By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts defensive signal caller

John Elway won’t have Tim Tebow to kick around anymore.

The unorthodox quarterback who almost single-handedly lifted Elway's lousy Broncos from laughingstock to playoff contender was kicked to the curb today as Denver is poised to sign future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

The move ends one of the great off-season sagas in NFL history: where will you find Peyton's Place in 2012? In the process, Elway unceremoniously truncated one of the great in-season sagas in NFL history: the inexplicable rise of his terrible Broncos to AFC West champion with a quarterback who could barely complete half his passes in the NFL.
The rise of the Broncos under Tebow captured the nation and proved a pop-culture phenomenon beyond the fields of pro football. Admit it, men. You probably Tebowed at some point last season. Even the otherwise emotionless Cold, Hard Football Facts tailgate team was caught in the act of this guilty pleasure.

Denver was a disastrous 4-12 in 2010 and 1-4 at the start of 2011 before Tebow took over the Denver offense, helping lift the team to seven wins in his first eight starts, many of them of the seemingly miraculous variety.

Yet it was the NFL’s worst-kept secret that Denver executive/demi-God Elway was no fan of the man Tebow. So when Elway made goo-goo eyes at Peyton so publicly in recent days, we all knew the end was near for the Tebow Era one way or the other. It’s hard to mend that fence after you took a huge sledgehammer to it in public.
Manning is, by any measure, a huge upgrade at the position over what Tebow brought last year, specifically in the passing game, of course. But will that upgrade be enough to turn the Broncos into a legit Super Bowl contender – at least one more legit than last year?

Let's put it this way: don't print your Super Bowl tickets just yet, Broncos fans. If Manning struggled to win more than one Super Bowl in Indianapolis, he's certainly going to struggle to win one in Denver, barring huge improvements on defense.
Keep in mind that at the end of the day the 2011 Broncos were a borderline 8-8 playoff team that won a lousy division by default, losing its last three games. Its defense, despite a few nice games in the middle of the season, was largely a disaster: 20th in total defense, 24th in scoring defense; 28th in Defensive Passer Rating.

It was a miracle the team reached the playoffs with that kind of defense – and as we all saw, the Broncos needed miracles week after week to pull out that shocking 8-8 record that sold a gazillion now-worthless Tebow jerseys and left Football Nation on bended knee.
Despite the upgrade at quarterback. Manning’s fans have long wondered what he might have done had he consistently been paired with a great defense. Well, barring a shocking improvement on the other side of the ball, we won’t find out in Denver.
The sobering Cold, Hard Football Fact is that the defense in Denver last year was as bad or worse as any of the widely criticized units that Manning played with in Indianapolis. We compared each of Manning’s 13 Indy defenses with the one that Denver fielded in 2011 in three categories: total defense (not particularly important), scoring defense (incredibly important) and Defensive Passer Rating (also incredibly important).
Here’s how the 2011 Broncos stacked up against each of the defenses that Manning played with during his 13 years as the starting QB in Indianapolis.
  • Only two Colts teams gave up more yards than the 2011 Broncos (1998, 2004)
  • Only two Colts teams gave up more points than the 2011 Broncos (1998, 2011)
  • Only one Colts team gave up a higher Defensive Passer Rating than the 2011 Broncos (1998)
  • Manning played with four defenses in Indy that ranked in the top 8 in scoring
  • Denver has fielded three defenses that ranked in the top 8 in scoring since Manning was a rookie in 1998
Like we said, the Broncos how have a better passer in the line-up – provided he is and will remain healthy. And the defense certainly could improve dramatically in 2012. Von Miller, for example, is one of the bright young players in the game today.
But here’s the reality: if Manning didn’t win more Super Bowls in Indianapolis because he was consistently paired with troubled defenses, there’s little reason to believe the Broncos are suddenly Super Bowl contenders.  If Manning was looking to win Super Bowls with a team already on the brink, he would have gone to San Francisco.

Denver is certainly not the place to be. So, clearly, one wonders if winning Super Bowls is really Manning's motivation. But we’ll see what happens. Either way, it’s going to be another thrilling ride for Broncos fans, and NFL fans in general, in 2012.
Here’s a look at each of Peyton Manning's Indianapolis defenses compared with the defense that Tebow played with in 2011.
  Total D rank Scoring D rank DPR rank
2011 Broncos 5725 20th 390 24th 93.1 28th
2010 Colts 5465 20th 388 23rd 91.7 27th
2009 Colts 5427 18th 307 8th 80.6 12th
2008 Colts 4975 11th 298 7th 78 11th
2007 Colts 4475 3rd 262 1st 73.3 3rd
2006 Colts 5316 21st 360 23rd 82.6 19th
2005 Colts 4913 11th 247 2nd 83 23rd
2004 Colts 5929 29th 351 19th 89.6 23rd
2003 Colts 4789 11th 336 20th 81.8 21st
2002 Colts 4909 8th 313 7th 86.1 25th
2001 Colts 5715 29th 486 31st 91.9 28th
2000 Colts 5357 21st 326 15th 83.6 19th
1999 Colts 5221 15th 333 17th 83.9 22nd
1998 Colts 5836 29th 444 29th 95.7 30th