To no surprise, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning didn't retire after last season ended with a bad home loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC's divisional round. In fact, he not only returned but took a $4 million pay cut to help the team out. Don't cry too much for Manning -- he's still making $15 million. Alas, it didn't help Denver keep star tight end Julius Thomas as he got a big new deal to sign with Jacksonville.
The five-time NFL MVP Manning still has some unfinished business to attend to. For one, I'm sure he'd at least like to match brother Eli with a second Super Bowl ring. Plus, Manning, if he stays healthy, will pass Brett Favre to become the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader. Manning has 69,691 yards with Favre at 71,838. Manning took over the passing TD record last year and can really put it away now; he has 530 and the next-closest active QB is Drew Brees with 396.
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I do believe this will be the final season for Manning at age 39, no matter what Denver does. The Broncos were 4-4 on the road last season, 4-4 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." Their 2015 road schedule ranks right in the middle as the 16th-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .516. It's tied with Oakland for the easiest in the AFC West.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 17 -- at Chiefs (+1.5): Denver and Kansas City play on the first short-week Thursday turnaround game of the season. The Broncos host Baltimore in Week 1 and the Chiefs are in Houston. Denver won 29-16 in Kansas City in Week 13 last season, the team's sixth straight win in the series. Connor Barth tied a team record with five field goals. Manning was 17-for-34 for 179 yards and two touchdowns. C.J. Anderson carried 32 times for 168 yards as Denver held the ball for 38:47. Broncos win here. Key trend: Broncos are 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Sept. 27 -- at Lions (+1): Sunday night matchup and one of two dome games for Manning this season. Detroit is off a Week 2 game in Minnesota. Be interesting to see the Lions' Calvin Johnson and Broncos' Demaryius Thomas on the same field as they are both monsters and both played at Georgia Tech. The Lions haven't faced the Broncos since Manning joined the team. Denver's last visit to Detroit was 2007. Broncos lose. Key trend: Broncos 1-5 ATS all-time at NFC North.
Oct. 11 -- at Raiders (+6.5): Denver is off a Week 4 home game against Minnesota, while Oakland is in Chicago the previous Sunday. The Broncos blasted the Raiders 47-14 in Oakland in last year's season finale. The No. 2 seed in the AFC was potentially on the line. When is the last time a Manning team scored in the 40s and he didn't have a TD pass? He was 21 of 37 for 273 yards. By not throwing a TD pass, he fell one short of 40 and lost that title to Andrew Luck, who finished right at 40. Anderson rushed for 87 yards and three scores. Broncos win this. Key trend: Broncos have covered five straight as road favorite in series.
Oct. 18 -- at Browns (+4.5): Trap game! Early start for Denver plus ahead of the team's bye week with two big-time opponents waiting out of the bye. Cleveland is off a Week 5 trip to Baltimore. The Broncos have won 10 straight in this series, last in 2012. They will make it 11 but not play great. Key trend: Broncos 5-5 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 8 -- at Colts (-3): Denver is off a potential Super Bowl preview at home vs. Green Bay in Week 8. Indy is on a short week, visiting Carolina on a Monday night previous. This may well be Manning's final trip to Indianapolis, although the teams could play there in the postseason. As noted above, the Colts pulled off a 24-13 upset in Denver in the divisional round of last year's playoffs. Manning looked pretty old, going 26-for-46 for just 211 yards with two sacks. The Broncos had only 288 total yards. Denver beat the visiting Colts 31-24 in last season's opener. Broncos lose this one. Key trend: Broncos 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road dog.
Nov. 22 -- at Bears (+2.5): This could be a sandwich game for Denver as it's off a rivalry game vs. Kansas City in Week 10 and then another Manning-Tom Brady showdown vs. the Patriots in Week 12. Of course, Manning's head coach and offensive coordinator last season, John Fox and Adam Gase, respectively, are now in Chicago. First meeting between the teams since 2011. Broncos win. Key trend: Broncos 7-3 ATS in past 10 as a road favorite of at least 2.5 points.
Dec. 6 -- at Chargers (pick'em): This is off that Manning-Brady game in Denver for the Broncos, while San Diego is in Jacksonville in Week 12. Be a shame if this is the last Broncos-Chargers game in San Diego. Denver won there in Week 15 last year, 22-10, to clinch a fourth straight AFC West title. Manning played through an illness and threw for 233 yards and a touchdown. Thomas caught six passes for 123 and that score. Broncos win this. Key trend: Broncos have won and covered four straight at Bolts.
Dec. 20 -- at Steelers (+1): Manning has been accused of being a shaky cold-weather quarterback, and it certainly should be cold here in the Steel City. Denver is off a Week 13 home game vs. Oakland, while Pittsburgh is in Cincinnati the previous Sunday. I fully expect this game to have some playoff seeding ramifications. It's the first meeting since Manning's first game as a Bronco, a 31-19 home win on Sept. 9, 2012. He had his 400th career TD pass in that one. Broncos lose this. Key trend: Broncos 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC North.
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