When you have Peyton Manning running things on the field and John Elway running things inside the building, it’s never too early to start thinking Super Bowl XLVIII.
Denver Bronco fans picked up good vibes last season and are hungry for more – even though the games that really matter won’t start until after that last Christmas present is unwrapped.
The Broncos’ 13-3 record in Manning’s first season at the controls would be the reason Denver is one of the favorites to win it all next time around – the stunning loss to Baltimore in the playoffs be damned.
According to a variety of oddsmakers, there are four teams rated far in front of all the others: Denver, New England, San Francisco and Seattle.
The oddsmakers are right on. It’ll be Denver against San Francisco in the Super Bowl and Denver will win it, 33-24.
Here’s the script more than six months early:
First, San Francisco, a defense-oriented team that features a tough running game with the occasional land or air explosion from young quarterback Colin Kaepernick, will earn home-field advantage in the NFC and defeat Atlanta, then Seattle to earn its Super Bowl spot.
San Francisco and Seattle will both be better than they were last season. Green Bay will be an offensive force thanks to QB Aaron Rogers, but won’t have the defense to handle either the Seahawks or 49ers. Ditto Atlanta.
Other possible darkhorse challengers from the NFC? Chicago, possibly Detroit, maybe the Giants. Minnesota and Washington, playoff teams last year, will regress. The Cowboys will still be the Cowboys.
Now comes the easy part of the equation, the AFC.
Denver will romp through the AFC West despite a big improvement from Kansas City. The Chiefs have a new coach in Andy Reid, a new QB in Alex Smith and a running game second to none. They will hop over the Chargers and Raiders, but the Broncos will still win the West by at least two games.
The Patriots will win the East, but won’t be nearly the team we have seen recently because QB Tom Brady’s security blanket Wes Welker is now in Denver and both tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, will not stay healthy over the entire season.
Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark hit it on the head recently, saying, “I think what’s really underestimated is Wes Welker’s importance to not only the New England Patriots, but Tom Brady. Losing him is huge. … Even when guys aren’t around (Brady), even when he’s not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we’ll see him duck, we’ll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away.”
That Patriot mystique took a big hit last year when Baltimore physically pounded them in the playoffs.
It will take a bigger hit this season.
As for Baltimore, the Ravens have re-signed QB Joe Flacco and have stud running back Ray Rice, but lost wide receiver Anquan Boldin and virtually its entire defense. Case closed.
Perennial power Pittsburgh will put up a fight each week, but isn’t what it was two seasons ago.
Cincinnati is the team on the rise in the division and has added free agent and draft talent to both sides of the ball.
In the South, Houston and upstart Indy are the teams to watch.
The AFC playoffs will see Denver and Houston again having byes in the first round, with Denver then beating Indy at home and surprising Cincinnati – which will oust the Patriots – in the AFC Title Game.
Then it will be two long weeks of Super hype, Manning interviews, Elway interviews … and a third Super Bowl title as Manning, Welker & Co. simply have too much for the 49ers to stop.
There you have it: The next NFL season in a nutshell, literally.