NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos

Has any team gotten more headlines at the quarterback position than the Denver Broncos have in the past ten months or so, between Tebow-Mania and the subsequent signing of Peyton Manning. Even coming off a cheap AFC West title at 8-8 and upset playoff win over Pittsburgh, the Broncos are still looking for their first winning season since 2006. TheSportsNotebook previews the chances this Denver team has of breaking that string and seeing if they can ride Peyton’s arm to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998…

OFFENSE: Charged with protecting the blind side of Manning, Ryan Clady has the most important security assignment this side of the Secret Service. Fortunately for Peyton, the 25-year-old Clady is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. There’s question marks elsewhere on the line, but at least the veteran quarterback will be able to see the pressure coming at him. The development of Orlando Franklin at the left tackle spot will go a long way toward deciding how good this line can be as a whole. Chris Kuper is top-shelf at right guard, with the other two spots being patchwork.

If Franklin comes through, that would give Willis McGahee two good tackles to run over. Though he’s 30 years old and you have to be worried about mileage, McGahee produced nearly 1,200 yards on the ground last season and now opposing defenses can’t key on him.

The receiving talent is fairly pedestrian, but if Manning is healthy and his old self, the combination of Demaryius Thomas stretching the field and Eric Decker as a possession guy will be good enough for the future Hall of Famer to move the ball. Andre Caldwell has untapped potential at the third receiver spot, though the tight end spot is weak, with no reincarnation of Dallas Clark, from Peyton’s Indianapolis days, on hand for the short stuff over the middle.

DEFENSE: Elvis Dumervil keys the defense with his ability to pressure the quarterback and the ability to play down as a defensive end in the 4-3, as he does in this scheme, or to stand up in a 3-4 alignment. Dumervil had 9.5 sacks a year ago and has the capacity to deliver a Defensive Player of the Year type performance. Ty Warren anchors the middle for John Fox’s four-man front.

The linebacking corps is very good, with veteran D.J. Williams and second-year man Von Miller handling the outside spots and each being outstanding. Between Williams and Miller, along with Warren handling duties up front, Fox can cover the problem that is middle linebacker Joe Mays.

Denver lacks strength down the middle, with both safeties, Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore being liabilities, although strong safety Carter is still in just his third year and has a chance to get better. At least the corners are in good hands. The Broncos signed Tracy Porter to play opposite Champ Bailey, who keeps going strong at age 34.

Overall, the defense has good star power, with Dumervil, Warren, Williams, Miller and Bailey. That’s enough for Fox to produce a good overall unit.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 8.5—I was surprised to see the number this low, given the expectations that have followed Manning into town.  Furthermore, the Broncos strong finish last year can’t be attributed all to Tim Tebow—with Fox in his first year, the team was likely to be better in the second half of the season anyway. So even if Peyton does end up missing some games, a 9-7 season is still a realistic shot and if he does start at least 13-14 games, then the Over is a lock. For that reason, I’m going on the high side for the 2012 Denver Broncos.