Well, that depends
Really, there should be two sets of expectations for the Broncos in 2012. The first set of expectations assumes Peyton Manning is healthy and as able as he was earlier in his career. If that is the case, they look like the best team in the AFC West and one of the best teams in the conference.
Even if all goes well with Manning though, predictions of a Lombardi Trophy may be a bit optimistic. This still is a young team with holes, and there will be a learning curve for Manning.
The second set of expectations considers the possibility that Manning won't be able to throw like he once did, or that he will miss time because of his neck issues. In that event, the Broncos will be below average.
Super Bowl or bust
Super Bowl, of course.
Vegas oddsmakers didn't waste any time lowering the betting line to as low as 10-1 in the hours after Peyton Manning revealed his choice. Pre-Manning, the Broncos were rated at 50-1.
That's how much one personnel change can mean in this league, provided he's a former Super Bowl champion, four-time NFL MVP and play-calling savant. And provided he's replacing a scatter-armed Tim Tebow.
Whether Manning's neck holds up after four surgical procedures is another matter. (I fear it won't.) But adding him to a team that knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs and has rising young stars such as Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas certainly ups the ante.
A deep playoff run
Los Angeles Times
Realistically, providing Peyton Manning is throwing the ball as advertised, Denver is perfectly capable of going deep into the playoffs and more. With a talented young defense that at times was exceptional last season, an offensive line that's a good blend of youth and experience, and a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, the Broncos will be imposing in a lukewarm division.
Does that mean they're a lock to win the AFC West? No. The NFL is too unpredictable to make any absolute judgments in March. But this is a franchise that got to the second round of the playoffs with Tim Tebow, began free agency with $40 million of usable cap space, and even after the Manning deal has the ability to keep shopping.
Many questions remain
Tim Tebow turned the Broncos into a playoff team last year, with his gutsy find-a-way style. But now he'll be replaced by a player much his opposite: a cerebral, precise quarterback. The Broncos' front office expects nothing less than a deep playoff run, but Peyton Manning will be tossing to possession receivers, not game-changers, and he's not going to run the ball the way Tebow did.
In Indianapolis, Manning played for a team built around him. Denver executives say they'll create a similar environment, but it will take time.
One thing is for sure: the Broncos' season will provide some of the best evidence yet for the age-old question of whether a quarterback can really elevate the pedestrian players around him.