There are reasons why the NFL is king. The unpredictability, the drama, the storylines ... It's the ultimate reality show.
Thinking back to just last month, never in a million years could I have imagined that Week 17 would produce the following headline:
The weight of the sentence -- and the insanity that created it -- is amazing.
First of all, New England had to lose to a Miami team that seemingly had packed it in, having fired its head coach and both coordinators in the midseason months, then expunging the general manager less than 24 hours before Sunday's kickoff. But the Dolphins finished off an otherwise miserable season by somehow stunning Tom Brady and the Pats.
Then, later that afternoon, with Denver simply needing to beat lowly San Diego at home in order to secure the No. 1 seed, the Broncos shockingly found themselves trailing and looking rather inept. Receivers were racking up dropped passes, with one resulting in a pick. Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Anderson were coughing up the football. And Brock Osweiler -- who, in his defense, was negatively affected by all those mistakes -- certainly wasn't helping the cause himself.
So Gary Kubiak looked for a spark and went to the bullpen. And his relief pitcher just happened to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Peyton Manning was finally healthy enough to be active and a heartbeat away from playing. And with the Broncos' offense desperately in need of a heartbeat, Manning came off the pine, immediately engineered an 80-yard scoring drive and then guided the Broncos to a win that gave them home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
It was a great moment. I never thought Manning would play again. He couldn't wipe the smile off of his face talking to CBS' Tracy Wolfson after the game. It gave me chills. It was awesome to watch.
Now Peyton should go back to the bench.
Kubiak going to the backup was a great in-game coaching move. It provided a legit spark. The run game picked up. So did the line play. The receivers started catching the ball. Manning getting back on the field -- for the first time since rightfully getting benched on Nov. 15 in a woeful performance against Kansas City -- sent a legit jolt throughout the team and stadium. It worked. But it wasn't like Manning himself set the Chargers on fire. He completed five of nine passes for 69 yards. It wasn't a vintage, Manning-shreds-the-opposition showing. He didn't individually dominate the second half of the football game. Just ask Peyton himself.
"I don't know if I can -- sometimes those things are so easy to say after the fact because Ronnie [Hillman] made a good run and C.J. made a couple of good runs," Manning said in the postgame, via The Denver Post. "I'm not sure that had much to do with me being in there. I think just that the execution was better in the second half. Up front, they gave some bigger holes to run the ball. I can't take credit for having a really good handoff, like I'm helping those guys hold onto the ball. I refuse to do that."
Yes, it was a great, needed win. But let's not go nuts and become prisoners of the moment. Let's not forget everything that has transpired this season.
Meanwhile, Manning has managed just nine TD strikes against 17 picks, with a career-worst 67.9 passer rating. The future Hall of Famer's 18th season has been, in a word, dreadful. Without question, injuries have factored in. The foot kept him from dressing for a month and a half. But it's also clear the arm is failing him at age 39; Manning can't get any zip on the fastball.
Look, I love Manning. He's a living legend, one of my all-time favorite athletes. But can we forget about the three-interception game against Cleveland, which was so bad it was scary? Can we forget about the aforementioned loss to K.C., where he nearly had as many picks (four) as completions (five, in 20 attempts)?
He's an iconic quarterback, no question, but even when he was at the height of his powers, he wasn't an annual playoff wiz. See: the 11-13 postseason record. And Manning is definitely not at the height of his powers anymore. Can you trust his accuracy? His health? I want to, but I can't. Unless Manning morphs into Benjamin Button, he isn't getting any younger.
Plus, Osweiler is a better fit in Kubiak's traditional offense, which typically has the QB taking snaps from under center, as opposed to in the shotgun (Manning's preferred approach). But let's put the offense aside for a moment ...
The strength of the 2015 Broncos is Wade Phillips' defense, which ranks first in total D and fourth in scoring D. Yes, you want the offense to make plays, but also to just not foul things up. Osweiler, with his 25-year-old arm, gives Denver the best chance to do both. Manning can't get the ball downfield, and he threw the second-most inceptions in the NFL during the regular season -- despite missing six full games.
The AFC is wide open. You can make a case for any of the six teams in the playoffs to make a run.
Osweiler gives the Broncos the best chance to win. He also gives them the best chance not to lose. Both are rather important.
It's time to Brock and roll.