It is always strange to see a legend in a new uniform. But get used to it with Peyton Manning.
The newest Denver Broncos quarterback makes his debut Sept. 9 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and all indications during the preseason were that Manning was fully recovered from the multiple neck surgeries that ended his tenure with the Colts and threatened his career. Now he takes over for a team that already beat the Steelers in the playoffs last season before losing on the road in the second round. So how much better can the Broncos get?
"I watched their first three preseason games, and they've gotten a little better every week," NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said. "I think they're going to be much better offensively than they were. I think Peyton will give them a lead a lot of times and help the defense."
That's about all Manning can do to help a defense that ranked 20th in yards allowed (357.8 a game) last season and 24th in total points allowed (390). New England picked apart Denver for 45 points in the AFC Divisional round. The Broncos should be good enough against bad or mediocre teams. But can they hang with the elite?
It's hard to tell who that is from year-to-year anyway in the NFL, so Manning at least gives them a shot. But the schedule doesn't do them any favors. It opens tough with the Steelers and continues with a road game at Atlanta, a wild-card team last season, and then a home game with Houston, a fellow AFC Divisional round loser. Then in Week 5 the Broncos travel back to the scene of their playoff blowout with a road game at New England. After a bye, Week 8 brings a home game against New Orleans, yet another playoff team.
"I know this: Peyton Manning will make everybody around him better," Dungy said. "And they were a playoff team that went two rounds into it last year. So I realistically think they'll be back in the playoffs, and I think they'll be knocking at the door."
- Brian McNally