Broncos can win AFC with Peyton Manning back at QB
The Denver Broncos have found themselves in an awkward quarterback situation all season long, but it looks as though they will begin and end the season with Peyton Manning at quarterback, and despite rarely looking capable of hitting his best play, that has proved good enough to give them the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and lock up home-field advantage.
Manning was playing poorly earlier in the season to the point that he only lost the league lead in interceptions this week, despite not playing since Week 10.
Brock Osweiler had shown enough that the Broncos were winning games, and observers were beginning to pose the question of which quarterback was a better option for the team in the postseason. Osweiler may not have the ceiling of Manning, but neither was he making as many catastrophic mistakes as the 2015 version of Manning was.
After an early score against San Diego (arguably the worst team in football with a significantly depleted secondary), Osweiler and the Broncos offense were unable to get much done.
Denver needed to win this game to not only affect seeding in the playoffs, but also lock up the division. A win gave them the No. 1 seed while a loss would drop them to No. 5 and a Wild-Card spot.
Gary Kubiak elected to pull Osweiler and put Manning in the game despite Osweiler (+1.7) actually not playing that poorly. He had two interceptions to his name, but one of them was a pass that hit his receiver in the hands and the other came as he was hit from early pressure in the pocket and floated up to a defender. Overall he had completed 63.6 percent of his passes, and 75 percent of them when kept clean.
Manning entered the game and found himself with work to do. He ended up attempting just eight passes, completing five of them for 69 yards, but Denver also found a running game, and big plays from C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman were instrumental in getting the win.
Encouragingly, Manning’s arm did look more lively than before he was sat down to heal his injuries. He completed a couple of passes outside the right numbers, including throwing from the far hash mark, and the passes didn’t come with his recent trademark arc and loft.
PFF Senior Analyst Rick Drummond, who graded the game, noted a marked difference in how clean, confident and efficient the Denver offense was once Manning came in.
“When the Broncos made the switch back to QB Peyton Manning (+0.3) in the second half of this one, there was a noticeable change in the Denver attack. Gone were the long dropbacks, muddy pockets and slower-developing outside zone runs and in their place were the quick-hit throws and inside zone runs from the shotgun, along with a more urgent — and confident — overall pace. In short, the Broncos looked more like the Broncos again.”
This is a team that has been destined for postseason football all season, and they have had an eye on the long game throughout. They have successfully navigated the regular season with major issues at quarterback, and still emerged with the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team is built around their defense, and all they need from Manning is to be a good game-managing quarterback. For most of the season he couldn’t do that, and was making horrendous mistakes. If nothing else against San Diego, he avoided the big mistake, and looked a little more like the game-managing quarterback Denver needs.
If Peyton Manning can be that guy throughout the playoffs, Denver is a real contender, and in better shape than if the team were still starting Osweiler.