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Point/Counterpoint: Does Peyton Manning make Denver a Super Bowl contender?

By Greg Keiser and Tim Fontenault
On March 22, 2012

Greg: The Denver Broncos went to the playoffs last season with Tim Tebow as their quarterback. By replacing Tebow with a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, the Broncos are immediately and drastically improved. They have a solid defense that includes another Hall of Famer in Champ Bailey and the best young linebacker in football, Von Miller. A resurgent Willis McGahee rushed for 1,199 yards, and receiver Demaryius Thomas showed signs of brilliance in the playoffs. Manning turns this playoff caliber team into an instant Super Bowl contender.

Tim: The Denver Broncos are a decent football team made better by Peyton Manning, but let's face it, the Colts teams Manning played on in Indianapolis would demolish what the Broncos currently have in place, and yet Manning has only played in two Super Bowls. Why? Because there are too many other teams standing in their way. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are both going to be in the mix and the defending AFC champion New England Patriots already look better then they did last year. The Broncos brought in Manning to throw to a mediocre at best wide receiving core while the Patriots bring in Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez for Tom Brady to throw to as secondary options to Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Julien Edelman and Chad Ochocinco.

Greg: Mentioning Donte Stallworth, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, and especially Chad Ochocinco isn't going to help your argument. But I understand what you're saying. There are better teams on paper than the Broncos. Although, I don't think it's fair to say that the Colts teams Manning played on would demolish the Broncos. Just a year after going 10-6, the Colts went 2-14 last season without Manning. And give the Broncos some credit. They beat Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in the playoffs. Anything can happen in the postseason, and the Broncos should win their division easily. The Chargers are in a decline, the Raiders haven't put together a full season in about a decade and the Chiefs simply don't have the personnel. Any team with Peyton Manning in the playoffs has a chance to bring home a title.

Tim: The Steelers defense that got burned on the final play of that game was missing the majority of it's defensive starters at that point, particularly Ryan Clark who was replaced by Ryan Mundy, the safety who got burned. And that 2010 Colts team had Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Bob Sanders all on Injured Reserve so a case can be made that that was the big factor that season. Anyways, the Broncos should win the division, no arguments here, but if you're ranking Super Bowl favorites in the AFC, I still think New England is the favorite. Make good use of the 27th and 31st picks (I like Mel Kiper's prediction of getting UConn's own Kendall Reyes and Alabama's Dante Hightower if available) and you fix the defensive bugs. They'll be a lot healthier on defense this year and I suspect Patriots fans should have a lot to be excited about. The Steelers and Ravens, like I said, they're always a threat, always strong. They will be extremely tough outs. Then there's the new team in the talks, the Houston Texans. This is a team that has finally broken through and made some noise. If Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are healthy, watch out. The Broncos have the potential, but there are four teams who they need to show they can beat and I'm not sure if they can.

Greg: Even without all that has gone on the past year surrounding Manning, I would never underestimate him. Considering the year he's had, it would be flat out foolish to not consider his team to be a Super Bowl contender. Manning is widely considered to be one of the most competitive players in the NFL. Colts owner Jim Irsay cut Manning to clear the way to draft an unproven rookie player in Andrew Luck. Manning undoubtedly feels that he has something to prove. And on top of that, Manning must be itching to play after sitting out the entire year. We can banter over how good some of these AFC teams are, but the bottom line is that Manning has a chip on his shoulder, and that is very dangerous. I doubt Vegas will have Broncos as the favorite to win this year, but I'll take my chances with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time and a playoff proven team.

Tim: Without a doubt, if I'm picking a guy I want under center in the Playoffs, Peyton Manning is my guy, but I think the Broncos have their work cut out for them. The entire offense will be learning a new offense after playing in a system that catered to Tim Tebow's skills and they also have to learn the ways of Peyton when he gets out of the huddle. How often do we see the play get changed on the line when Peyton's calling signals? I'm not saying they can't adjust and have a big year, but it is tough. Training Camp and the preseason can only help so much. It's something that may take a few weeks of the regular season to get used to. Peyton puts that team on a new level, but he also needs more than two targets to throw to. Even with that said, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas need to adjust to what will certainly be bigger roles in 2012. We all know that the passing game is vital to getting to the Super Bowl. Manning brings one of the best arms ever, but Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and company were used to playing like that. Before last year, Manning had played in every regular season game for 13 seasons. Over that time, he averaged about 555 passes per season with a career 64.9 completion percentage. I think the Broncos need to draft a wide receiver. Maybe they'll get lucky and see Michael Floyd's name on the board at 25, but Kendall Wright, Aishon Jeffery or even Mohamed Sanu, who made Rutgers look pretty good, are all good pickups at the position. With what's there now, I don't see the Broncos, even with Manning, able to get past the teams I mentioned. Defense is still the difference maker. We saw that with the Steelers loss to Denver. We saw that with the Patriots loss to the Giants. Both those defenses were really banged up and despite having Ben Reothlisberger and Tom Brady respectively under center, both mentioned among the likes of Manning over the past decade, they fell short. The Giants went 8-8 in the regular season, but their defense stepped up huge when it needed to and that's why they're Super Bowl champions. If that doesn't happen, even with little brother Eli Manning as quarterback, they don't even make the Super Bowl.

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