When the Broncos bought the services of Peyton Manning in March, they immediately became Super Bowl contenders.
At least, that was the thinking behind paying the 36-year old $96 million.
No doubt about it, Denver is an improved team compared to the squad they fielded last year.
Certainly, Peyton Manning is central to that advancement—the most important player on the field is one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Journeyman Kyle Orton and joke of a quarterback Tim Tebow are gone, Manning's the man in Denver now.
His impact hasn't just been felt on the field, he's helped recruit Tracy Porter and Jacob Tamme, others will want to join up soon too.
Yes, the “Manning effect” has brought a winning attitude, an attention to detail and an overall betterment of the team, but they're still ways away from being Super Bowl contenders.
In Weeks Two and Three, the Broncos were dominated at the line of scrimmage, the most telling component of a winning football team.
They couldn't run the ball—they had an average of 90 yards per game on the ground in their first three contests—and Denver' D couldn't stop the run, leading to losses.
On passing downs, the Broncos must blitz to pressure opposing QBs, while they can't protect Peyton from getting hit, a lot.
Beyond the big men up front, clear weaknesses before the season began, there are other areas of great concern for this 2012 team.
Defensively, the only strong point are the Broncos' cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Porter. Champ and Porter are great cover men, even if Porter got burned twice last Sunday.
He should have had help over the top on those plays and neither Mike Adams of Rahim Moore should be starting. Adams can't hit or cover-he's had two interceptions go straight through his hands. At least Moore can tackle and he led the team with nine hits last week, but he's lost in coverage constantly.
The front seven is a joke, save Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, and they can't get to the quarterback because there's absolutely no push from the tackles. Derek Wolfe has shown some life at times, but the Broncos can't rely on a rookie tackle to provide all the pressure from inside.
Linebacker Joe Mays is a backup that's starting, while Wesley Woodyard has overachieved. Denver really needs a “man-eater” middle linebacker, someone that strikes fear in opposing running backs and quarterbacks alike.
Offensively, it's nearly as bad for the Broncos.
The line is good, not great, and they're certainly missing Chris Kuper at right guard. He's not the end-all, be-all for the Broncos' O-line troubles though, and some suggest J.D. Walton, Zane Beadles or both should be off the team and replaced with other interior linemen.
Tight ends Tamme and Joel Dreessen should be consistent threats to catch the ball over the middle of the field, yet, they're nearly invisible.
Demaryius Thomas may be incredibly physically gifted, but he's far from being on the same page, as we saw on back to back passes in the end zone last week. Brandon Stokley, a 15-year veteran, is Manning's go-to guy. Not because he's athletic, but because he knows what Manning wants.
And at running back, Willis McGahee has played well, but he's hurt and the depth behind him is lacking experience and confidence.
Don't even start on the special teams, which is again an after thought in Denver.
Super Bowl caliber teams are strong in all three phases of the game. These Broncos are not that.
Championship contenders cover up their weaknesses with other strong spots. Take the Giants last year for example. Even though their secondary was lacking, their beastly defensive line was there to create pressure and force punts as well as turnovers.
The Broncos aren't bad overall, and they'll improve as the year goes on and Manning builds chemistry with his teammates. It's likely Denver will make the playoffs and they should be able to win the weak AFC West.
But a Super Bowl contender?
You're dreaming of next year.