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The carryover on defense is far more promising, but we're not talking Ravens or 49ers here. In linebacker Von Miller, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and end Elvis Dumervil, plus veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, the Broncos have the makings of a solid unit. That defense wore down late in 2011, however, particularly when Miller was either sidelined or slowed by a right thumb injury.
That the rest of the division's teams have even more question marks, especially with defenses that struggle either stopping the run or the pass -- or both -- helps make Denver an early favorite. That is, if Manning is, well, Manning.
Denver's schedule is brutal as a result of winning the AFC West. Home games with the Saints, Steelers and Texans await, plus trips to Baltimore, New England, Cincinnati and Atlanta, all 2011 playoff teams. With the NFL eager to showcase Manning early on in his new haunts, an opener against one of those opponents is likely -- in prime time.
Also of interest will be how Manning fares with 15 of 16 games outdoors. No more comfy confines inside an Indianapolis dome.
Consider this, as well: New England and Baltimore are perennial AFC powerhouses showing no signs of slowing down. Pittsburgh always is formidable, Houston is on the rise as much as any team in the conference. Make that the entire league.
Still, Denver figures to be more of a player in the AFC with a four-time MVP behind center.
"This isn't something where I'm just building a foundation to do something in two years or three years. This is a 'now' situation," Manning said. "We're going to do whatever we can to win right now. That's all I'm thinking about right now."
If he does it, if he is vintage Peyton Manning, the frenzy in Denver will surpass anything Tebowmania produced.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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