In our Week 7 Question of the Week, Marshall Faulk asks: "Denver vs. San Fran. What a great match up; 2 Championship-level teams. Now, being Professional Grade is about imagining all scenarios. This week, we've got 2 quarterbacks with very different styles. Imagine this scenario: How about San Francisco and Denver play QB-swap. Yes, they are going to switch quarterbacks. I wanna know something: Does Denver get back to the championship? Does San Francisco continue to be a running-the-football-first team? Can Denver defense hold up with San Francisco's quarterback at the helm for them? I know, the scenario is crazy, but tell me what you think."
First of all, this scenario isn't nearly as crazy as you think. In a not-too-alternate universe, it actually happened.
When Peyton Manning was on his free agency tour back in March of 2012, the San Francisco 49ers were one of his early and strong suitors. He and head coach Jim Harbaugh met, and according to a tale from ESPN's Seth Wickersham, Harbaugh's abrasive style didn't mesh with Manning.
There's a late-night bar story told in NFL circles about Peyton Manning's free-agent visit with the 49ers in 2012. Harbaugh and Manning were throwing the ball, so it goes, when the coach couldn't help but remark that his passes had more mustard on them than the still-rehabbing future Hall of Famer's did. You can guess how that went over.
Manning quickly Omaha'd it out of there. No doubt John Elway said nothing of the sort. Thank you John Elway.
On the other side, the Broncos were reportedly high on the Niners' Colin Kaepernick coming out of the 2011 draft. They weren't high enough to draft him with the 36th pick - in fact, that was originally the Broncos' pick. They traded it to the 49ers, who picked Kap. But had he fallen a few spots, or if the Broncos had decided to abandon the Tim Tebow project a year earlier, Kaepernick could have been a Bronco.
In this alternate universe, no doubt both teams would have set their franchises on very different courses to build a winner around their respective quarterbacks from 2011 and 2012 onward. But since that's outside the scope of this hypothetical, let's stick to Faulk's question: what if this Broncos team were led by Colin Kaepernick, and what if this 49ers team had Peyton Manning?
Does Denver get back to the championship? Denver's roster is still loaded with talent. There are serious playmakers on both sides of the ball, and the defense is coming together. But how would Kaepernick mesh with Denver's running game as it stands now? There is no Frank Gore-type running back on Denver's roster to take the pressure of Kap, and he's not a throw-first QB who can take control of a football game with his pre-snap reads and preparation like Manning. I think it'd be a lot more difficult for the Broncos to reach the championship with Colin instead of Peyton, but that'd be true if you inserted just about any QB in place of Manning. Mr. 506 Touchdowns is just that good.
Do the Broncos get back to the championship? That's never a guarantee any given year. But I think, with Kaepernick, they'd still definitely be in the mix.
Does San Francisco continue to be a running-the-football-first team? I'm sure Niners Nation can answer this question better (and they did), but no, San Fran would mold to what Peyton Manning does best. Would having Frank Gore with Manning make them the most lethal dual-threat offense in the NFL? Yes; yes it would. But they'd be a pass-first team.
Can Denver's defense hold up with San Francisco's quarterback at the helm for them? Hheeelllllll no. No defense in the NFL could hold up against an offense boasting both Peyton Manning and Frank Gore, not to mention Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and crazy-catch Brandon Lloyd. The Broncos defense will have a hard enough time against Kaepernick and company as it is.
Sure, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and Pot Roast might have their moments, but Manning wins nine times out of ten without a great running game. In the 49ers offense, Manning would still have plenty of weapons, plus a legitimate ground game to destroy enemy defenses.
What are your answers to these questions from Faulk?
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