Certainly the biggest team story heading into 2014 is whether Seattle can be the first club in a decade to repeat. However, as usual the biggest individual story line revolves around Peyton Manning. Here's a look at his NFL props for the season.
Nowhere To Go But Down?
I try not to be a half-empty type of person, but is there really any reason to possibly believe that Manning will approach his record numbers of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns from last year? Obviously Manning is a year older (now 38), which presumably makes him a touch more injury prone.
Let's do a few comparisons. The year after New England's Tom Brady set the NFL record with 50 touchdown passes, he was hurt in Week 1 of the 2008 season. So forget that one. Brady's next full season was 2009 and he had "only" 28 TD passes. Obviously it depends who is around him, but Brady hasn't gone over 39 since hitting 50. When the Saints' Drew Brees set the single-season yardage mark with 5,476 in 2011, he regressed by 300 yards the next year. Still pretty darn impressive.
So what is a reasonable drop off for Manning? 10 percent across the board? 20 percent? The Broncos lost two key offensive players in running back Knowshon Moreno and wide reciever Eric Decker and now aren't sure what will happen with receiver Wes Welker, who has suffered yet another concussion. They do get back their best offensive linemen in left tackle Ryan Clady from his 2013 season-ending injury. The defense looks much improved with some big-name additions, so that could benefit the offense in terms of better field position through turnovers, etc.
Then again, the Broncos do play in Denver. Manning didn't have to deal with too many game in wintry conditions in 2013. That would generally slow offenses down. The Broncos also could have road wintry games Week 9 at New England, Week 13 at Kansas City and Week 16 at Cincinnati.
Also, teams are going to try and copy what the Seahawks did in flustering Manning in the Super Bowl. Obviously only a couple of teams might have the defensive talent of Seattle, but opposing defensive coordinators can take bits and pieces of what the Seahawks did and use it in their schemes. The NFL is nothing if not a copy-cat league.
Let's take a look at Manning props, courtesy of Bovada and Sportsbook.com.
Manning is given an 'over/under' of 4,900 passing yards, 40.5 touchdown passes and 11.5 interceptions (all options at -115). He is +275 to lead the league in passing yards, +350 to throw for more than 5,550 yards, +1000 to throw at least 55 TDs again, +5000 for more than 6,000 yards, +5000 for at least 60 touchdown passes, and +7500 to throw for at least 300 yards in every game. Finally, when will Manning break Brett Favre's all-time record of 508 touchdown passes: Week 7 or before is -130 and Week 8 or after is even money.
It's interesting that Manning's yardage total is listed at 4,900 because he had never surpassed that previously. His highest total had been 4,700 in 2010, which turned out to be his final season playing with the Colts. Including Manning last year, only 11 times has 4,900 been surpassed by a QB. Manning's previous high for touchdowns was 49 in 2004, which broke Dan Marino's 1984 record until Brady then surpassed it by one in 2007. Manning hadn't reached 40 since then before last year's monster total. Peyton surpassed 300 yards passing in 12 games in 2013, including eight of the first nine. Manning's 84 total 300-yard games are an NFL best.
Finally, Manning currently is at 491 touchdown passes, which is 18 shy of breaking Favre's mark of 508. Last year, Manning got his 18th in Week 5 thanks in large part to a record-tying seven in the season opener. Here are Denver's first seven weeks: vs. Colts, vs. Chiefs, at Seahawks, BYE, vs. Cardinals, at Jets, vs. 49ers. Some good pass defenses in there. Seattle's was the best. Note that the prop is "week" not "game."
NFL free picks: Manning has another terrific season, but slightly more mortal. When selecting your NFL picks go 'under' 4,900 yards and 40.5 touchdowns. 'Over' 11.5 interceptions. Say something like 4,750/38/13. No passing title and no chance of 300 yards passing in every game. Manning breaks Favre's record in Week 9 at New England, fittingly enough, against his rival Brady. As if that game would need any more hype.