Nothing lasts forever. I remember when Denver was winning back to back Super Bowls and people thought it was never going to end. The three teams that hold six of the 10 Lambordi trophies of the 00’s are now on the decline. Each team has a QB that has helped hold them above the other AFC teams. However, there are chinks in the armor and the window for other teams are beginning to open. The Colts, Patriots, and Steelers represent eight of the ten AFC champions.
AFC Championship teams
2001 Patriots, Steelers
2002 Raiders, Titans
2003 Patriots, Colts
2004 Patriots, Steelers
2005 Steelers, Broncos
2006 Colts, Patriots
2007 Patriots, Chargers
2008 Steelers, Ravens
2009 Colts, Jets
The AFC Championship Participants
Patriots = 5, Won 4
Steelers = 4, Won 2
Colts = 3, Won 2
Raiders = 2, Won 1
Ravens = 2, Won 1
Jets = 1
Broncos = 1
Chargers = 1
Titans = 1
This team has been to the playoffs every single season since 2002. They have won at least 12 games every season since 2003. The Colts, who have always been an offensive team lead by the games’ best pure quarterback in Peyton Manning, are now facing the eventual decline of their key cog. Without Peyton Manning the Colts are a middle of the pack team. Their whole drafting strategy and defensive strategy revolve around Manning’s abilities and airing it out for quick touchdowns. With Peyton Turning 34 in March and entering his 13th season, he will enter the age group that many great QBs have begun to look at retirement. Brett Favre excluded there are several QBs that retired closely following their 13th season. Often their skills diminished exponentially after the 14th season. Marino, Green, Elway, and Warner were not the athletes they were in their last seasons before retirement.
Recent Top Quarterbacks retirement age and career length
John Elway retired at 36 after 16 seasons
Joe Montana at age 38 after 16 seasons
Dan Marino at age 36 after 17 Seasons
Trent Green at age 38 after 16 seasons
Kurt Warner at age 38 after 16 Seasons (four seasons in arena football)
The two great QBs of the 00s
Peyton Manning age 34 entering 13th season
Tom Brady age 32 entering 11th season
Peyton Manning has probably only three seasons left to lift his team to contend for a Super Bowl. But he is not the only aging. Other stallworts of the offense Harrison (retired) Wayne (31)Clark (31) and Center Jeff Saturday (35) have either left or are getting past their prime. Also, the defensive unit that was meant to attack teams passing with Mathis (29) and Freeney (30)are getting older too. Consider in two seasons you will have the following ages Manning (36), Wayne (33), Clark (33) Saturday (37), Mathis (31), Freeney (32). A team like this is built on speed and quickness as opposed to stregntth and power. Speed usually diminishes after the 30 mark for many players. Mother nature has that effect. The window for the Colts is closing fast. With a lockout in 2011 this may be the last season the entire team is together and in prime position to win.
The Patriots have a younger QB, but only by two seasons. The team that won those super bowls did a lot of that on the back of a great linebacking core, Miek Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, and Ted Johnson, that is no longer with the team. Most of those player have either retired or on their last contract with another team. Defensive linemen Richard Seymore and Jarvis Green are no longer with the team. The Patriots have morphed from a defensive team to an offensive team following the signings of Randy Moss and Wes Welker that lead to the highest scoring offense in NFL history in 2007. Moss and Welker however are at the tail of their careers as well.
2007 Patriots pro Bowlers
QB Brady (31)
WR Moss (33)
WR Welker (29)
C Koppen (30)
T Light (32)
G Mankins (28)
DT Wilfork (29 in Nov)
The Patriots are an aging team as well and their defense is getting younger and younger. The offense has maybe one more season left with Moss at the top of his game. Wes Welker has been piling up injuries faster than the oil leaking out of a broken well a mile in the ocean. Big men Light, Koppen, and Wilfork, will all be farther north of 30. Those positions don’t always have as long of a shelf life. This team is mature and is also running out of time similar to the Colts.
The Steelers are a team that is already having issues. Their quarterback is serving a six game suspension and will likely contribute to the second season of missing the playoffs. The new coach Mike Tomlin has been unable to “unleash hell” since he won the Super Bowl in his first season taking over for an already Super Bowl winning team from Bill cower. With the Ravens and Bengals becoming tougher to beat the Steelers are now the third team in the AFC North. The Steelers were built on defense and running the ball. Currently they are trying to rebuild their offensive line and their defense is the older group. The key stone of their defense is Nose Tackle Casey Hampton who turns 33 in September is just about done in his career. Outside Linebacker and 2008 Defensive MVP James Harrison is 32. One of the key contributions to the decline for the 2009 season after a 6-1 start was the loss of SS Troy Palamalu to injury. He is 29.
All three of these teams may be good in the near future, but the window is clearly closing. Pittsburgh may be able to regain its glory a little easier since it was based more on team defense than the great QB to lead them to dominance. However, can you imagine the Colts without Peyton Manning, or the Patriots without Tom Brady These two quarterbacks are likely to retire in the next three seasons. Their teams will try and keep their supporting casts around them, but only for a limited amount of time. 2010 may be the last year any of these teams are able to play with the casts that lead them to previous Super Bowls. With a lockout in 2011, 2012 truly could be the changing of the guard.
With the window opening up as early as 2012 the Denver Broncos could easily put themselves in position to take the place of the Colts and Patriots in the AFC. In 2012 the players from the class of 2010 will all be in their third year. With additions on defense through those next two years the roster should be fairly complete on both sides of the ball. This season is still a transition season for the Broncos, and they are not ready to take down Manning and the Colts in the AFC Championship game, or the Patriots for that matter. They may be able to get a regular season win against them here are there, but playoff games are a different story. The Steelers and the Colts have been the teams to kick Denver out of the postseason in the past. 2011 could be the biggest shift where Denver takes their offense to new heights and go deep into the playoffs. That is if there is a season. If not 2012 will be the year the Broncos can take control of the AFC West. Denver may make the playoffs this year, but they are not on the same level with the top teams of the AFC yet. However, it will be fun to see if the Colts or Patriots begin their decline sooner rather than later.