Back in September of 2011, when Peyton Manning went under the knife for his third neck surgery in 19 months, an awful sounding procedure called a one-level cervical neck fusion, followers of the NFL couldn’t help but wonder if we’d heard the last brilliant line of scrimmage audible barked out of #18.
Jim Irsay insisted that he’d be fine, and even after the Colts finally admitted that he was going to miss the 2011 season in its entirety, he swore up and down that Peyton was still their quarterback.
This is how the story played out. The Colts tanked, drafted Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the draft, and Irsay turned his back on his Hall-of-Fame quarterback instead of paying him a $28M roster bonus.
Sure, the NFL is a business, and parting ways with star players is just part of the game, but I think that we were all still a little bit blown away to hear that Manning had been released.
So here we go, fast forward. Manning hits the open market and Elway woos him to the Broncos for $96M and a legitimate chance of winning another Superbowl right away. He leads the Broncos to the AFC West crown in cruisy fashion and then gets upset by the Ravens at home in the playoffs as Flacco and his unibrow went on to hoist up the Lombardi Trophy.
Suddenly his 10 straight wins and 37 touchdowns in 2012 are all for naught as pundits swing back onto the old “Manning can’t win in the postseason” bandwagon. I must admit, there is plenty of evidence to lend credence to this theory. Manning does have eight first round playoff losses and an overall postseason record of just 9-11, but the AFC Championship never should have gone into overtime.
But the dawn of a new season brings a clean slate for all 32 NFL teams, coaching staffs, and players, and one quarter of the way into the 2013 campaign, it is clearly evident that Peyton Manning is on a mission. Not only a mission to reach and win the Superbowl, but on a mission to somehow take his game, and team, to an entirely new level.
It seems that every week you hear sports commentators across the country spouting off the same line concerning Peyton Manning’s extraordinary start. “It’s just Peyton Manning being Peyton Manning.”
The reality is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, while wearing the Colt’s uniform he revolutionized his position, set countless records, took his team to the playoffs year in and year out, and of course won a Superbowl. But Peyton Manning was never as dominant as he has been through the first four games of this season. This is not your father’s Peyton Manning. He’s smarter. He’s more accurate. He’s better.
“How can Peyton Manning possibly be better?” you ask.
Well, your guess is as good as mine, but if you watch the film and look at the numbers there’s just no other explanation for how the Broncos have looked absolutely unbeatable thus far.
Already the all-out preseason favourites to represent the AFC in the Superbowl, there are more than murmurs popping up around the league that the Broncos could go 16-0. 16-0, that’s not only the potential win-loss record for this team, but also Peyton Manning’s astonishing touchdown to interception ratio to date. Sixteen touchdowns, zero interceptions. Think about it for a second. He’s also on pace to throw for nearly 6,000 yards and if the Broncos keep it up, they’ll score more points than any team in the history of the NFL. Not only are they on track to score more than the 2007 Brady led Patriots, they’re on track to shatter the record by more than 100 points.
What’s even scarier to think about is that Denver is still missing two of their top defensive players. When Von Miller and Champ Bailey return, we could be looking at a club that is not only unstoppable on offense, but one that has in addition a combo of one of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers joined with a hall of fame cover corner on defence. We’ve seen teams in the past with a dominant offense and a quality defence, like Brady’s Pats, or a dominant defence with a quality offense (Ray Lewis and the 2000 Ravens), but if the Broncos are dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage, who is going to beat them?
And that is just the question that we all ought to be asking ourselves right now, “Who exactly is going to beat them?”
If asked, undoubtedly Richard Sherman would tweet a quick “We will,” but the Seahawks are still too fallible on the road. Even after this week’s epic come from behind overtime victory against the Texans, you just can’t see the Hawks coming into Mile High and slowing down the Broncos’ offense, and with Wilson putting up a paltry 123 yards with no TDs and an INT at Houston, they’re certainly not going to outscore them.
Fortunately for Seattle, if and when these two teams do meet, the game would be held at the Meadowlands and not Mile High. Perhaps you could argue that Denver is equally lucky to avoid a visit to the 12th Man at the Clink, but either way, I don’t see the Broncos hitting too many road bumps between now and this fictional Superbowl match-up with the Seahawks.