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Joe Mahoney, Associated Press
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) celebrates with tight end Joel Dreessen (81) after Dreessen caught a pass for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After giving up 86 points to the Patriots last year, the Denver Broncos realized just how far away they were from becoming a championship contender.

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Following the Broncos' 45-10 loss at New England in the playoffs, coach John Fox pledged, "We will do everything we can to get better."

And they did.

They swapped Tim Tebow for Peyton Manning, retooled the offense and fortified their defense. They'll get to gauge just how much they've narrowed that gap Sunday when they visit Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Champ Bailey insists the gulf hasn't just been narrowed but closed entirely, suggesting the Broncos "know we can win" this time, something he's not so sure they believed nine months ago.

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