Commentary

AFC West should fear Broncos

Addition of Peyton Manning gives Denver a big leg up on divisional foes

Originally Published: March 19, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Peyton Manning has been used to dominating the AFC South.

Now that he has agreed to join the Denver Broncos, he can take control of the AFC West. With Hall of Famer John Elway guiding Manning through his mid-30s, they can work together to keep the Broncos ahead of the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders.

Elway, who won Super Bowls when he was 37 and 38, stressed to Manning the need for a balanced offense. Running back Terrell Davis made the Broncos and Elway more dangerous. As the Broncos proved in a Tim Tebow-run offense, they can run the football.

Where that is important is Manning's future matchups with the San Diego Chargers. About a week ago, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he would welcome Manning to the division. Why not? Rivers won four of his past five games against the Colts and Manning, including two in the playoffs.

Manning
Brian Spurlock/US PresswirePeyton Manning should be able to propel Denver to the 11- or 12-win level.

The Chargers and Rivers didn't fear the Colts because they matched up well. The reason: the Colts' inability to run the football. They had good, not great, runners. Willis McGahee gave the Broncos a solid running threat last season, and Elway and Manning might scheme to make it better and give the Broncos the balance to beat the Chargers and the rest of the AFC West.

Denver coach John Fox took a team that appeared to have four-win talent to the playoffs with an 8-8 season. If 8-8 is the base, Manning could get the Broncos to 11 or 12 wins. If that's the case, the division is theirs.

The AFC West is an interesting division for quarterbacks. Rivers is elite, but his offense is in transition, having lost Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson and others in the past two years. The Raiders traded away the future to get Carson Palmer. The Chiefs have a solid, but not great quarterback in Matt Cassel.

If the Chargers had more offensive stability, they would have continued to rule the AFC West. The past two seasons of struggles have allowed the Chiefs and Broncos to snatch the division title from San Diego. Now, Manning can steal the show and rule the division until he retires.

In Denver, Manning won't have to throw 40 times to win games. I'm sure the Broncos will try to add Dallas Clark, Manning's favorite tight end target. They might try to replace Knowshon Moreno with another back. Joseph Addai could be one possibility, but now that the Panthers have added Mike Tolbert, it's not out of the question for Fox to trade for Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams to augment McGahee, who isn't getting any younger. He's 30, and coming off a 1,199-yard season.

Manning meant a least six wins a season for the Colts. If he is half the quarterback he was in Indianapolis, he should provide three extra wins for the Broncos. That puts them ahead in their division.

Now that Elway has acquired Manning, he can do some wheeling and dealing. Someone came up with an interesting option. Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow but now he's in New England. What if Elway were to trade Tebow to the Patriots for Ryan Mallett, who is sitting behind Tom Brady, learning the NFL passing game?

Tebow could perform in situational plays for the Patriots. Mallett could learn behind Manning as he did behind Brady.

Fans love Tebow, but he could take the Broncos to only a certain level. Manning can take the Broncos a mile higher.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer