Peyton Manning’s first season with the Broncos and first season back from 4 neck surgeries was amazing. He completed 68.9% of his passes for an average of 8.0 YPA, 37 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, all above his career averages. His 105.8 QB rating was his best since his record setting 2004 season and the 2nd best of his career. He led the Broncos on an 11 game winning streak and got them the #1 seed in the AFC. He could easily be the MVP this season.
His season was so amazing that everyone forgot he struggles in the playoffs, but that’s exactly what happened again as the Broncos were bounced in their first game by the Baltimore Ravens. Peyton Manning has now made the playoffs in 12 of his 14 healthy seasons, but he’s lost in his first game a ridiculous 8 times and has a 9-11 post-season record.
The loss wasn’t totally his fault. A lot of the borderline calls went against the Broncos, Head Coach John Fox got overly conservative in the final few minutes of the game, and then of course there was Rahim Moore’s ridiculous coverage on Jacoby Jones. However, the Broncos also scored 2 special teams touchdowns and that more than makes up for everything that went against him. He led this offense to just 21 points in 4 quarters and two overtimes and threw the game clinching interception. Any time you’re spotted 14 points at home as 9 point favorites, you have to come through. Manning didn’t.
Manning turns 37 in March, so you have to wonder how much longer the Broncos’ championship window will be open for. Of course, that’s much better than there the Broncos were 6 months ago, when they were wondering if Manning could even play. In one of the worst divisions in the NFL and with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, the Broncos will be in contention once again in 2013.
The Broncos drafted Derek Wolfe in the 2nd round last year, but he plays defensive end in base packages and moves inside to defensive tackle in sub packages. They need a true defensive tackle. The trio of Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, and Justin Bannan isn’t getting it done. Vickerson and Bannan are free agents this off-season anyway. They really need someone to get some sort of pressure from the interior of their defensive line, to compliment Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil outside.
The Broncos brought in Dan Koppen and the veteran took over at center for JD Walton, who was one of the worst centers in the league in 2011. Koppen played well, but he’s a free agent heading into his age 34 season this off-season. If he’s not brought back, they should bring in some competition for Walton. Peyton Manning may be able to make Walton look better than Tim Tebow did, but he’s still not very good.
Keith Brooking took over for Joe Mays at middle linebacker this season. Brooking didn’t play well and he’s a free agent heading into his age 38 season this year, while Mays could be cut, owed 4 million next season. DJ Williams could also be cut, owed 6 million. If all 3 of those guys are gone, they’ll need a new every down linebacker to go with Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller, who plays linebacker in base packages. 2012 6th round pick Danny Trevathan could be a candidate to play there, as could Nate Irving, a 2011 3rd round pick who hasn’t played much yet, but they should at least bring in some more competition.
Willis McGahee turns 32 in October and, owed 2.5 million next season, he might not be brought back, coming off a major injury. Even if he’s back, he won’t be around much longer. Ronnie Hillman flashed some as a 3rd round rookie, while Knowshon Moreno randomly had a great season after McGahee got hurt, but can you depend on that combination long term?
Brandon Stokley is a free agent who turns 37 in June, so the Broncos could use a new slot receiver.
Ryan Clady will probably be franchised, but if, for whatever reason, he’s not brought back, they’ll need to replace him.
Chris Kuper suffered 3 separate injuries in a 12 month time period. Owed 4.5 million next season, the Broncos might not bring him back. If he’s not back, they’ll need competition for replacement level talent Manuel Ramirez, who was alright this season in Kuper’s absence, but that might have been more on Peyton Manning than anything.