Many NFL bettors are wondering if Peyton Manning is really in decline or if this is just the sort of senseless wittering typical of agony aunts? This handicapper shares her predictions.
Broncos Lose to Colts, The Beginning of the End
As the Denver Broncos succumbed to a stunning loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, the resulting cacophony of newspaper headlines and media experts and critics was deafening. Almost overnight the Peyton Manning narrative turned on its head.
Going into the game with the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were firm favourites in NFL odds to win straight up and advance into the AFC Championship game. Countless panels of NFL experts weighing in on the game, be they in print, on TV or radio, served up one hyperbole after another for Peyton Manning, his undeniable quality and skill. The overwhelming consensus was Peyton Manning and the Broncos would forge ahead, not only because of home advantage but also because of the season they'd just enjoyed and the history of success they've had over the Colts since Manning took over.
Fast forward 60 minutes of shocking football that resulted in the improbable 24-13 win by the Colts at Mile High and the refrain thumping incessantly out of every media outlet in the nation was one and the same: harbingers of Father Time. Going from "he's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and a real contender for another Super Bowl ring" (with Tina Turner's 'Simply The Best' providing the beat to the endless compliments) to "he's soooo done. So yesterday. A has-been quarterback," (all done merrily to the tune of Ray Charles' Hit the Road Jack).
Just like that, Peyton Manning is dismissed.
Mid October, Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre's all-time touchdown record and all and sundry marvelled at how the 38-year-old veteran could still play with the same "cold-blooded efficiency" as he's done throughout his 17 seasons in the NFL. Fawning headlines, simpering NFL experts, adoring fans & those placing NFL picks were all united in their common love for the sure fire Hall of Famer.
By season end, Peyton Manning finished second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes last season, one less than league-leading Andrew Luck (40). He came in fourth in the three NFL key statistical categories: with 4,727 passing yards, 295 yards per game and a 101.5 passer rating. Lest we forget, he also set a new record this season for career passing touchdowns, surpassing the great Brett Favre. . By the numbers alone, it's absurd to suggest Peyton Manning is on the decline. Those aren't numbers a declining quarterback puts up, surely. Heck, he's a country mile ahead of most experienced but younger quarterbacks in the game today, never mind fresh faced newcomers.
Since Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos three years ago, he's led them to three straight divisional titles (going 18-1 against the AFC West overall), two straight Conference titles (2014-2015 the exception) and a bye in each and every season in the playoffs. Let's not forget, he also won the AFC Championship game in 2013-2014 and took them to the Super Bowl 48 (the disastrous curtain call aside for a moment).
Nothing has meant more to the Broncos success than Peyton Manning, clearly. But the only number that all armchair critics are latching on to now is he's 38 years of age (39 this March). And on that number alone they are floating the notion he's on the decline. Talking about his failing arm strength and agility, even though he's third in the NFL for the longest pass (86 yards).
Undoubtedly, Peyton Manning's arrival to Denver was saddled with great expectations of a championship, fulfilling which they'd hoped to have already accomplished by now. That they haven't done so is a bit of a letdown (no sense to deny it). To have it fuel this debate though blatantly ignores several realities of the game: a) the process of winning a Super Bowl is not straightforward (heck, it took the power couple Brady and Belichick 10 years to win another); b) it's not down to just the quarterback but the combined effort of the entire team and staff to navigate through the season and the playoffs successfully; and c) no team is immune to the bumps on the road, the injuries and setbacks; and d) in a 32-strong league, there is only ONE winner when all is said and done (That's 32/1 odds). The Broncos were clearly not immune to any of those and they were hit very hard with injuries down the stretch, namely to Peyton Manning who later admitted to be dealing with quad issues.
In all likelihood, Peyton Manning et all will have to consider and answer many valid questions before next season. The armchair critics aren't going to give up. As well, John Elway has some tough decisions to make about his chosen quarterback, which reportedly will be made sometime next month when (if) Manning passes his physical exam. What's relevant right now is that by the NFL stats, Peyton Manning is as competitive as the rest. At 38 years of age (soon to be 39) his window of opportunity is definitely smaller than quarterbacks in their prime and those just starting out, but it's not shut. To suggest he's on the decline after a season in which he ranked amongst the best in the game is just disingenuous wittering.
Denver Broncos are currently listed between 800-1200 NFL odds to win Super Bowl 50.