By FeedCrossing
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The 2012 Denver Broncos season was actually typical for Peyton Manning.

After another amazing regular season – where he rebounded from a potential career-threatening injury, set numerous franchise passing records and led the Broncos to a 13-3 season – Manning and the Broncos lost to the Ravens in one of the most dramatic playoff games in recent memory.

After this early postseason departure, the offseason has brought changes to the Broncos roster. Despite ranking in the top four in the entire NFL in all four major defensive categories, much of the blame for the devastating playoff loss was placed squarely on the secondary.

The play that will haunt Broncos fans for years was safety Rahim Moore’s blown coverage of Baltimore's Jacoby Jones. Moore’s bumbling, stumbling effort sent the game into overtime and sealed Denver’s fate.

None of the secondary, including Moore, has been cut, but some offseason moves definitely strengthened the Broncos defensive backfield. Two big names joining the secondary include cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Quentin Jammer, both who are signed to one-year contracts.

Another big signing is Wes Welker, who accepted a two-year contract. This is especially notable, considering it denies one of Manning’s most dangerous AFC rivals, Tom Brady, as Welker was one of his most productive weapons.

Looking at the schedule, one factor that definitely benefits the Broncos is their AFC West division, one of the weakest groups in the NFL. Last season, the three other teams compiled a sub-.300 winning percentage, going a combined 0-6 against the Denver.

The team with the best chance to unseat the Broncos is probably the San Diego Chargers. However, the Chargers have historically underperformed. Phillip Rivers lacks the same competitive instinct and perpetual improvement that other elite QBs possess.

The Oakland Raiders were in turmoil, as usual, with the death of founder Al Davis and seemed to go nowhere. They won only four games, with two wins coming against divisional rival Kansas City and another coming against the Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams with a combined record of 4-28 for the season.

This is not a sign of great confidence. And when you consider how Oakland wastes draft picks, we would not be surprised if the Raiders finished last in the division.

The fourth team in the division is the Chiefs. They took a remarkably unsexy first pick in the draft by selecting an offensive tackle, which seems to indicate an interest in a long-term rebuilding strategy.

According to Vegas odds, the Broncos are expected to win either 11 or 12 games next season, and that number appears correct. It will likely take at least 10 wins for the Broncos to (again) clinch a playoff spot.

But is this a lock?

Let us look at Denver’s non-divisional opponents. In an interesting scheduling quirk, the Broncos face only one divisional opponent before their Week 9 week off.

This year’s inter-divisional schedule pits the AFC West against the NFC East, meaning the Broncos play the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, all of whom are decent. The other six teams they will play are the Baltimore Ravens, Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.

The Broncos will likely lose at least one divisional game, because it's very difficult to go 6-0 two years in a row. Let’s go with 5-1.

Next, the NFC East has a lot more parity (especially compared to the AFC West), with three teams finishing above .500, and the underperforming Eagles being a much more talented team then their 4-12 record might indicate. Let’s be conservative with the Broncos’ win total and predict that Peyton gets upset by Robert Griffin III and his little brother, Eli, for a 2-2 record, putting Denver at 7-3.

The Jaguars are not a good team, and they will lose to the Broncos. The Titans are slightly better, and play the Broncos in Week 14, where there is a small chance some starters might be rested. But we don’t hold out much hope for them. Broncos win that game.

So, we’re at 9-3, with such mid-tier opponents remaining as a scrappy Colts team, who we think the Broncos will beat in a shootout, and a Texans team, who we think will win the Week 16 matchup, especially if the Broncos have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Our hypothetical 2013 Broncos team is now 10-4, with only the match-ups against the Ravens and Patriots remaining.

The Week 1 kickoff game against the Ravens is at home, and the Broncos will come out swinging, looking for revenge. In addition, the Ravens have lost eight starters from their championship team, easily beating the previous record of five. Mark it as a solid win for the Broncos.

The final game to discuss falls in Week 12, which is away at New England. The Patriots have had a horrible offseason (understatement of the decade), with their powerful air game now crippled. However, Manning has had some trouble against Brady in the past, especially at a chilly Gillette, where Pats fans will make it unpleasant. Pats win in a shootout.

Overall, we predict an 11-5 record for the Broncos, which should give them a No. 2 or 3 seed in the AFC bracket.  Now let’s look at who might give them trouble in the AFC playoffs.

Teams that have the best chance to make the playoffs in the AFC include the Patriots, Texans, Colts, and the Ravens, with the Steelers and Bengals also having a decent chance. Securing a bye will be important, considering Manning tends to underperform in the playoffs (at least compared to his legendary regular season numbers).

Ultimately, the most talented two teams will make their way to the AFC Championship, which should be the Broncos, Patriots or the Ravens.

With the Ravens unable to overcome their defensive departures, expect another Manning/Brady rematch for a Super Bowl berth. A horrible offseason and a stronger division will mean a lower seed for the Pats, who will have a tough road to this game. Vegas will favor the Broncos, who would surely be playing at home.

Some potential Super Bowl opponents include strong Packers and 49ers teams, as well as the Atlanta Falcons, who have struggled in the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks, now overrated, will fall short.

After the heartbreaking playoff debacle, the Broncos should be favored to win the Super Bowl this year. A weak division more or less guarantees a playoff appearance. AFC rivals, in the form of the Patriots and Ravens, have had negative offseasons, while the Broncos have made some solid signings.

If he leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl, expect Peyton Manning to get a win.

Manning, now with a greater understanding of the Broncos’ system and personnel, would then cement himself as one of the greatest QBs of our generation, possibly even of all time.


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