- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last season, Peyton Manning was supposed to make a tour of the NFC South.
That was supposed to include a rare sellout and prime-time game at Raymond James Stadium and Manning’s return to New Orleans, the city where he grew up and where his family is royalty. There also were supposed to be games with Manning going against Carolina and Atlanta. But none of that happened.
Manning missed all of last season with a neck injury and the Indianapolis Colts suddenly became very mediocre without their quarterback.
Manning left the Colts and signed with the Denver Broncos. All reports indicate he’s been working out and throwing the football very well. That’s great news for the Broncos, but not necessarily good news for the NFC South.
That’s because Manning and the Broncos, who made the playoffs last season with Tim Tebow and a great defense, are schedule to play each of the four NFC South teams.
Let’s take a look at Manning’s schedule games against the NFC South:
Sept. 17, Denver at Atlanta: It’s the home opener for the Falcons and this is a Monday night game. The good news is that Manning still might be adjusting to the Denver offense or perhaps, more accurately, the Broncos still might be trying to pick up Manning’s offense. But you know Manning’s going to be ready to make an impact in a nationally televised game. New Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is bringing a new scheme and attitude. It better be clicking by Week 2.
Oct. 28, New Orleans at Denver: The Saints face a season of uncertainty, but one thing is for sure. Joe Vitt will be making his debut as interim head coach in this Sunday night game. Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is expected to supervise the team. The biggest unknown hanging out there is if the Saints will have players suspended for their role in the bounty program. If so, it’s possible they could be back by this game and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have had time to put his stamp on the defense. Any Manning-led offense is going to be productive. But the good news is, as long as quarterback Drew Brees gets his contract situation resolved, the New Orleans offense should be able to score enough to stay with any team.
Nov. 11, Denver at Carolina: Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever and this matchup with Cam Newton could put him up against the league’s next great quarterback. Carolina’s defense should be better than it was a year ago and it will need to be if the Panthers are going to have any chance at giving former coach John Fox an unpleasant homecoming.
Dec. 2, Tampa Bay at Denver: By this late in the season, the Bucs will have had a chance to develop an identity. They’ll need to be much better on both sides of the ball to have any shot at staying with Manning and the Broncos.