Just last season, the AFC West was the battle to see which of the mediocre teams would stumble upon the division crown. That team ended up being the Denver Broncos after the Raiders lost to the Chargers in the season finale. Now that same Bronco team may have just gotten a huge boost in their bid to actually earn the division title as Peyton Manning heads to Mile High.
First off, Peyton is very much a boom or bust for the Broncos. He has been cleared to play after suffering a severe, career-threatening neck injury that kept him out all of last season. If it turns out he is not ready or perhaps that he never will be, the Broncos will have likely shipped off Tim Tebow and be in a worse position than where they started. Not to mention they would be quite a bit lighter in the wallet.
But let's just say Manning is healthy...
The Broncos were the one team in the AFC West that hadn't made much noise in free agency as they were waiting on Manning's decision. Now they will become active in free agency and have a 6-5 All Pro, future Hall of Fame quarterback as the ultimate recruiting tool. Broncos running back Willis McGahee already tweeted as much today when he said "To all my free agents across the nfl, I think u know what time it is. It's about to go down..."
Free agents looking for a team they can win with will now consider the Broncos as a great option and may just take less money for a chance to be a part of it. And Broncos' current free agents will be much more likely to want to stay now. Just look at the difference Peyton Manning made to the Colts? If we had known just how bad that Colts team would be without him, he would have been the MVP every season of his career.
Outside of his rookie season, with Manning as the Colts quarterback, the team had only one season out of twelve without double digits in the win column. Prior to his arrival the team went 3-13. After his departure, they went 2-14. The recipe is simple: For success, just add Peyton Manning.
The rest of the AFC West was already scrambling to improve their teams. Well, the Chargers and Chiefs were. The Raiders are taking a more measured approach. Which is somewhat surprising considering the overall lack of draft picks the team has this season. It could very well be that Reggie McKenzie has simply accepted the fact that the salary cap situation the Raiders are facing has the team looking long term at the expense of immediate success.
As my friend John Dickenson from 95.7 The Game pointed out; Peyton's career record versus the AFC West is 13-7 with 37 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. The Raiders are a combined 2-3 versus Manning. However, they have lost three straight and haven't beaten him since 2001.
The interesting development now is the latest free agent the Raiders are hosting is the man who dashed Peyton's hopes at a second Super Bowl ring three years ago. Tracy Porter intercepted a pass in that Super Bowl and returned it for a touchdown to help the Saints beat Manning and the Colts.
The news of Manning going to Denver should put more of a sense of urgency on McKenzie and the Raiders to sign Porter. The Super Bowl interception aside, the Raiders need another corner. And with them facing Manning twice a year, that needs becomes more dire than ever.
Overall, Manning will shine a light on the AFC West. The division now has four Pro Bowl quarterbacks in it with Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Matt Cassel. This could mean any team facing the Broncos late in the season could be bumped to primetime or at very least get preference for TV coverage in non-local markets. Tickets sales when the Broncos come to town will sell out and there will some exciting storylines to follow.
It will be odd to see Manning in a Broncos jersey though. He probably feels that way more than anyone. And while his rivalry with the Patriots used to cause a "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" feeling in most Raider fans, now he is more the enemy than ever.
The Broncos already won the AFC West last season and are now the odds on favorites to win it again and for the foreseeable future. But no one said that winning would be easy for the rest of the division. The Raiders as well as the Chargers and Chiefs will have to step up their games and make it a real competition. But isn't that what they should have been doing all along?