Doubtful in Denver: Why Broncos Fans Should Have Concerns about Manning and the 2012 Season
The NFL Network recently ran a fan poll following Peyton Manning's own version of "The Decision", asking fans to predict likelihood of Denver winning the Super Bowl in 2012. "Will Denver win the Super Bowl in 2012?" No room for misinterpretation or subjectivity; a very simple and straightforward question. Will, not to be confused with the more flexible can, being the operative word. Shockingly, or maybe not, a resounding 76% voted yes. Now, obviously the numbers are to be taken with a massive grain of salt and will undoubtedly taper off some given the passage of time, but 76%?!?! Rational thought has no place in fanaticism, as proven on sports talk radio on the daily, but these numbers have no place in any conversation. Undoubtedly, ecstatic Denver fans make up the majority of those polled, but they should be prepared to pull in the reigns for 2012. Perhaps nothing is as difficult as winning a Super Bowl and those expecting a championship in the Mile High City are overlooking some major Manning question marks going in to 2012.
All the hoopla, celebrating, even the grainy cell-phone video footage has done nothing to answer the question concerning Manning's health. In the last calendar year Manning has had to have 4 neck surgeries to ostensibly fix the same issue and despite the receiving doctor's clearance to play, there are concerns about arm strength. Manning just turned 36 and we all know how much longer those little bumps and bruises take to get over as we get older. 4 neck surgeries, nerve regeneration; these are not little bumps/bruises, especially when dealing with the neck area. Fans are clearly not only ones concerned about Manning's health either, as Denver structured his contract to protect against investing long-term in a player who is one bad hit or hiccup (albeit a large one) in rehabilitation from never playing again. Manning was essentially signed to a one year, $18 million dollar deal and while he has the potential to be worth every penny and more, Denver was not prepared to offer a long-term, fully guaranteed deal. Manning has to prove healthy if the remainder of the contract, including a raise and multi-year guarantee, is to kick in. If the Bronco front office expresses concern, financially, about his health, there is no doubt Bronco fans should take notice too.
Manning has often been referred to as a field general and a coach on the field, even going as far as calling him the actual offensive coordinator. However, none of those titles came in 1998 when he first stepped on the field in Indianapolis. Those relationships were built over time, countless hours in the off-season working with the wide-outs and an incredible connection with an All-pro center and offensive line. Those connections are all gone. A huge part of Manning's success is predicated on knowing where his receivers will be at all times, having faith to throw to a spot and knowing his guy will be there to make the play. No one is expecting perfection from the Bronco offense, especially right away, and certainly Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are talented, but time is no longer a luxury Manning has on his side. On top of getting acclimated to a new quarterback, the Bronco offense will experience a complete overhaul. Most would speculate a change for the better, especially for the wide-outs, and they are probably right, but not without some passage of time and some rough patches. The offensive line, which most would consider a strength, also lacks the connection and complete understanding Manning and his line had in Indy. One missed block or misread could have disastrous consequences for Manning. Manning has always had the luxury of continuity surrounding him, especially on the offensive side of the ball translating to a well oiled machine on the field. But what took years to build in Indy needs to replicated in Denver at an expedited pace.
I often read during Manning's brief free agency that the list of interested teams should include somewhere around 27 of 32 teams in the NFL. And without a doubt, fans of all those 27 (and maybe even a couple more) fantasized about a healthy Peyton Manning donning #18 in their teams' colors. However, to suggest Manning will take your team from .500 ball club who backed their way in to the playoffs to Super Bowl champions is asinine, ludicrous, crazy, insane (need I continue?) and every other adjective you want to toss in there. Peyton Manning was a great quarterback, with the potential to still be a great quarterback, but the pieces still need to fall into place. Manning's health and the ability of the offense to acclimate are just a couple of the riddles Denver must decipher to successfully compete in the NFL at the highest level. A healthy Peyton Manning makes this team better, immensely better. But please Bronco fans; let's not crown the 2012 Super Bowl champions in March.