The Premature Burial Of Peyton Manning

When ESPN’s Mike Sando released his quarterback ratings this past week it created the usual buzz that comes with these silly overblown rankings. Is RG3 done? Is Andrew Luck now elite? Those were the questions buzzing around the media. What I found most interesting was the seemingly universal consensus that Peyton Manning is no longer an elite quarterback.

In the aftermath of the rankings I watched ESPN talk shows from Pardon The Interruption to First Take. A common theme was that there are two quarterbacks head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. After that there’s everyone else. Clearly, Rodgers and Brady are in that elite group. But why is Peyton suddenly left behind?

Of course I know. He finished last season on a down note. The NFL media, and for that matter, its personnel infrastructure, who was surveyed by Sando in his ratings compilation, is notoriously short-sighted. In a league where job security is non-existent, it’s all about what have you done for me lately. And when we last saw Peyton Manning, he was clearly not himself in struggling through a home playoff loss to Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

The problem with writing off Peyton based on this is that we all know he was hurt. He was playing with a torn quad. It obviously impacted his play. He’ll be healthy for the start of the season—it’s a torn quad, not a broken neck. Although we know from past experience that he’s recovered from the latter too.

People have short memories. After three weeks of last season, Rodgers had to tell everyone to R-E-L-A-X, because the Packers were 1-2 and the offense had been inept in two road losses. All he did was win the MVP award. After four weeks of last season, everyone screamed that Brady was done, following a disastrous Monday Night game in Kansas City. All he did was author a fourth-quarter Super Bowl comeback against the best defense of the last decade and win game MVP honors.

Peyton had the misfortune to get hurt at the end of the year rather than the beginning, so everyone’s had several months to stew on that game and overreact to it.

The overreaction is reflected in the betting odds. Denver is 13-1 to win the Super Bowl. That’s not bad, but the favorites, Green Bay and Seattle are up around 6-1, a spot the Broncos have occupied the past couple years. Indianapolis is 8-1 and New England, even with no one knowing when Brady will be available, is 9-1.

There are going to be challenges ahead for Peyton. The Bronco offensive line is being re-tooled, with Ryan Clady out for the year and Orlando Franklin departed for San Diego. But offensive lines in today’s NFL are often in flux year-to-year. Peyton knows how to get rid of the football quickly and that will ease the transition.

In the meantime, C.J. Anderson represents the best running threat Denver has had in the Manning era. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are an excellent receiving tandem, and the raw talent in defense is capable than more than their #16 ranking in points allowed last year shows.  The addition of first-round draft choice Shane Ray, a solid edge rusher, is going to give the Broncos one of the best pass rushes in football, going along with Malik Jackson and Von Miller.

Denver has gone 38-10 in the three regular seasons since Manning arrived and they’ve reached a Super Bowl. The fact he tore a quad at the wrong time last year does not invalidate that. Enough with the overreaction. I don’t know if I’ll pick the Broncos to reach the Super Bowl. I do know that at a value of 13-1, they’re a good bet. Because after their great quarterback demonstrates how prematurely he was buried, those odds are going to tank back down in a hurry.