Philadelphia, PA – If you've ever bought in to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, maybe you're not all that surprised to see what has happened to the Denver Broncos over the past few months.
The presumptive favorites for the AFC crown -- at least according to "those who know in Las Vegas" -- have been hit with an embarrassing fax machine faux pas, mortifying DUI arrests, defensive superstar Von Miller's six-game suspension and some serious injury problems, including a season-ender for underrated veteran center Dan Koppen.
A league source confirmed the locusts are scheduled for next week.
Despite all that drama, though, Denver does still look like a solid pick to come out of the AFC. After all, the West is shaping up as a dismal division with a team that finished 2-14 a season ago (Kansas City) pegged by most for second behind the Broncos.
Meanwhile, the other heavyweights in the conference have their own issues. The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have taken on the role of Jeremy Lin versus the Miami Heat, turning over things at an alarming rate. No one trusts Houston with Matt Schaub at quarterback, and the recipients of 338 of Tom Brady's 402 total completions from a year ago won't be in western New York next month when the Patriots open their 2013 season.
So, if the Broncos are able to keep 37-year-old Peyton Manning healthy and upright for 16 games, it's almost a fait accompli they will be in the postseason and that alone gives them a leg up on just about any other team.
Of course being labeled the favorite by a few degenerates in the desert is probably worth a small cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts for Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, something his two Super Bowl rings could have gotten him in perpetuity anyway.
Remember Denver was a trendy pick entering the playoffs last year and all but put the stake through the heart of the Ravens before safety Rahim Moore let Jacoby Jones pop the top on the defense late in regulation. The rest is history.
Shouldering the load is part of the gig of being an NFL quarterback and Manning knew that long before he ever arrived in the Rockies or Baltimore upset him and the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round last year.
Win and the former three-time MVP gets more credit than he deserves and lose? Well, let's just say it gets a little ugly.
The Tweets came at a fast and furious pace back in January after Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal, 1:42 into the second overtime ended the fifth longest game in NFL history with the Ravens on top 38-35.
Some pointed out that Tim Tebow has more playoff wins as a Broncos quarterback than Manning. Others went to Peyton's problems in the cold weather, and many more were questioning the overall playoff acumen of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Another elite signal-caller, who lost later that same day in San Francisco, probably put it better than anyone.
"The regular season is about earning your paycheck and the playoffs are about defining your legacy," Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers opined.
Manning is now under .500 at 9-11 in the postseason and the narrative is starting to morph with some calling the University of Tennessee product the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time with an asterisk stating he can't get it done when it really counts.
Well, it's time to remove the asterisk, at least according to Elway.
"He's a unique person. You could not have a better person to be around," Elway said of his veteran signal caller. "The way that he worked over the past year, to be able to see him come back, training camp, see his arm improve so much more over last training camp, it's great to see Peyton where he is and enjoying doing what he's doing.
"If there's a guy to bet on, Peyton Manning is the right guy to bet on."