The All Pro quarterback was coming off missing an entire season with a serious neck injury that forced him to undergo several surgeries. Doctors cleared him to play prior to last season which immediately had several suitors lined up to test him out. The Broncos won the Manning lottery.
Manning didn't disappoint those who still believed in his abilities - namely Broncos GM John Elway. He had a monster season and led the Broncos to the playoffs. The Broncos will remain the team to beat in the AFC West as long as Manning is at the helm of their offense. This means if any of their division rivals plan on beating them, they have to focus their attentions on stopping him.
For the Raiders, two of their biggest weaknesses are those which play right into Manning's hands. They are weaknesses Dennis Allen intends on addressing in this year's draft.
"In our division we've got one of the best that's ever played the game in Peyton Manning so we've gotta do things that build our team to be able to affect the quarterback," said Dennis Allen. "You do that through rush and coverage. So, you've gotta find guys that can cover and you've gotta find guys that can get after the quarterback."
The Raiders were sorely lacking in both pass rush and pass coverage last season. Their top pass rushers were Desmond Bryant and Lamarr Houston who tied for the team lead with just 4.0 sacks each. Opposite Houston at the defensive end position was Matt Shaughnessy who had just 3.5 sacks on the season.
This lack of a pass rush isn't just the play of the defensive ends but also the play of the interior defensive linemen. There is expected to be a complete changeover from 2012 starters Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.
In coverage, it was a patchwork of corners and even converted safety, Michael Huff.
The result was Peyton Manning throwing for over 300 yards in each of the Broncos wins over the Raiders last season and a total of four touchdowns to one interception.
Manning's numbers in their first meeting were great (338 yards, 3 TD's, 0 int) due in large part to the Raiders inability to sack him even once. His numbers weren't quite as good in the second game (310 yards, 1 TD, 1 int) mainly because the Raiders were able to sack him three times. It clearly makes all the difference.
Next season the key will be to add to the sack and interception totals which would hopefully add to the win total.