No. 38: Denver Broncos

Ultimate Standings 2012

Updated: September 6, 2012, 5:42 PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky | ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 86
Title track: 26
Ownership: 33
Coaching: 49
Players: 44
Fan relations: 56
Affordability: 65
Stadium experience: 53
Bang for the buck: 37

Four seasons of mediocrity (32-32 from 2006 to 2009) and a disastrous 2010, when the team lost 10 of its last 12 games, had lifted fan frustration a mile high and dropped the Broncos in our rankings like a rock through thin mountain air. So what accounts for this year's 48-spot ascent? Start with an AFC West title and the team's first playoff victory since 2005. Then there's the 48-spot rise in our players category, thanks to a year of Tebowmania that thrust the Broncos back into the national conversation with comeback wins and epic jersey sales. But with an 8-8 record and a minus-81 point differential, John Elway, the executive VP of football ops, decided he needed a QB a little more like, well, John Elway. Enter Peyton Manning. Although Coloradans might miss Tim -- Public Policy Polling results in late June gave him a 68 percent favorability rating, 11 points higher than Manning's -- they know where their bread is buttered. Asked about their preference under center, Manning outpolled Tebow more than 2 to 1.