Denver • John Elway envies Peyton Manning.
The Three Amigos back in Elway's playing days were Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Ricky Nattiel.
Denver has the makings of a spectacular sequel in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, whom Elway, now the Broncos' executive vice president, pried away from Tom Brady and New England in free agency this offseason.
Thomas and Decker combined for 23 TD catches last season, and Welker caught 118 passes last year.
"I have to admit I'm truly jealous of the weapons that Peyton gets to throw to," Elway said. "I'm not saying that I didn't have great weapons. But when you look at the weapons that Peyton has: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and a young kid that we drafted a couple of years ago in the fourth round named Julius Thomas ... there's four weapons right there."
Manning surely would never say it, but he'd probably be envious of Elway's running back, Terrell Davis, an established starter when he helped the Hall of Fame quarterback win back-to-back championships in the late 1990s.
Manning's backfield consists of second-year pro Ronnie Hillman who had zero starts last season and rookie Montee Ball, two young players whose growing pains resulted in too many fumbles and quarterback knockdowns in the preseason.
If they can clean up things, Manning could put up historic numbers in 2013.
Manning is stronger and healthier in Year 2 in Denver after a successful comeback last season, albeit one that ended early with a double-overtime loss to Baltimore in the playoffs.
Davis, now an analyst for the NFL Network, thinks the Broncos were too good for their own good last year, rolling into the playoffs like they did on an 11-game winning streak.
"Last year just felt like they were winning games too easily and I always felt that there's something to be said about a quality loss," Davis said. "People underestimate that loss late in November or December, not to say that you go out there and try to lose a game, but it's a chance for the team to refocus, recalibrate, look at the things that you've been sweeping under the rug because you've been winning."
While the Broncos went 5-0 in December, including a 34-17 win at Baltimore, the Ravens stumbled down the stretch, yet they were the ones celebrating in a rain of confetti when it was all over.
The Ravens return to Sports Authority Field on Sept. 5 to kick off the 2013 season against the team many consider this year's favorite despite losing Elvis Dumervil to free agency after a fax foul-up prevented his new contract from getting filed in time, and Von Miller's six-game suspension.
Five things to watch as the Broncos try to bounce back and win it all in 2013:
The Broncos know nobody can fill the shoes of their All-Pro linebacker who had 18Â½ sacks, forced six fumbles and posted 28 tackles for loss last year. Jack Del Rio will have to get creative during Miller's six-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug-abuse policy. Shaun Phillips, who signed a one-year deal in Denver after a decade in San Diego, promises to do his part to fill the void: "I didn't come here to be a cheerleader."
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Manny Ramirez's next snap in the regular season will be his first, but he has taken countless snaps this offseason, fending off nose tackles and challengers alike as centers J.D. Walton, Dan Koppen and Ryan Lilja all got hurt. Free agent Louis Vasquez takes over for Ramirez at right guard, and Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady is back after offseason shoulder surgery.
GREENHORNS IN THE BACKFIELD
The Broncos needed beefier running backs after being unable to run out the clock against Baltimore in the playoffs. Hillman, who had slipped to the 180-pound range, took heed, adding about 20 pounds of muscle. The Broncos also drafted Ball, the 215-pound bruiser who scored an NCAA record 83 touchdowns at Wisconsin.
EMERGING TIGHT END
Julius Thomas capitalized on injuries this summer to tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, who combined for 93 receptions last year, to build a budding rapport with Manning. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, the former college basketball player presents matchup problems for defenses, especially in the red zone, where he can take advantage of the attention heaped upon the trio of wide receivers.
Unlike Mike Holmgren, who put the kibosh on Super Bowl talk with his Green Bay teams in the 1990s, John Fox isn't shying away from all the chatter about the Broncos being the trendy pick to win it all. "I've always believed people live up or down to expectations: if you expect a lot, you get a lot. If you don't expect much, you ain't getting much," he said. "Nobody expects more than we do."