The schedule makers didn't help Peyton Manning ease back into the NFL after he missed the entire 2011 season recovering from four neck surgeries.

His Denver Broncos debut was against the perennial powerhouse Steelers. Manning didn't disappoint, throwing his 400th career touchdown in a 31-19 win.

But the Broncos have lost to maybe the three best teams in the league in their last four games.

The still undefeated Falcons handed Manning his first loss as the Broncos quarterback on Sept. 17. Then Manning got a shot at a familiar foe -- a Texans squad that had defeated the former Colts passer only twice in 18 previous meetings. But this is not the same Texans team Manning is used to facing, and the reigning AFC South champions defeated the Broncos 31-25.

On Sunday, Manning was on the losing end of another matchup with the Patriots.

After five weeks, Manning and the Broncos are 2-3. But with a schedule like that, it's an accomplishment to be just one game back of the division-leading Chargers.

And Manning has this to look forward to: Seven of Denver's last eight opponents missed the playoffs last year.

- Jeffrey Tomik