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NFL Rumors: Is Peyton Manning Ready to Lead the Denver Broncos to the AFC West Title?

In just under two months, the Denver Broncos will kick off the Peyton Manning Era against the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin the 2012 regular season.

The. Peyton. Manning. Era.

One question: Are the Broncos up to the task of making their new leader proud? Better question: Can Peyton Manning lead his Denver Broncos to a second-straight AFC West title?

So far, Manning looks good in workouts and at the Manning Passing Camp in at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, the one he, his father and little brother Eli run for quarterbacks of the future. In 2010 and 2011, they trained then-Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck there. This year, it was Luck who replaced Manning with the Indianapolis Colts when that team’s administration realized that Luck would be the clear No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and since Manning’s contract was loaded with a bomb in the form of a $25 million roster bonus due in March, they Colts cut ties with the veteran and future Hall of Famer in exchange for the best prospect they could get.

Back to Manning, who has been solid and improving every day. The way he works, Manning needs this off-season time to key into the system and the players. He will make even bigger strides in training camp. However, while the contact he will endure in camp will be extremely limited, he will be hit at least a few times in whatever preseason games he is allowed, and certainly once the season begins. Every time he is touched by someone in the wrong-colored jersey, the population of Denver, everyone in the Broncos Nation, starting with team president John Elway, will hold their collective breaths and wonder: Will his neck be okay?

For now, everyone involved declares him healthy. During the drama that unfolded in March, when Colts owner Jim Irsay had to say goodbye, setting off a fury of rumors and anticipation, there was talk that his neck condition would not be exasperated by a nasty hit, but instead may only effect his arm strength and his ability to thrown the ball.

Fine, but that was the off-season when no one was being hit. What looms for Denver and Manning is the regular season, those Steelers the rest of Denver’s 2012 opponents. It won’t be an easy go of it if the offensive line or the running backs can’t protect him, if the receivers can’t get open.

What was that again about winning the AFC West? Why not? Last year, the team won it at 8-8 with smoke and mirrors and Tim Tebow. One would expect that Manning, even at 75 percent, is worth at least one or two more wins than that, no? Well, sure. But a lot will have to do with the San Diego Chargers, in their do-or-die season, the upstart Oakland Raiders and the questionable but tough Kansas City Chiefs.