Mile-High Expectations

With Manning in the saddle, it’s tough to buck the Broncos this season

Photo by Photo by Ron Chenoy | USA Today Peyton Manning has led his team to double-digit wins 12 times in his last 13 seasons.

Photo by Photo by Ron Chenoy | USA Today
Peyton Manning has led his team to double-digit wins 12 times in his last 13 seasons.

I bet the Broncos go undefeated this year.

A friend, who happens to be a Raiders fan, recently made this proclamation. Yes, it was in between sips of beer, but it was only his first beer. (It’s not like he was Johnny Manziel-drunk.) So I quickly ran the numbers through my head, and spit out, “No way! I’ll give you 30-to-1 odds they don’t go undefeated. $20?”

To which he replied: “So if Denver goes 16-0, you’ll owe me $600?” (Hey, who said Raiders fans aren’t sharp?) He then gleefully shook my hand, completely oblivious to the fact that only two teams in the modern-day NFL have gone undefeated in the regular season. And only one has done so in a 16-game season (the 2007 Patriots). Me to self: This is gonna be the easiest $20 I’ve ever made!

Fast-forward a week, and up pops this tidbit on ESPN: Based on last year’s winning percentages, the Broncos enter the 2013 season with the league’s easiest schedule.

Oh … SHIT!

Apparently, I forgot Denver (13-3) won as many games last year as the other three squads in the AFC West (which combined to go 13-35, including 0-6 against the Broncos). I also forgot that Denver signed one marquee free agent after another this offseason, while the Raiders (new quarterback), Chargers (new coach) and Chiefs (new quarterback and new coach) underwent makeovers.

Oh well, at least the 30-to-1 number is fair … or so I assumed until Jay Kornegay—who runs the LVH Superbook—emailed last week to say he’d have put up odds of about 13-to-1. And Jay’s a Broncos fan! Now you know why I kept a Peyton Manning voodoo doll on my desk as I typed up my AFC West season win-total recommendations … (Note: I took the best available odds from the LVH, William Hill, Cantor Gaming and Station Casinos.)

Broncos (11½ wins): As long as Manning remains upright—and every time he’s started an NFL season, he’s finished it—Denver will win at least 10 games. Why is that easier to predict than Justin Bieber’s inevitable drug habit? Because since his 3-13 rookie campaign, Manning has posted double-digit wins 12 times in 13 years (not counting 2011, when he missed the entire season). Over those 13 seasons, Manning’s teams averaged 11.6 victories—and that includes a 6-10 clunker in 2001—while eclipsing 11 wins nine times. Translation: The guy is a machine (well, at least in the regular season). And while it’s true that Denver’s non-divisional road schedule is hardly a cakewalk—Giants, Cowboys, Colts, Patriots and Texans—it’s also true that Manning might not have to play a single cold-weather road game (the only two possibilities: at New England on November 24, at Kansas City on December 1). Bottom line: You can bet against the Broncos in July if you want to. Me? I’ll wait till January. The play: OVER (+110, LVH).

Chargers (7½): Here’s something that’ll come as a shock to Chargers fans (this one included): San Diego, which went 7-9 in 2012, hasn’t suffered consecutive losing seasons since the turn of this century (2000 and 2001). Now here’s something that absolutely will not shock Chargers fans: The offensive line (which allowed 49 sacks last year) is still awful; the top running back is more fragile than a china doll covered in bubble wrap; the quarterback is regressing; the receivers are inconsistent; the most promising pass-rusher blew out his knee in minicamp; the new captain of the defense falls in love with fake girlfriends … searching for something positive, searching, searching … Hey, Norv’s gone! The play: UNDER (-120, Cantor).

Chiefs (7): If you would’ve told Kansas City fans three years ago that in 2013 Andy Reid would be their new coach and Alex Smith their new quarterback, they’d have bolted for the nearest—and tallest—bridge. Today? They’re more ecstatic than when a plate of barbecue hits the table. As I noted several weeks ago, the Chiefs last season had three times as many Pro Bowlers (six) as wins (two). So it’s not like Reid’s cupboard is bare (not that it ever is!). Granted, three of K.C.’s first five games are on the road, but all—Jaguars, Eagles, Titans—are winnable, as are the two home games (Cowboys and Giants) sandwiched in between. Throw in the Raiders (twice), Chargers (twice), Browns, Bills and Colts, and this might be my best bet of the summer. The play: OVER (-155, Cantor).

Raiders (5½): So after seven straight losing seasons, the Raiders went 8-8 in 2010 … and fired their coach. Remarkably, they went 8-8 again in 2011 … and fired their coach. Last year? They went 4-12 … and retained their coach. Are we sure Al Davis is really dead? Here’s a fun stat: Over the last 10 seasons—during which time Oakland has won fewer than six games eight times—the Raiders have been outscored by 1,089 points—that’s an average of nearly a touchdown per game. Commitment to … what? The play: UNDER (-125, LVH and William Hill).


Best Bet: Chiefs-OVER

Next Week: NFC East


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