Peyton Manning Leads Broncos as Early Favorites to Take AFC West Crown

Peyton Manning Leads Broncos as Early Favorites to Take AFC West CrownThe Denver Broncos had the NFL's most talked-about quarterback in 2011, and they will again for the 2012 season even though it’s a different player under center.

The biggest player news this offseason centered on the Broncos as they signed future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning after he was released by Indianapolis. Manning missed last season after neck surgery and his arm strength still isn't what it was before the surgery and may never be. But few quarterbacks are more accurate than Manning and no signal-caller is more football-savvy.

Since Broncos boss John Elway had Manning, he traded the pop culture phenomenon that was Tim Tebow to the New York Jets. Despite being the worst passer in the NFL, Tebow rallied the Broncos with his legs and fourth-quarter magic from a 1-4 start to finish 8-8 and win the AFC West in 2011. The Broncos upset the reigning AFC champion Steelers in the wild-card round before being blown out by the Patriots.

Manning personally hasn't had a losing record since 2001 and he led the Colts to nine straight 10-win seasons and playoff berths from 2002-2010 before sitting out last year. But No. 18 doesn’t have quite the offensive talent around him in Denver. It’s a safe bet that the Broncos won’t finish 31st in the NFL in passing again this season.

The Broncos haven't repeated as division champs since 1986-87, when Elway's teams dropped back-to-back Super Bowls. But the Broncos are +170 favorites to win the West again in 2012 at Bovada. Manning's Broncos career begins Sept. 9 vs. Pittsburgh, with Denver projected an early one-point favorite at the book. Manning renews his rivalry with Tom Brady and the Patriots on Oct. 15. The Broncos' over/under wins total is set at nine, with the over a -120 favorite.

San Diego owned the AFC West from 2006-09 but has missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons as one of the NFL's most disappointing teams. Another missed postseason could signal the end for general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner.

Even after losing top receiver Vincent Jackson, the Chargers (8-8 last year) should have one of the NFL’s top offenses with quarterback Philip Rivers, emerging running back Ryan Mathews and healthy Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. The Bolts made up for the loss of Jackson by adding receivers Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish to give Rivers plenty of targets.

San Diego actually was the only AFC West team with a positive points differential last year (plus-29), but turnovers killed the Bolts – Rivers led the league with 25 giveaways. San Diego's over/under wins total for 2012 is set at nine.

Kansas City was the only AFC West team to finish under .500 last year with a 7-9 record. The Chiefs were killed by early season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles, the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2010. In addition, former Patriot Matt Cassel struggled when healthy and this is likely a make-or-break season for the QB in Kansas City.

This is the first full season for Romeo Crennel as the team's head coach. He was the Chiefs' defensive coordinator last season but replaced fired head coach Todd Haley on an interim basis after Week 14. Crennel led the Chiefs to a 2-1 finish, including an upset of unbeaten Green Bay, to earn the full-time job. Kansas City is +350 to win the West, which it did back in 2010. The Chiefs' over/under win total is set at eight.

The Oakland Raiders were 8-8 last season for the second year in a row after a string of losing seasons from 2003-09. Oakland has one of the NFL's top backs in Darren McFadden, but he has trouble staying healthy. The Raiders were 4-2 in the six full games McFadden played in 2011 (foot injury) and he led the NFL with 610 rushing yards through six games.

McFadden has yet to play with QB Carson Palmer, who was acquired during the 2011 season from Cincinnati. Oakland hasn't won the West since losing in Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season and the Raiders are the +500 long shots to do so this season. Oakland's over/under wins total is set at seven, with the under a -130 favorite.

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