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Manning's choice added pressure in Denver

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Manning's choice added pressure in Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Knowing as well as anyone that time is no longer his friend, Peyton Manning went looking for a team last summer.

He gambled on the Denver Broncos, and when he signed the contract, the players who were already in Denver got the message: Their new quarterback thought the pieces were in place to win the Super Bowl, and win one quickly.

``You had a guy like Peyton. He had the opportunity to go several places,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``You know he wants to win and he goes to the place that can help him win. It raises your expectations.''

On a nine-game winning streak and positioned for a first-round bye in the playoffs, it's safe to say the Broncos (11-3) are living up to what Manning hoped they would be.

They are not a team headed for the playoffs based on smoke and mirrors, the way many critics felt last year's team was with Tim Tebow at the helm. That team finished the season ranked 23rd on offense and 20th on defense.

This year's team is dominating statistically.

-Manning's offense has scored 30 points in all but three games this season. It ranks fifth in the NFL with 387 yards a game, and the quarterback himself (4,016 yards, 31 touchdowns), is in reach of finishing with the second-most yards and passing touchdowns in his 15 seasons.

-The special teams picked up a special returner in Trindon Holliday, who has scored two touchdowns on returns.

-The defense, led by linebacker Von Miller and coached by coordinator Jack Del Rio, is ranked fourth in yards allowed, second in sacks and has allowed the fewest points in the AFC (274).

``They're very fundamental,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of the Broncos defense his team will face Sunday. ``They do a good job against the run. They play well. And it kind of correlates on offense. They've scored 30 points in nine games this year, so you can be just a little bit more reckless when you know on the other side of the ball, you're going to score points.''

Manning, of course, was looking for a contender, not a project. His quote on the day he signed - ``This is a `now' situation. We're going to do whatever we can to win right now'' - said everything about both his mission and his time frame.

Much has been made of the instant bond he formed with John Elway, the former Broncos quarterback-turned-executive, and the working relationship he knew he'd be able to form with head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

As meticulous as he is, though, Manning said he did not drill down deeply into the Broncos roster when he made his final decision.

``You can't know everything about a team when you're making a decision like that. I'd be lying if I said that I went through every single player on the roster,'' Manning said. ``I had some questions. I met with John (Fox) and met with Mike (McCoy) and met with Del Rio, met with all of them during my visit here and had some questions for them and got those answers and felt comfortable about those types of things.''

If Manning was concerned with any single position, it would have been receiver. He essentially brought his old buddy and teammate, Brandon Stokley, along with him. Meanwhile, the top two wideouts already on the roster heard Manning was coming and knew they'd have to up their game.

``We had a lot of good talent last year,'' Eric Decker said. ``The defense was playing well. Offensively, we were doing what we could to move the ball and score points. And to have him add a big piece to our offense has really helped the team in general. And just who he is as a person, who he is as a professional, the guy demands the best out of himself and that carries over to his teammates.''

Decker needs 77 more yards to reach 1,000 in receiving for the season, which would make him and Demaryius Thomas the first Broncos duo to reach 1,000 yards each since 2004.

``I never took it as pressure,'' Thomas said of Manning's arrival. ``At least not too much pressure. But he did choose to come here so you know you've got to mind your `P's and `Q's. If he comes here and you're a bust, he's saying, `Man, I could've gone somewhere else.' You don't want him saying that.''

NOTES: Broncos OL Zane Beadles was named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination for his community service work. ``I definitely didn't expect it,'' the third-year player out of Utah said. ... With the field cleared of snow, Denver practiced outside Thursday. OL Chris Kuper (ankle) didn't participate, while FB Chris Gronkowski (hamstring) and DT Kevin Vickerson (groin) were limited. ... The Broncos will be facing their first rookie QB of the season in Brandon Weeden. ``He looks like he has the talent to get it done,'' perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey said. ``He can make you look back if you let him.'' ... LB Von Miller said he never sacked Weeden when Miller suited up for Texas A&M and Weeden at Oklahoma State. ``I got a roughing-the-passer call,'' Miller said. ``Hopefully, things can be different this season.''

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

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PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.