The San Francisco 49ers are winning with second-year upstart Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, but it wasn't that long ago that they were seriously pursuing then-free agent Peyton Manning (whether Jim Harbaugh wants to admit it or not). If Manning had signed with the Niners instead of the Denver Broncos, would San Francisco still have made it to Super Bowl XLVII?
Peyton Manning could've guided Niners to Super Bowl -- with home-field advantageYes. The 49ers might not have been the kind of pass-first team Manning is used to, but with their defense, offensive line and running game, they still would have been in contention -- as long as they had home-field advantage. If the Green Bay Packers had handled their business and made the NFC playoffs go through Lambeau Field, then that could have been a problem, given Manning's issues in cold weather.
Still, the 49ers are good enough at playing defense and running the ball to have made a serious Super Bowl run.
Manning-led Niners would've won NFC West but sputtered in playoffsWhat we saw from Peyton Manning this season was tremendous. However, as the year wore on, the field got too big for him. The long ball disappeared from the Broncos' playbook, which I think was the result of nothing more than Manning's arm tiring out after a year away from football. But that doesn't play into postseason success. Defenses that don't have to cover the whole field have an easier time succeeding. The offense, meanwhile, faces increased pressure, because every scoring drive has to be sustained with 10-15 plays. And as we saw in the Broncos' game against the Baltimore Ravens, that wasn't enough -- even with receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who currently have a significant advantage over Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss in the talent department.
Let's consider the NFC Championship Game, for example. If Manning had been playing for the 49ers, he wouldn't have been able to mount a sustained comeback from that 17-0 deficit; the 49ers wouldn't have made any big plays. Atlanta would have slowly closed around San Francisco's offense like a vise.
A Manning-led Niners team still would have won the NFC West, but San Francisco would have been out of gas by the time the playoffs came around.
Niners would absolutely have landed in New Orleans behind ManningYes. I don't have any doubt that this 49ers team would be playing in Super Bowl XLVII if Peyton Manning were at the helm. Most importantly, Manning would have been playing with an outstanding supporting cast. The 49ers' running game would've made his job much easier. He also would have played all of his playoff games in pass-friendly weather.
San Francisco is lucky Manning went to DenverThere's an old cliché about some of the best deals being the ones you never make, and it certainly applies to the 49ers in this case. Given Manning's struggles (which is putting it mildly) in the playoffs, there is no doubt he would have cost San Francisco at some point -- probably against the Packers.
The only reason the 49ers are in the Super Bowl is because of Kaepernick. They are much better off without Manning.
With Manning, Niners could've been NFL's best teamPeyton Manning might not have run for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers (or even 18.1, for that matter) like Colin Kaepernick did, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have exploited the Packers' secondary (or that of the Falcons.) Manning is a rare talent with the killer instinct to match. Combining his effectiveness at quarterback with a stout running game and a top-flight defense could have made the Niners the NFL's best team.
Manning made beautiful music with Denver Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley this season. I would think that San Francisco pass-catchers Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis would have made pretty nice complements in their own right. The 49ers have a complete team in all three phases already. Parking Manning behind center? Forget about it ... the 49ers would have been awesome.
Kaepernick has been good, but Manning is betterWhat makes this question most challenging isn't Manning's inability to consistently take his teams deep into the playoffs, it's our limited knowledge of Kaepernick's game. Is Kaepernick truly clutch?
He sure looked good in the second half against the Falcons in the NFC title matchup. But how much of that performance was the result of a defense that helped him get it done? How much was the result of Atlanta's lack of stamina late in the game? That's hard to say.
Kaepernick's explosiveness was surely a major reason for the 49ers' success. Still, Manning is one of the best ever -- better than Kaepernick -- and it's difficult to fathom him ever failing with a defense as stout as the 49ers'.