Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history. Over his past 13 seasons as a starter, he’s averaged 11.6 victories.
Prior to this season, the most popular prediction for Broncos wins was 10. I had to laugh while listening to alleged prophets. Manning usually picks up 10 wins by the 13th game.
The Broncos are the favorites to ride to a Super Bowl title. Their defense is properly violent, and Manning has been magnificent. The Broncos are riding an 11-game win streak.
But here’s the sobering truth for Broncos fans to consider:
Manning is not among the finest playoff quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s not even close. During his career, which began in 1998, Manning has compiled a 9-10 record in the playoffs.
He’s delivered a dazzling season with 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions, but that’s typical regular-season behavior for Manning. The playoffs have been a much more troubling story. Manning has lost six times – a one-and-done - in his opening playoff game.
He trails Otto Graham, John Unitas, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and, yes, John Elway on the playoff chart. Elway trotted into the sunset with a 14-7 playoff record.
You can talk for days about Elway’s feats, but his most impressive accomplishment might have been a 5-1 record in the AFC title game, including two wins on the road.
Elway’s playoff record is padded by seven straight wins in his final two seasons. Prior to consecutive Super Bowl titles, Elway collected seven losses and seven wins in the playoffs.
Mainly because he never competed alongside a dominating running back. When Terrell Davis arrived in Colorado, Elway finally was blessed with the partner he had long needed to rule the football world.
I share much of the optimism about the Broncos. For one thing, I don’t see a mighty team on the horizon. The Broncos have selected an ideal season to be powerful. This not a banner season in the NFL.
But Manning is chasing his second Super Bowl title with a battered Willie McGahee and the erratic, undersized Knowshon Moreno as his prime sidekicks.
If this formula for success doesn’t fill with you with at least a touch of doubt, then you aren’t paying enough attention to the past. Manning’s pass-happy offenses have often crashed when it matters most.
Still, there’s strong reason to believe in Manning. A year ago, he was football’s leading question mark after four neck surgeries. Rumors swirled – and were, alas, widely reported – that his right arm had lost almost all its power.
He’s silenced the doubters, and in classic Manning style he’s done the silencing with extreme politeness. These days, the only person who doubts Manning is Manning. His skepticism, and his endless hunger, has fueled one of the most inspiring comebacks in sports history.
But sentiment will not carry the Broncos to victory. The marauding Ravens defense, which enjoys walking the fine line between legitimately violent football and borderline criminal behavior, is seeking to end the season that has so thrilled Colorado fans.
Manning is high on anyone’s list of the best quarterbacks ever. I place him behind Joe Montana, John Unitas and Elway and ever so slightly ahead of Tom Brady.
He has a strong chance to depart the game as the best.
He needs a win Saturday to continue his climb.