Bloggerment: Arizona Sports 620 bloggers Rod Lakin and Jarrett Carlen argue whether Peyton Manning made the best selection to add to his Super Bowl résumé?.
Question: Would Arizona have given Manning an easier path to the Super Bowl than Denver?
Rod Lakin: It was starting to make sense. Last Friday's unexpected (and unwanted) report about Peyton Manning's interest in the San Francisco 49ers finally provided what had previously been absent: The trump card. For those like myself, who were confused at Manning's hesitancy in signing with Arizona over dubious-at-best situations in Denver and Tennessee, the 49ers finally provided a semblance of sanity to a process that had seemed to veer away from it. Now this. Not only is signing with Denver a mistake for Peyton Manning, but it also cuts away from the core assumption that we were operating under: Which team will give Manning the best chance to win a Super Bowl? The answer should be easy: The San Francisco 49ers. This is not to say that choosing San Francisco over the Arizona Cardinals would be equally as simple a proposition. Jim Harbaugh, after all, is quite a departure from the docile, hands-off leadership profiles that are proven to work best with Manning. Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree would also not seem to fit the Peyton paradigm established by Marvin Harrison and continued by Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis. In other words, you can make a distinction between the best and the ideal, but what you cannot do is convince me that Denver would fit into either category. The Arizona Cardinals, by contrast, would not only be a more functional situation than San Francisco, but would also provide a better path to win a Super Bowl than the one he has chosen. More details to come…
Jarrett Carlen: I agree that San Francisco would have been the best choice for Manning. Of all the potential suitors, they were the best team last year, and they also return almost all of their starters. The reason Manning should have gone there is the same reason that Arizona would not have been the optimal selection. The 49ers were one of the best teams in the NFC last year and they, of course, play in the Cardinals' division. The Cards finished 8-8 and were several games behind the Niners. The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, won their division with an 8-8 record. And while the NFC West got better this offseason (the Seahawks get Matt Flynn, the Rams get a healthy Sam Bradford and a ton of draft picks, the Niners get Randy Moss and Mario Manningham) the AFC West basically stood pat. Outside the division, the AFC, as a whole, offers the easier road to the Super Bowl. Instead of having to go through young, powerful teams like Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco and the New York Giants, Peyton now only has to get past aging contenders like Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore. Because of their division and conference, the Broncos provide Manning with the best chance at winning a championship. And that's without even going into their personnel advantages....
Rod Lakin: I promised details, so I'll begin with a few: The top 6 pass defenses in the NFL are all AFC teams. Eight of the top 10 are AFC. Eleven of the top 15, and so on… So who can seriously assert that the road through the AFC is "easier?" Of the three contenders you named, two could be could be considered "aging," but Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley are all 30 or younger. These "contenders" aren't going anywhere anytime soon, in other words, and there's at least 10 years of history that suggests both organizations can and will continue to augment this claim. As to the AFC West, two of the aforementioned 15 are the Broncos division rivals and the Kansas City Chiefs could certainly not be accused of "standing pat." Last year Kansas City lost 4 key players to season ending injuries (Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki), 3 of which received Pro Bowl invitations the previous year. To return those 4 would be a significant boost, but not content with it, the Chiefs signed two players considered to be the best available free agents at their position in cornerback Stanford Routt and right tackle Eric Winston. They also agreed to very economical 1-year contract for a very motivated Peyton Hillis. So I think you can (and should) probably concede that Kansas City did not "stand pat," which will assuredly shift the debate to the remaining teams in the AFC West. It is true that the Oakland Raiders spent much of their off-season shedding bad contracts and that San Diego could not match one given to Vincent Jackson. But that would only make them slightly worse teams that, by most accounts, underachieved last season, and that, by all accounts, still have two of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. So, if the tiebreaker becomes Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer vs. Sam Bradford and Matt Flynn, I'll ask it again: How is it that this road is "easier?"
Jarrett Carlen: Let the record show that Rod referred to Carson Palmer as one of the "better quarterbacks in the NFL". His internet must be really slow, because he clearly typed and sent that in 2005. As for the Chiefs' improvements, I admit that on paper they should be a better team. Of course they still have an uncertain situation at QB and a new head coach who has a career record of 26-41. If you think that makes for a tougher road than going through a team in the 49ers who were a play away from the Super Bowl, then I suppose that's your opinion. Now that we've looked at their competition, let's look at what each team has to offer. The Cardinals have one advantage - Larry Fitzgerald. But one great receiver a team does not make. Denver has a good young core of receivers. Because the Broncos were a run first, sometimes option offense, this group had far fewer targets and total yards than Arizona, but virtually the same yards per catch and TDs. Each team has a decent running game, though the Broncos gained more yards on the ground last year. Each team has a coach who has been to the Super Bowl, though John Fox has proven to be flexible, changing his game plan depending on what he has available. And if he gave control to Tebow, he'll surely give control to Manning. Both teams have similar young defenses, but the Broncos offensive line is superior to an Arizona line that was second in the league in sacks allowed for 2 straight years. That might be important to a QB coming off several neck surgeries.
Rod Lakin: Well I'm glad that you've conceded one crucial point. As to the frivolous one about Carson Palmer, I wouldn't back away from that statement, and as it relates to the argument, I would say that 3 teams in the "easier" division would gladly take him over their incumbent starter. If this is not the case, I would invite you to explain how it is that Tavaris Jackson, Kevin Kolb, and Alex Smith are any better. Let's put that on the record. The more important point, in the meantime, was already conceded with the mention of Larry Fitzgerald, and I don't think the Cardinals admittedly bad offensive line is enough to undermine it. For example, you probably wouldn't need more than two guesses (Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne) to name Peyton Manning's leading receiver for every season past his rookie year in 1998. Now try a similar exercise over the last four seasons for the most critical position on the offensive line. If you can name both Tony Ugoh, and Charlie Johnson, you're better than I am, and you might also notice that Manning was no worse a quarterback, or a more-sacked one with two left tackles who are no longer on the Colts' roster. Stability, it seems, cuts the Cardinals way in this regard, as the Peyton paradigm thrives more on an All-Pro wide receiver than it does a an All-Pro offensive line. This is not to say that any quarterback (4 neck surgeries notwithstanding) would not want a solid offensive line, good receivers, stout defense and productive running game. Rather that the Broncos only hold the clear edge in the most negligible of those factors, while the Cardinals hold a decisive advantage in the most imperative.
Jarrett Carlen: I will simply go back to the fact that it takes much more than a great receiver to win a championship. Yes, Peyton Manning was very successful with Wayne and Harrison. But if you think that wide receiver is the most "imperative" of positions, look up how many Super Bowl championships Peyton Manning currently has compared to how many Tom Brady has. Then look at their stable of receivers. The Broncos have the best overall team. The Broncos have the easier division and the easier conference. And Denver is where Peyton Manning should be.