Instant Debate

Peyton Manning at 39: Can Denver Broncos QB set another high mark?

Peyton Manning turned 39 on Tuesday. Here are the five best seasons (according to passing yards) by quarterbacks 39 or older:

1) Warren Moon, 1995 (39 years old, 4,228 yards)
2) Brett Favre, 2009 (40 years old, 4,202 yards)
3) Warren Moon, 1997 (41 years old, 3,678 yards)
4) Vinny Testaverde, 2004 (41 years old, 3,532 yards)
5) Brett Favre, 2008 (39 years old, 3,472 yards)

Considering the departures of tight end Julius Thomas and guard Orlando Franklin, the overhaul of the Denver Broncos' coaching staff and the starkly disappointing end to Manning's 2014 season, what are the quarterback's chances of topping the above list in 2015?

Manning might be 39, but I believe he plays more like a guy 10 years younger. He has been mostly injury-free, except, of course, for the neck issue that led to his missing 2011 and leaving the Colts. But that seems OK for now. And whatever leg issues he dealt with late last year, he passed his physical earlier this month. So from an age standpoint, I think Manning can still thrive.

The question is, how much will the new offense allow him to throw? New coach Gary Kubiak has a great system for running the ball, as we saw during his time as the head man in Houston and as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore last season, and his scheme will most likely take passing attempts away from Peyton. Ultimately, then, I don't think Manning will be able to surpass Moon's mark. That said, the downtick in attempts should help him avoid falling off at the end of this season like he did in 2014. The loss of Julius Thomas shouldn't be downplayed, but Manning still has an excellent chance to top this list. He hasn't passed for fewer than 4,500 yards in a healthy season since 2008. Passing numbers are so inflated in today's NFL that the quarterbacks listed can't even offer a direct comparison.

The bottom line for the Broncos' season -- as well as Manning's chances of topping Moon -- is Peyton's arm. Will Denver see the MVP candidate from the first half of the 2014 season or the liability from the final two months of the season? Peyton Manning clearly didn't look like the same player at the end of last season as he did when he was carving out his legendary career. Before I found out he'd played the final two months with a thigh sprain, I was afraid his performance in the AFC Championship Game would be akin to 42-year-old Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield during the 1973 World Series.

In today's pass-happy NFL, Moon's numbers are very obtainable. I don't foresee 2015 being a vintage Peyton Manning season -- he has new teammates and a new coach -- but it will be good enough to crack this list. Given Peyton Manning's arm strength and the way he finished last season, I don't see him having a better year than Warren Moon in 1995 or Brett Favre in 2009. I also don't think it's all about the statistics, either. Yes, Favre's numbers in '09 were some of the best of his career -- but he also led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game and came oh so close to winning. As for Moon's brilliant '95 campaign -- most of which I watched -- the statistics might not blow you away, but we've all been spoiled by the gaudy marks put up in this era, with all the rules geared toward benefiting the passing game. Here's the other thing about Moon: His arm strength and perfect delivery never failed him. He could rocket a 15-yard out at an age when most quarterbacks have either physically broken down or simply lost something off the fastball.

Frankly, I anticipate Denver running the ball more this year -- Manning can be successful without throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Thus, he might not need to top that list in order to enjoy a fine season. It all depends on his health. The Peyton Manning we saw in the playoffs cannot put up big numbers, while the QB we saw early last season clearly can.

Speaking of health ... Tight end Owen Daniels, if he can stay on the field, should have a good season in Gary Kubiak's offense. Another guy to watch: second-year receiver Cody Latimer. Kubiak really talked him up on Tuesday, and I think he can indeed make an impact.

What remains to be seen is what the Kubiak-Manning offense will look like.

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