A recent ESPN Insider post ranked all of the NFL's quarterbacks into tiers and though Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning still made the Tier 1 cut there was more caveats to his rankings than any other of the six quarterbacks who made into their Tier 1 rank.
From one voter saying, "I'm going to give him the lowest 1 there there is", to one defensive coordinator saying "I think he is a clear 2. It's arm strength, mobility, everything."
That's just rude man!
Not all was bad. Another defensive coordinator was a believer (maybe he's an AFC West guy) saying, "Until they lose and don't go to the playoffs, he is a 1, because he is the one winning all the games. He has got to be a 1. He is one of those guys, too, that the people around him play at a much higher level because of him."
Well thank you for that. My contention with all of these opinions is that they barely take into account the fact that Manning played hurt to close out the season and never got right enough to be as dominant as he was prior tot he quad injury.
In fact, those final 8 games of the season is the main reason why Manning isn't getting the usual love his 4,727 yard, 39 touchdown season warrants. He threw 10 interceptions down the stretch and that's what people are remembering. You even have video games dissing the great Peyton.
Let's do some charts, then some educated guessing to see what a "declined" Peyton Manning actually looks like. Here is what an aging Peyton Manning looks like in NFL annals:
A couple of points here that tends to discredit the belief that Peyton Manning is "done". At first blush, Manning was right within the range of "normal" that he has established as a Bronco. "Normal" of course, in this context, means the greatest three year span any quarterback has ever had in NFL History. And that is not hyperbole.
Now, to play devil's advocate here, Manning's completion percentage has been dropping since he became a Bronco and his average per attempt dripped under 8 yards for the first time. Don't laugh, I know its barely registered, but it's there. Then of course the eye-popping fifteen interceptions on the year. Ten of those came in the last 8 games and frankly, I'm afraid to go pull those stats. Here we go:
Okay, so all three of the Broncos regular season losses game during the final 8 games and Manning's stats show that he struggled compared to the normal all-world stud bar he set since coming to Denver. However, prior to getting injured he showed no signs of slowing down, so am I to believe the injury played a bigger role in his struggles or do I believe in this mythical cliff that he just fell through between Weeks 8 and 9?
Sorry, I'm too practical to buy that argument. However, what I will do is play a little "what if" to close this post out. What if Manning did fall of that cliff and the injury just exasperated his physical decline? How much of a quarterback will Manning be then?
I'd argue we'd have a slightly better version of the Manning who was playing injured - after all, if he fell off that cliff AND was injured then logically he is slightly better than what we saw to close out 2014. Let's give him a mere 10% bump for being 100% healthy in 2015. Here's what a "done" Peyton Manning looks like statisically:
This stat line looks eerily similar to 2014, but who here thinks the Broncos will remain a pass-first offense? However, if it is, I still think this stat line wins 12 games in the AFC West. If that's "done" for Peyton, I'll take "done" for two more seasons at least.
Realistically, Peyton's attempts per game will need to drop to around 30 for him to remain effective and fresh through the entire season. If Gary Kubiak turns up the run game like he has done everywhere he has coached, then Manning could have something he hasn't really had since his 2006 Super Bowl run - a running attack that defenses actually fear.
So what says you, Broncos Country - Is a "done" Peyton Manning still enough to win a Super Bowl? I think so, if only because John Elway was "done" in 1998 too and the Broncos were one of the best teams of all-time that year.