Peyton Manning's impact on NFC South

Peyton Manning's joining the Denver Broncos might have a bigger impact than you realize on the NFC South.

That’s because all four NFC South teams will play the Broncos next season. There’s little doubt the Broncos are about to get a lot better in the passing game, and they already have a good defense. The move suddenly makes the Broncos and the entire AFC West better. With Denver and San Diego already pretty good and the possibility of Oakland and Kansas City improving, it’s pretty much a given that this isn’t going to be a repeat of 2010 when the NFC South was matched up with what was then a very weak NFC West. In that season, NFC South records got inflated (Tampa Bay went 10-6 and Atlanta was 13-3) in large part because they got some freebie wins against the NFC West.

We won’t know the schedule dates until April, but we already know where those games will be. New Orleans and Tampa Bay will have to play in Denver. We know the Saints aren’t always good in outdoor stadiums and their pass-happy offense could be slowed even more if the game is late in the season and the weather is rough. It’s kind of a similar story for Tampa Bay if its game in Denver is late in the season, because the Bucs historically have struggled in cold weather.

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup between Denver and the NFC South will come when John Fox returns to Bank of America Stadium to coach against his former team. By that time, Fox might not be the only familiar face returning to Charlotte. As I said before, I could see Fox trading with Carolina to get either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart as a new toy for Manning out of the backfield. The Falcons also will play a home game against Denver, and I’m sure new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is already thinking about some schemes to deal with Manning.