Mike Sando's MVP Watch

The Denver Broncos are expecting big things from quarterback Peyton Manning. Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

Peyton Manning stands right where he did one year ago: a cautious 10th on our MVP Watch list to open the regular season.

This time, we know he's going to play. We just aren't sure how well.

The four-time MVP is back. But is he really back?

"Mentally? Yes, and better than ever," ESPN.com's Matt Williamson said. "Physically? No. The timing and accuracy is there, but not the ability to drive the ball."

Another Williamson, Bill of the AFC West blog, expects to see a very good Manning in Denver, but not necessarily a vintage one.

"The reality is he had multiple neck surgeries, he missed a year and he is 36," Bill Williamson said. "A decline has to be expected. But he is an all-time great and I expect him to be [among the] top 5-8 quarterbacks for the next three years. He will make a big impact in Denver."

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers opened last season second to Tom Brady on this list. He's the favorite now. But a strong season from Manning, whose 227-game starting streak ended when he sat out last season, could qualify him for an unprecedented double.

"If Peyton Manning returns to form and leads the Broncos to a division title, I'd expect he'd be the unanimous comeback player of the year," AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky said. "How many times has the comeback player of the year been MVP?"

Never. The comeback award dates only to 1998. Its three most recent winners -- Brady (2009), Michael Vick (2010) and Matthew Stafford (2011) -- came a lot closer to having MVP-type seasons than previous comeback players. Chad Pennington (twice), Greg Ellis, Tedy Bruschi and Steve Smith were the previous five winners. Manning fits the Brady-Vick-Stafford profile.

"For him to make it back from the serious injury and take his act on the road to Denver, making it go with a new team, would qualify as remarkable and garner a slew of votes for an unprecedented fifth MVP," Kuharsky said. "I rank Aaron Rodgers as a clear favorite to repeat. But a storybook year for Manning could change all that no matter what unfolds in Green Bay. I think we'd have a double-dip situation."

Quarterbacks have won the past five MVP awards. Running backs Shaun Alexander (2005) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) are the only non-QBs to win since Marshall Faulk following the 2000 season. No defensive player has won since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

Editor's note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this post.