2012 AFC Picks & Prognostications

The NFL season is underway and we are late with our version of what we believe will happen in the AFC this season. Many new faces in new places that have teams excited. Most notably was the debut of Peyton Manning in last night’s opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the Broncos are going to streak to the Super Bowl…right?? Not so fast. A lot of excitement left the arena in Cleveland as the rookie starting tandem of QB Branden Weeden and RB Trent Richardson completely underwhelmed in a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Had they provided just an ounce of offense they would have prevailed.

With fellow rookie QBs Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannenhill starting in Indianapolis and Miami respectively, they also took their lumps in week 1. Yet these teams knew they were going to have a long season and hope to see some growth as the season progresses.

Not so with many of the conference’s heavyweight teams in Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, and Houston. Can Joe Flacco perform better in a contract year for him?? Can the Ravens defense stay blood thirsty without Terrell Suggs?? How will the Steelers fare as their defense replaces some familiar faces?? Will the Patriots improve defensively this year with so much youth on that side of the ball?? Are the Texans the new team to beat coming out of the AFC South?? We’ll try to answer a few of these

2012 AFC Playoff Predictions

1. New England Patriots 13-3 ## AFC East Champs  Homefield Advantage

2. Houston Texans 12-4 AFC South Champs

3. Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 AFC West Champs

4. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 AFC North Champs

5. Baltimore Ravens 10-6 Wild Card

6. Denver Broncos 9-7 Wild Card

AFC CHAMPION: New England Patriots

Now based upon last night many will have the Broncos headed for the Super Bowl. Take a look at their schedule as a whole and you’ll see more than a few bumps in the road. Are the Broncos a more complete team than the Atlanta Falcons who murdered the Chiefs in Kansas City40-24?? That is where Denver is headed next week. The Georgia Dome will be loud as Falcons fans anticipate a Super Bowl season for their team. How about the defending AFC South champion Texans or going to defending AFC Champion New England Patriots?? Oh you didn’t know those were three of the next four Bronco opponents?? Sure they beat the #1 defense in the Steelers but that is without former Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and starting FS Ryan Clark.  That’s like winning Miss America without Miss California, Miss Florida, Miss Texas, Miss Ohio, and Miss Georgia not being available. Peyton did perform well in his debut however it was just one game and it has to be kept in perspective. The Broncos still have a lot of questions at receiver and their defense as a whole. They conclude with 3 of their final 5 against Tampa, the desperate to make the playoffs Ravens, and the Browns. You saw what that Browns defense did to Michael Vick and on any given Sunday…

There is something the Texans are missing and we won’t find out til later this season. This isn’t the same team that was on the field for them a few seasons ago. They are solid on defense but may have given up too much in letting LB DeMeco Ryans, DE/LB Mario Williams, and CB Duante Robinson out of town. They’ll be solid from a tactical standpoint but will they have playmakers on defense to turn a close game like they couldn’t against the Ravens in last year’s playoff?? Someone has to emerge..

In the AFC North these teams will beat each other up as the best defenses ravage the rest of the conference. The Steelers will emerge because of Ben Roethlisberger winning games with those fast receivers. They will transform into more of an offensive team as their defense ages and eventually will show wear. LB Larry Foote becoming the leader in the middle is well deserved and he played tremendous against Denver early on. They still have the best offensive / defensive personnel in the division and again will narrowly beat out the Ravens in the AFC North.

Out west Kansas City will emerge and play as they did in 2010 when they were one of the strongest teams in the league. They lost to the Falcons in week 1 but they are much better than they were in 2011. They are set at every skill position and RB Jamaal Charles looked good coming back from knee surgery. Matt Cassel is looking to have a rebound year and the Chiefs are solid on the offensive and defensive lines. A lot like Tampa in the NFC, this team took a step back although they have a good roster and should bounce back nicely in 2012.

As for the Chargers, they are the AFC West version of the Houston Texans. A lot of good football players but lack the playmakers to change games. Add to that WR Vincent Jackson is now down in Tampa and someone new has to emerge. Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback but he can’t go it alone. The Chargers will frustrate their fans as they lose close ball games all year. Until a few playmakers emerge they will watch the playoffs alongside the Oakland Raiders.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

2012 NFC Picks & Prognostications

Well the 2012 season is upon us and the question beckons: Who will make it to Super Bowl XLVII?? Every NFL team believes they have made moves to improve their roster yet only 15 or so really has a legitimate shot to make it to New Orleans. Each NFL season takes on a new look as new players make names for themselves, injuries derail teams and give hope to others, and then you have teams that come from out of nowhere. The latter rarely happens but when it does it makes for great theater.

An interesting thing happens the season after a surprise champion wins it, everyone thinks the team that should have won it, will win it the next year. Many are pointing to last year’s 15-1 Green Bay Packers to win it all. They were defending Super Bowl champions last year right? If the NFL were a television show like the NBA has become, I could understand your argument. However injuries and performance peaks and valleys alter a football team’s fortunes every season. In 2010, the Green Bay Packers were 10-6 with 16 players on injured reserve. Yet they rode the momentum of winning their final regular season game all the way to a championship. Last year they rested their players going into the playoffs and the Giants promptly took their lunch money in a quiet exit from the playoffs. The Giants used the same method Green Bay had used the year before: Get hot going into the playoffs.

As for The Chancellor’s crystal ball on the NFC this year:

2012 NFC Playoff Predictions

1. Detroit Lions 13-3 ##  NFC North Champs Homefield Advantage

2. Atlanta Falcons 11-5  NFC South Champs

3. San Francisco 49ers 11-5 NFC West Champs

4. New York Giants 10-6 NFC East Champs

5. Green Bay Packers 11-5 Wild Card

6. Chicago Bears 10-6 Wild Card

NFC CHAMPION: Detroit Lions

It’s hard for some to wrap the thought of the Lions playing in the Super Bowl but this team is growing in stature and has the perfect blend of youth and talent. The strides they made last season with a healthy Matthew Stafford were immense and puts them in position to come out of the pack in 2012 a better football team. They will mature into that team as this season progresses. The NFC North as a whole will be the scourge of the league with the Packers and Bears also making the playoffs. The Packers took a big loss when they placed 2011 leading tackler Desmond Bishop on injured reserve. If they lose 15 more, that’s the recipe for their winning it in 2011…

Many folks point to the Philadelphia Eagles as a team to come into this season with something to prove. Yet their recent history has Michael Vick missing several games due to injury and 2012 will be no different. In the first six games he faces 3 of last year’s top ten defenses. Andy Reid’s job will be on the line with another 8-8 season as owner Jeffrie Lurie alluded to, but they will win 10 games.

Now many Saints fans will think their team is back in the hunt with the suspensions of Jonathon Vilma and Will Smith overturned. The Chancellor doesn’t see that. First off, the team has an interim coach standing in for interim coach Joe Vitt. The game plans of Sean Payton and in-game adjustments will be missed. The loss in continuity with players missing all those practices and which coach has what responsibilities will result in a few clock management mistakes. Count on it. Many point to Drew Brees as though he can overcome all of these obstacles, not without his confidant in Payton. The Saints will struggle.

As for the Dallas Cowboys, right now they have the number one defense in the NFL… except no one else has played. They did look good  in the win over the New York Giants. DeMarco Murray ran hard. However it was just week one and the NFL season is a marathon, not a short sprint. In a long race, the NFC North Champion Detroit Lions will be the team standing at the finish.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

2012 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Robert Griffin III, the new hope for the Washington Redskins.

Its always interesting to watch the reaction of division foes when you have a surprise NFL champion. There will be responses from the Jerry Jones’ comments on the Cowboys “Super Bowl window closing.” As though they too can make the necessary leap from also ran to world titlist. You’ll have teams like the Washington Redskins make an immediate splash that will pay future dividends in drafting a dynamic quarterback like Robert Griffin III. While a loaded Eagle team, long thought to be the division’s most dominant, do minor tinkering figuring this to be the year they put it all together.

Meanwhile the steady Giants have just marched along with a ‘business as usual’ quiet approach to the new season.  However they did make a move in signing TE Martellus Bennett formerly of the Dallas Cowboys He will want to make an impact against his former team this Wednesday in the NFL’s Season Kickoff Classic.  How will things play out in the NFC East for 2012??

2012 NFC EAST PREDICTIONS

New York Giants 10-6 *

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 6-10

Washington Redskins 4-12  

Hate to say it but the buzzards will be circling Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett by week 10. Take a look at Dallas early schedule and tell us who they will beat in their first 8 games. Maybe Seattle and Carolina as the only sure wins. Then they follow that up with back to back road trips to face a playoff bound Falcon team and the hated Eagles. Of 2011’s top 13 ranked defenses, they face 8 of them in a total of 10 games which doesn’t include the two with the World Champion Giants. For a fan base that doesn’t entirely believe in Tony Romo this could be it as the Cowboys will face a truly difficult season. The pressure heaped on an under talented team by one Mr. Jerry Jones will come back to haunt them.               https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/05/26/the-chancellor-weighs-in-on-jerry-jones-comments-on-cowboys-super-bowl-window-closing/

As for the talented Eagles, they will frustrate their fans with games where they look like world beaters and then come up anemic against a team they should beat handily. Truth of the matter is we may have seen the best of Michael Vick already. At 32 years of age this isn’t the spry kid running around the SuperDome with Virginia Tech anymore. The hits have mounted and he has missed 7 games in the last two years. Now they have former Buffalo Bill Trent Edwards, who was a starter that was cut and not traded, backing him up and not a somewhat proven Mike Kafka. Uh oh!! Losing former Pro Bowl Tackle Jason Peters to injury this off-season is not going to help matters. Vick has to be more controlled with his feet and use his arm more to cut down on his hits. He goes down for another 3 or 4 games this season, that will be the losing streak that will allow the Giants to take the division from them when they face each other in Week 17.

McCoy operates best in space. To do so he needs Vick to remain healthy to be most effective.

For Eagles fans they have to realize the tactical disadvantage for RB LeSean McCoy this year if Vick goes down for any significant time. Sure he ran for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns but did so with Vick and Vince Young as quarterbacks. Peeling defensive ends and linebackers had to pay attention to those two mobile quarterbacks first. This gave McCoy freedom he won’t see with a stationary Trent Edwards on the field with him.

Although the Eagles ranked 8th in total defense in 2011, many are considering this a bounce back year for them. They did sign former Texans underrated LB DeMeco Ryans to anchor the middle of their defense and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the new starting corner opposite Namedi Asomugha. They definitely need Namedi to live up to the billing as the top cornerback in football after signing him to that big free agent contract last year. Have they found the best way to utilize him yet?? Time will tell but the truth of the matter is this isn’t the same Eagles team of promise at the end of 2010. They have come back to the NFC East pack.

The Robert Griffin III experience will start in DC. Much like Cam Newton did last year he will have the chance to start Week 1 and offer a glimpse of the Redskins future. The talent level of the rest of the roster will keep this team in the division cellar as Griffin III develops. It will be a season of growing pains as defenses in the latter part of the year will know his limitations and game-plan better. It happened to Cam Newton last year as it has every young quarterback once defensive co-ordinators have studied a young quarterbacks tendencies. How well will Shanahan and the Redskins adjust?? Long season but hope for the future.

Two time Super Bowl winner and coming into the prime of his career, Eli Manning.

For the 2012 season, the World Champion Giants are the best team in this division for an entire season. Each team will have their moments or 3 to 4 week stretches where they look great…but for 16 weeks?? Eli Manning becoming one of the NFL’s vanguard at quarterback. Jason Pierre-Paul coming into his own as another great New York pass rusher. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have the talent to be the best starting WR combination in football. The only weakness this team has is running the football for the tough 3rd and 1 or goal line situations. They will work that out with Ahmad Bradshaw as the season progresses. As for defense of their Super Bowl title?? Starts this Wednesday when they host the Dallas Cowboys and expect to chase Tony Romo out of the building.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

2012 NFC North Previews & Predictions

Julius Peppers has freakish athleticism for a man his size.

Just when you want to call it the return of the Black and Blue Division, you are reminded that these teams take to the air as much as any in pro football. The Chicago Bears were once the exception to this rule, however with reuniting Jay Cutler with WR Brandon Marshall, there will be footballs in the air in the Windy City. Don’t forget, the last time they played together Marshall caught 104 receptions for 1,265 yards and 6 touchdowns while both were voted to the Pro Bowl. That would go a long way in returning the Chicago Bears to the NFC Championship Game or beyond.

This is going to be the most competitive division in football this  year. We have witnessed the rebirth of the Lions, the Green Bay Packers are one season removed from defending  a Super Bowl championship, and you have a Chicago Bears team that has retooled on the run with some big name signings and acquisitions in recent years. The lone team out of contention this year will be the Minnesota Vikings. Sure stranger things have happened but to bank on a first time signal caller in Christian Ponder and RB Adrian Peterson returning from major knee surgery. How will they fare?

2012 NFC North Predictions

Detroit Lions 13-3 *

Green Bay Packers 11-5 #

Chicago Bears 10-6

Minnesota Vikings 3-13

Right now the perfect storm is brewing in Detroit. They are about to mature into a force that hasn’t been seen from this organization since the 1950s. You have to realize last year’s renaissance was no fluke. This year the defense will benefit from DT Nick Fairley being healthy from the start. His play will blossom with Ndamukong Suh and team sack leader DE Cliff Avril drawing double teams. Remember Avril signed a one year tender and will be playing for a bigger contract. He will be motivated to get after the quarterback.

Another benefit to the Lions attack will be the presence of RB Mikel Leshoure, who also missed all of last season and made it through the pre-season injury free. However the emergence of Joique Bell and Keiland Williams, who each rushed for 5.2 yards per carry in pre-season, will be there if Leshoure proves ineffective. The Lions ran with commitment and are intent on bringing balance to the offensive side of the ball. Ever since our first preview was written, The Chancellor’s crystal ball still comes up with the Lions winning this division on the arm of Matthew Stafford and a defense that is still making moves to improve against the pass. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/07/07/2012-detroit-lions-preview/ It’s rumored that veteran CB Drayton Florence could be headed to Detroit just 4 days after trading for former Redskin CB Kevin Barnes. The growth of these players and the overall maturation as a team will take this team deep into the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl.

The Packers have to free Clay Matthews III from double teams this year.

One team standing in the Lions way will be the Green Bay Packers who have bristled at the notion they have been passed up by their division rival. After all they did have a 15-1 campaign last year and swept Detroit in 2011. Yet their defense is too up and down and suffered a major setback with LB Desmond Bishop being placed on injured reserve and the player that can fill in, Frank Zombo, was placed on the PUP list. When you’re trying to improve on last year’s 32nd ranked defense, this is going in the wrong direction.

The one thing the Packers can do is move the football on offense. Aside from All World QB Aaron Rodgers the Packers have the best set of receivers in all of football.https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/06/19/2012-green-bay-packers-preview/  They will be forced to handle more of the workload and brought in RB Cedric Benson to aid the ground game.

This year the Packers season will turn because of a murderous second half schedule. Its a good thing they have 3 of their first 4 at home because in weeks 11 through 15 they’re at Detroit, at the New York Giants, home to the Vikings and Lions, and then a trip to Chicago to face a Bears team who will be in the thick of things. This team could lose as many as 4 of those match-ups with a defense not playing up to what their capable of. You can’t just line up and outscore everyone. Eventually you have to have your defense play well and in 2012, the defense is going to hold this team back.

Which brings us back to Chicago… With Matt Forte now signed to a long term deal, the Bears have their ‘big three” in Cutler, Marshall, and Matt Forte. However this pre-season did see WR Johnny Knox injured and put on the Physically Unable to Perform list which will allow him to come back this season. The Lions and Packers had better have their “A” game going. Any slip in play will result in the Bears taking their place in the post-season. Right now The Chancellor’s crystal ball has them on the outside looking in. Just barely outside.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

2012 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Second year wideout Julio Jones skies over a Ravens defensive back for a touchdown in last week’s preseason opener.

As the 2012 regular season beckons, many pundits and fans are looking for the Carolina Panthers to light up this division. There will be several young stars that will come to the fore in the toughest division in football, yet there will be one second year player who should take the league by storm. Oh you thought we meant Cam Newton?? He’ll do well but the player who is about to break out is WR Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. His play so far in the preseason along with the maturation he showed toward the end of last year. Look out his star is on the rise.

No division in football has been as competitive from top to bottom as the NFC South. Since its inception in 2002, there hasn’t been a repeat division winner and again its the only division to have every team play for the conference championship during that time. Each team can run at you physically, Atlanta with Michael Turner (1,340 yards in 2011), thunderous LeGarrette Blount (1,007 yards in 2010), former Heisman winner in Mark Ingram, and former twin thousand yard rushers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart in Carolina. Yet with last year’s emergence of Cam Newton and 2010’s Josh Freeman (25TDs to only 6 ints), each team fields better than average quarterbacks. This is before we get to record setting Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and 3 time playoff participant QB Matt Ryan. This division is stacked on offense…

However there are several questions moving into 2012. How will the Saints fare with the suspension of Head Coach Sean Peyton?? Will their game day adjustments suffer or will the overall gameplan be inferior?? Have the Panthers made enough moves to allow Cam Newton to star again or will he have a sophomore slump?? Which team was the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers?? Was it the 10-6 2010 team that was coming on at the end of that season or last year’s 4-11 debacle that got Head Coach Raheem Morris fired??

We’ll answer a few of those later in the article….as for our predictions

2012 NFC South Predictions

Atlanta Falcons 11-5 *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7

New Orleans Saints 9-7

Carolina Panthers 6-10

Now that the Saints signed Drew Brees to a long term deal: How will he fare this season without Sean Payton?? Payton and Brees have been lethal these last several years with game plans but they will suffer with game-day adjustments. There should be a drop off this season as Interim Coach Joe Vitt can’t put his stamp on the team. In a single season lame duck situation?? Not going to be good. More important, without their spiritual leader on defense with the suspension of Jonathon Vilma, this defense will give up points by the bushel and will behind in the race to win the south. As evidenced in Saturday night’s preseason game against Houston, this defense struggled in a 34-27 shootout. The Texans marched to two easy touchdowns while the starters were out there. Don’t forget the Saints were at home. How do you think they will fare when they are on the road this year?? http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2012082554/2012/PRE3/texans@saints#tab=recap&menu=highlights

They have a murderous schedule and will lose tie breaker advantages during the weeks of 12-15 where they face San Francisco, who beat them in last year’s playoffs. Then they face a stronger Atlanta Falcons team on the road, then travel to play the World Champion Giants in the cold, then come home to face a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Even though Tampa had a down year in 2011, they only lost 27-16 in New Orleans and defeated the Saints in the Superdome in 2010. At full strength with Coach Peyton, Jonathon Vilma on defense, the Saints would be in good shape against these ball clubs but with a coaching staff trying to keep the ship steady?? These are four losses waiting to happen and all to NFC teams. This is after they would have played the Packers at Lambeau in week 4, and the Philadelphia Eagle in week 9.  Too many in conference losses will doom the Saints this year.

Super Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Has there been a more electrifying rookie quarterback in NFL history than Cam Newton?? The Chancellor can only think of one and that was Dan Marino’s 1983 season. Yet a closer look and Newton broke the rookie record in week 1 with 422 yards against the Cardinals, rushed for 706 yards and 14 TDs (another record), while completing 60% of his passes for 4,021 yards (another record) and 21TDs. All as a rookie?? Yikes! That dwarfs Marino’s 20TD passes and didn’t start for Shula’s Dolphins until week 6 and was no threat with only 45 yards rushing. What is he going to do for an encore??

Once upon a time Tim Tebow was given the nod over Newton at the University of Florida. My how the tables have turned as the Panthers defeated Tebow and the Jets 17-12 last night in pre-season action.

The question is did they do enough to move up in the competitive NFC South?? They still have the “Cash & Carry” backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, who just signed an extension last week. Ageless Steve Smith revitalized his career with Newton’s emergence and may have a running partner in WR Louis Murphy who scored in last night’s game.  On offense the answer is yes, but on defense they haven’t done enough. They did get LB Thomas Davis back but they have to keep their fingers crossed he doesn’t injure his knee for a fourth time. They need all the help they can get on a defense that was 28th last year and finished 25th against the run. In this division that last stat will be what they need to improve and the draft only brought one lineman in 4th rounder Frank Alexander. New leaders have to emerge for the Panthers to make a  move up… that can happen in 2013. The problem is it’s still 2012 so they’ll improve just a few wins on offense as a team.

Former Boise St running back Doug Martin should rush for 1,200 yards for Tampa this season.

Now a team that will be the surprise winner in this division is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year this team dropped to 30th in the NFL in rushing and brought unnecessary heat on QB Josh Freeman. Team brass addressed that with 1st round selection RB Doug Martin out of Boise St. With the rushing attack under performing it also kept the Buccaneers defense from resting. In 2011 this was a run first, pass second team that went 10-6. Josh Freeman had the second lowest touchdown to interception ratio, 25TDs to just 6 interceptions, to a record setting Tom Brady. With the acquisition of WR Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers to go along with TE Kellen Winslow Jr, WR Mike Williams and WR Arrelios Benn, this team has some big targets.

Speaking of Tom Brady, the Buccaneer defense made his life miserable in pre-season action Friday night. The Bucs pass rush harassed him all night and made him throw a pick six in a 30-28 win. Brady played into the 3rd quarter (unheard of in pre-season) and New England needed 2 4th quarter touchdowns to make the score close. One of the differences was the efficient play of Freeman and Doug Martin, who rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries and sat out more than half the game. This talent who has been a Taylor Blitz Time favorite https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/08/02/2011-heisman-campaign-doug-martin-of-boise-st/ will tilt the balance of power for them from a tactical standpoint all year. They should return to form and match the 10-6 record of 2010. They’ll be ready to make a serious move in 2013.

However 2012 will belong to the Atlanta Falcons. They have built for this season for the last four and this is the year for the payoff. TE Tony Gonzalez can’t go forever and RB Michael Turner is about to turn 30. When the Falcons lost in last year’s wildcard to the New York Giants, it marked the second season in a row their season ended at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champions. As a matter of fact, if you include the 2009 NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, 3 of the last 4 seasons has ended at the hands of the eventual NFC Champion. Its time for their maturation and ascend to a Super Bowl themselves. Head Coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have to prove they can win a playoff game. They are primed as a team talent wise to make a move.

Next up: NFC North

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2012 Denver Broncos Preview

Peyton Manning running no huddle offense during OTAs.

Has there ever been a team that had two totally different quarterbacks to fawn over in NFL history in back to back seasons?? Last year Tebow hysteria reigned supreme as the Broncos had 5 last second come from behind victories. His quarterback legitimacy was debated from coast to coast making Tim a national figure. Now all of a sudden, they have one of the NFL’s most iconic figures in Peyton Manning going under center for them. The Broncos have to be near the top in merchandising right now.

Going into 2012,  the questions that arise are: Does Manning have the receivers that will allow him to flourish in the Mile High City?? Is he going to have the same zip on the ball as the season wears on?? Can his teammates rise to the occasion and help Manning become only the second quarterback in league history to win championships with two different teams?? Most of these answers will be of the wait and see variety but Manning didn’t come to Denver just to continue his career. He wants to win another ring and solidify his legacy as one of the all time great quarterbacks. A quarterback winning two championships with two different teams has only happened once before in NFL history (Norm van Brocklin) and hasn’t been achieved in 52 years. Peyton…your mission should you choose to accept it…

Quarterback: Speaking of which, is it me or does this feel a lot like 1993 when Joe Montana joined the Kansas City Chiefs after a year away due to injury?? Of course the skeptics are wondering if Manning has totally healed while others marvel at the thought of him playing like the quarterback of old in a new city. Well from all accounts the zip on his passes in mini-camps has been there. The real question is will those same passes have the zip on them as we head toward the end of the season??

Not out of the question when you remember he sat out an entire season and this will be his 15th. Bouncing back from a neck injury had to retard the throwing of the football to a degree and it may show up as fatigue late in the season. The psychological fallout for an athlete recovering from injury is a delicate thing. What is uncertain is how Manning will take hits this season. Will he be guilty of looking down at the rush once he starts getting hit?? This is one of the tell-tale signs of an aging signal caller also. As we alluded to earlier, the Broncos were 23rd in sacks allowed with 42. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/03/19/peyton-manning-sweepstakes-ends-in-denver/ Yet his best asset is his ability to audible out of situations when he knows the blitz is coming. He will also have a running game to aid him when that does happen.  In Indianapolis he didn’t have that luxury the last five years. We’ll have to wait and see how he responds.

One of the intriguing early battle lines is the teams that have best defensed Manning will see him this year. The Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, & New England Patriots have shown the penchant to mask their blitzing intentions until the play clock was under :10 seconds, then come after him. Put him in position where he doesn’t have time to audible and then come. It’s proven to disrupt Manning and cause a few misreads. He faces the Steelers in week 1 at home but weeks 5, 9, and 15 he goes on the road to play those Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens. On paper he’s still a Super Bowl quarterback and this will be an interesting season.

McGahee was a workhorse for the Broncos last year.

Offensive Backfield: By all accounts this was a really sound rushing attack last season. Willis McGahee resurrected a career rushing for his 4th 1,000 yard season for his 3rd team. In 2011, McGahee ran for 1,199 yards on 249 carries and averaged a gaudy 4.8 yard average. However he’ll be 31 years old in October and his years are few as a featured back. In fact his play came about with the inability of Knowshon Moreno to remain healthy and has become a point of diminishing returns for the Denver Broncos.

To that avail the Broncos will go with McGahee’s more physical style and turn to 3rd round draft pick Ronnie Hillman from San Diego State barring any injury. At 5’9, 200 lbs, Hillman is a straight ahead runner with little side to side shiftiness. Reminds The Chancellor of Olandis Gary from a few years back. One cut and go… If Hillman has a good camp Moreno should be cut this preseason. Running back should be of playoff quality in Denver.

Receivers: So here it is, you’re a receiver for the Denver Broncos in the off-season. After your morning yawn and stretch you click on your computer or turn on the television and see your team just signed Peyton Manning to be your quarterback. Would that be the equivalent of Christmas in July?? For Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, this off-season must have flown by now that they have one of the league’s best passers in-house. The wideout who stands to be the go to guy will be Decker. He will look to improve on last year’s 44  reception 612 yard season that saw him score 8 times. He grew up in a major way last year amid pedestrian quarterbacking and is the shiftier route runner of the two. Thomas is a big receiver at 6’3, 230 pounds and doesn’t really fit the mold of the receivers Manning has had during his career. We look to a new receiver across from Decker by the time the season begins. Whether it’s another free agent brought in or if Andre Caldwell or Jason Hill can quickly pick up the offense will decide on if this team can take to the air or not.

One receiver that will figure prominently will be TE Jacob Tamme. Where he was a second tight end and third option early in his career, he will become the safety outlet Manning needs. Two years ago in Indy he proved to be valuable with a 67 catch season and should finish with 80 or more in 2012. Until a solid receiver unseats Thomas this position is slightly below average and could force the Broncos to be a running team once again.

Peyton Manning’s new bodyguard Ryan Clady

Offensive Line: Well the ink is just drying on the contract extension that locks up LT Ryan Clady that should allow Manning to remain upright. This Boise St product has proven to be the best young tackle in the game today. Its paramount the line protects better than last year’s performance with 42 sacks allowed. However it was a three-fold issue. Clady didn’t have as a good a year as he had wanted giving up 9 sacks. Once you couple that with Tim Tebow scrambling around and inexperienced receivers not being able to get open and you see why the sacks totals were so high.

The line is relatively young with its most senior member G Chris Kuper entering his 7th season. They will rely on Manning getting rid of the ball quicker to lower the quarterback hits from 68 a year ago also. It was this group that led the Broncos to the #1 ranking when it comes to rushing the football. Every RB posted an average attempt better than 4.2 yards while McGahee and Moreno each averaged a gaudy 4.8. The league average is roughly 4.0 so you can see how effective this group was. This is a Super Bowl quality offensive line yet needs some help at receiver and looks to Manning’s quick decisions to improve their protection stats.

Defensive Line: Last year’s defense was extremely opportunistic while keeping games close. Overall their ranking was 20th yet tied for 10th in sacks with 41, 9.5 of them from Pro Bowl End Elvis Dumervil. They played well enough at the end of games however the first 3 quarters they gave a lot of ground. The Broncos used a hodge podge defensive front of Dumervil (33 tackles/ 9.5 sacks), Robert Ayers (41 tackles /3 sacks) on the ends, and Broderick Bunkley (48 tackles)  and Marcus Thomas (46 tackles) who manned the middle. This group gave up a lot of ground at 22nd against the run. To that avail 1st round draft pick Derek Wolfe out of Cincinnati will have a chance to start. Another was used on Malik Jackson from Tennessee in the 5th round. He should see some time opposite Dumervil on pass rushing situations. Right now he may be too green to play immediately as an every down lineman. It should shape up to be a good camp and right now the grade for this group is slightly below average. Let’s see how they come out of the summer.

The Broncos hit a home run with rookie linebacker Von Miller.

Linebackers: The real strength of this defense lies right here. Von Miller made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and had the most impact at his position this division has seen since Derrick Thomas. After a 65 tackle, 11.5 sack, 3 forced fumble season it will be interesting to see what he does for an encore. With Dumervil 100% and a young pass rusher in Malik Jackson this team could form the fiercest rush in the AFC. Only a monster of a rookie season would have us list Miller over the team’s leading tackler. All DJ Williams (The [[_]]) did was make 97 total tackles, 5 sacks while forcing 2 fumbles. Despite missing 3 games. Fast, active and aggressive were fellow linebackers were Wesley Woodyard (90 tackles) and Joe Mays (83 tackles). That was good enough for the top 3 tackling spots and 4 of the top 5.

The only issue is they need to make a few plays while the ball is in the air. Not a single interception from the group and only 11 passes defended between the 4 of them.  They’re young enough that they should see some improvement in 2012. This a playoff caliber group and if the play is more instinctive against the pass and there isn’t a sophomore slump from Miller, this group can be Super Bowl caliber.

Secondary: How abysmal can an NFL secondary be?? This team could get after the passer and all this group could muster was 9 interceptions?? In fact they are one of only two teams that had more than 40 sacks and single digit interception which tied them for second to last in the NFL. Terrible. The Chancellor has always felt Champ Bailey is overrated. Last year he did make the Pro Bowl with a  40 tackle, 2 interception season with 10 passes defended. Seriously?? The kid corners in New England had better seasons than that. It may also illustrate going into his 14th season, Bailey may no longer be an elite athlete. Keep your eye on his coverage later this season as his play might slip as the bumps and bruises pile up.

Former Saint Tracy Porter signed a one year deal with the Broncos.

Broncos brass really felt the need to do something with their weak play on the corner. They released Andre Goodman in April and signed Drayton Florence. Yet it’s the ghost of Super Bowl XLIV past that will be the starter opposite Bailey in former Saint CB Tracy Porter. You remember him don’t you?? He was the one that sealed Peyton Manning’s fate in the Super Bowl with his 74 yard interception return for a touchdown. He’s only going into his fifth season, runs a 4.37 / 40 and should be the starter for several years to come. We say that because he signed a one year deal and he’s playing for his long-term future. Another intriguing player will be 4th round pick Omar Bolden who will make the team.

After a season where neither safety intercepted a pass it was time to move on with SS Brian Dawkins. A great leader who was tough against the run yet a liability against the pass. Right now they have 5 safeties on the roster and we could see two new safeties back there. Keep your eye on second year safety Rahim Moore #26.  Has a lot of range and should have learned a ton from an old pro like Dawkins. As a secondary this group has made enough moves to be average this season.

Overall: Under normal circumstances, Peyton Manning should mean 4-5 more wins this year for the Denver Broncos. However there are too many holes in the receiving corps. Too bad they didn’t keep Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal around. These guys would have flourished with Manning. However the Broncos wouldn’t have landed DE Malik Jackson had they not dealt Lloyd. Nevertheless, the other side of the equation is everyone is expecting the Manning of old. If the Broncos try to throw it around like the 2005-2010 Colts, this team could have a losing record in 2012. They will have to play more like the 1999-2004 Colts team that ran the ball more with Egerrin James (The [[_]]) and they can with McGahee (The [[_]]). Use play action and let Manning ease into throwing more moderately than he did in his latter Colt years. This will rest a defense that was thrown into too many bad situations last year. When teams could move on them…they were blown away. The Broncos will struggle on offense early and will hit their stride by midseason. All told this team should be able to move to a record of 9-7 if Manning can hold up the full season. With a murderous start of Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston Texans before Manning gets baptized in the Broncos / Raiders rivalry. They will start 2-2 at best.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Next up: Cincinnati Bengals