The Broncos were 13-3 for the second straight season in 2013. It was Manning's 11th straight healthy year leading a team to double-digit wins. Sportsbooks expect more of the same this year as the Broncos' 11-win total is the most of any AFC club. The over is a slight -120 favorite on NFL odds.
What more can be said about Manning's '13 regular season? He broke the NFL single-season records with 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns to win a fifth NFL MVP Award. The Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points, a whopping 161 more than the second-place team. They were also the first club with four players -- Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker -- having at least 10 touchdown catches.
At this point in his career, however, Manning is judged on postseason history and he came up short again in that regard. Manning led Denver to home playoff wins over San Diego and New England, but the Broncos were overwhelmed by the Seattle Seahawks' top-rated defense in the 43-8 Super Bowl rout. Manning set a meaningless record in the game with 34 completions but the result never seemed in doubt after the Seahawks scored a safety on Denver's first offensive play. The loss dropped Manning to 11-12 in his playoff career and 1-2 in the Super Bowl. The future Hall of Famer is now 38, so this season could be his last realistic chance for a second ring.
Key Offseason Moves
Players want to play with Manning because they know he gives them a great shot to win a title. Thus Denver became a prime destination spot for free agents. Denver snagged a premier pass-rusher in the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, a top cover cornerback in Aqib Talib of the Patriots and an excellent run-stopping safety in T.J. Ward of the Browns. They also added Steelers leading receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are clearly going for it now while Manning can still play at a very high level. They did lose a few key guys in guard Zane Beadles, Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Knowshon Moreno. Also keep in mind that Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady will be back after missing all of last season. Star linebacker Von Miller was limited to nine games, and missed the playoffs, because of suspension and an ACL injury. He and Ware could form a destructive duo.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, San Diego, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 22, at Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Denver has the second-toughest strength of schedule with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .570. It has nine games against playoff teams, and the schedule-makers certainly didn't do the Broncos many favors as they start off with three straight games against postseason clubs. Manning reportedly wasn't happy that the opener is against his former Colts team. The Broncos are 7.5-point favorites at sportsbooks. The Colts handed visiting Denver its first loss of last season, 39-33 in Week 7. Manning threw for 386 yards and three scores in his homecoming but was under siege all night. He was sacked four times, fumbled (for a Colts safety) and threw an interception. Andrew Luck was stellar, throwing for three scores and running for another.
You know Manning is eyeing that Week 3 Super Bowl rematch with Seattle after that Seahawks defense bewildered him in February. Week 9 is the 16th meeting between Manning and Brady and could be the last with both QBs up there in age. The Broncos lost 34-31 in overtime at New England last regular season, blowing a 24-0 halftime lead. Manning threw for a season-low 150 yards. He threw for 400 yards in the AFC title game 26-16 win over the Pats. Brady leads the all-time series 10-5. That game starts a three-game road trip for Denver, its first stretch of three consecutive away games since 2010.
NFL Free Picks: Over 11 wins on NFL odds. The offense should be nearly as good, especially with Clady around to protect Manning's blind side. The loss of Moreno hurts, but the team is high on 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball. The defense should be significantly better with those additions and a healthy Miller. The Broncos can run the table and home and go at least 4-4 on the road for 12 wins.