- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Broncos in 2012.
Dream scenario (11-5): Peyton Manning takes a 2011 playoff team to the Super Bowl, which the Broncos win, of course. I find this scenario to be unlikely, but it is possible -- because I won’t doubt the greatness of Manning. For this to occur, Manning’s new teammates will have to quickly adapt to an offense that is extremely different than what they ran with Tim Tebow behind center. But, of course, Manning will be orchestrating it and can get an awful lot of out his teammates. The Broncos’ run defense improved dramatically from 2010 to 2011. They did lose their best run defender in Brodrick Bunkley, but if they can overcome that loss and remain strong in this department, it will go a long way toward getting opposing offenses into third-and-long situations. Denver’s pass-rushing duo of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, along with what looks like a vastly improved set of cornerbacks, could make things very difficult on opposing passing games. All of this plays well into the hands of the offense and Manning. Also, unlike the Manning years in Indianapolis, the Broncos were exceptional overall on special teams last season. There is no reason that shouldn’t keep up. Denver has quickly built this team around Manning, and to win now.
Nightmare scenario (4-12): Of course, the huge nightmare scenario for Denver is if Manning takes a big hit early in the season and is sidelined. As great as Manning has supposedly looked during his recovery process, taking big hits is the true test of this elder statesman’s health. As I alluded to above, I have some doubts as to how well the holdover Denver offensive players will adapt to the Manning way of playing offense. It will be like going from The Flintstones to The Jetsons. The offensive line is the spot that worries me most in this drastic transition. The offense now requires the linemen to be athletic, move in unison, excel with the mental aspects of the position, and be on the same page as Manning with all of his pre-snap adjustments. As is also the case with the receiver routes and adjustments, all of these drastic adjustments will take a lot of time and a ton of practice and game repetitions. Defensively, the loss of Bunkley does loom large, and the middle of this defense could be vulnerable. Also, the Broncos could also really use one more pass-rush threat to step up. Denver also will play a first-place schedule, and half of its games against the AFC North and NFC South, which seems very daunting. The rest of the division really fought injury problems in 2011; the Broncos remained quite fortunate on that front. If it goes bad in Denver this season, it might go really bad … like 4-12 bad.