11 wins at sportsbooks (project a 12-4 record) as long as Manning plays all 16 games.