He compiled the greatest fantasy football season of any quarterback ever. He injected more value into each receiver, tight end, and running back he played with. He upgraded throwaway players like Jacob Tamme and Austin Collie to TE1 and WR1 status. If Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was a corporation, he’d have employees lining up to work for him like future stock brokers flocked to Jordan Belfort’s office in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street.”
Manning tossed a record-breaking 55 touchdowns last season and kept his interception rate nearly in the single digits. He threw for a record-tying seven touchdowns in the opener against Baltimore, a burst out of the gate that foreshadowed a season not seen since Tom Brady and Randy Moss lit up the NFL for a combined 83 touchdowns in 2007.
If you had Manning in 2013, you didn’t have to be fantasy Einstein. He did a lot of work for you. The formula for success in fantasy for 2013 could have read Pts=Peyton Manning + not terrible other players.
Because that’s what Peyton did. If you had an average group of receivers that only combined for 10 points that week, he erased their mediocrity with a 40-point effort seemingly at will. If you were one of the unlucky ones who didn’t have Peyton, you prayed you faced him on his bye week or that he just got bored and checked off to the run more often for some reason.
But despite his hall of fame numbers, quarterback Peyton Manning and the offense will have a lot more adversity to overcome in 2014.
For one, it starts with the stronger defenses Denver will be pitted against. We saw what the top-ranked Seattle Seahawks defense did against Manning in the Super Bowl. Manning was picked off twice in that game, sacked once, and gave up a safety early in the first quarter. More importantly, the Seahawks consistently put pressure on him and his receivers, which caused an array of incomplete passes.
Those types of defenses will be coming at the Broncos in droves in 2014. In Week 2, Denver gets their first big test against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team they lucked out on last season by not having to play them when the Chiefs two best pass rushers were healthy. The following week, they travel to a hostile environment in Seattle for a Super Bowl rematch with the Seahawks, a team that is returning nearly all of their key starters on both sides of the ball.
Fresh off their early bye in Week 4, the Arizona Cardinals come to town, a team that ranked among the best in yards allowed last season. Just looking at their first four games alone, it will be an achievement if the Broncos manage to stay .500 during that first stretch.
They travel to St. Louis in Week 11 where Manning will have to take on what has become the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL. Oh, and the Rams introduced another potential weapons to their defensive when they drafted standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
One can’t avoid mentioning Manning’s age as well. At 38 years old, he’s approaching the Brett Favre kind of age where he’s starting to assess whether or not it’s time to hang it up as soon as the season concludes.
But even though he’s aged, he has some unique gifts that allow him to preserve his body better than other quarterbacks.
For one, his quick decision making in the pocket helped him avoid countless big hits throughout his career. Also, increased efforts by the NFL to protect quarterbacks are helping too. Despite that, you have to wonder if he could end up sitting out a game or two he takes a few good licks from some of these defenses this season.
Another factor that could contribute to his regression is his mentality. Manning has accomplished just about everything he ever wanted to or needed to. He’s got his touchdown record back, a Super Bowl ring, and now he’s talking about ‘getting a bud light in his mouth’ after games. Nobody is questioning his competitiveness, but as you get older it’s difficult to duplicate the drive and momentum that the younger players have.
The Broncos also lost one of Manning’s favorite targets in Eric Decker to the Jets this offseason. They bring in Emmanuel Sanders to replace him, a guy who never compiled a 1,000-yard season despite playing with a pro bowl quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. While Sanders does bring in some deep threat talent and won’t impact Manning’s numbers to a startling degree, expect the Broncos lack of a red zone receiver to knock a few touchdowns off Manning’s final stats.
While none of these factors downgrade Manning to a QB2, it’s highly likely he will be among the top 10 players picked in 2014 fantasy drafts. Don’t be the guy who springs for him that early.