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AFC West: Will There Be a Quarterback Controversy In Denver?

December 1, 2015 • Joe Messineo • Denver Broncos, Features, Front Page, Injuries

Who is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos?

When this season began, answering that question with any name other than Peyton Manning’s was unimaginable. But age and injuries are tough on quarterbacks – even ones who are arguably the best of all time. When Manning went down with a torn plantar fascia, he was replaced with backup QB Brock Osweiler. And with the way things are going, Osweiler may not stay the backup for long. What will happen when Peyton Manning is ready to return to the Broncos? Will Osweiler’s play have created a quarterback controversy?

The Case Against Manning

The case for going back to Peyton Manning in the playoffs is so obvious that we’re not going to dwell on it for long. Suffice it to say that, if you go by the statistics, Peyton Manning is probably the single greatest quarterback in the history of the game. If he’s even close to his old form, he’ll help this team.

But the case against Manning is nearly as simple, and perhaps more compelling. It goes like this: no matter what Manning once was, it’s not what he is now. What he is now is a shockingly mediocre quarterback.

The Week 10 performance that got Peyton Manning benched mid-game was the single worst effort of his career. He threw almost as many interceptions (four) as he did completions (five), and he passed for a total of just 35 yards. The five completions were the fewest Manning has ever had in a start (his previous low water mark was 12). His passer rating was 0.0.

Manning apologists will be quick to point out that Manning was playing through his foot injury. That’s true enough, but an injured Peyton Manning has been pretty much the only Peyton Manning we’ve had for a while now. Manning seemed to be playing through something or other in every crucial late-season and postseason game with the Broncos over the past few years, and this year is clearly no exception.

Even over a larger sample size, Manning hasn’t looked great this year. His completion percentage is 59.9% in 2015, the lowest since his 1998 rookie year. At the time of his injury, he was on track for the fewest touchdowns in a complete season of his career. Even if Manning doesn’t throw another pass this year, he’ll have thrown 17 interceptions, good for a fourth-place tie in his nearly 20-year career. This is the Peyton Manning we have now. It doesn’t mean he’s not the greatest quarterback of all time (he still is!) – it just means that he’s well past his prime, and possibly past his expiration date.

The Case for Osweiler

Enter Brock Osweiler. If Osweiler is anywhere between mediocre or terrible in the games that Manning misses, then there will be no quarterback controversy: the Broncos will have no choice but to go back to their aging legend. But Osweiler has, in fact, been pretty darn good so far as a starter.

Osweiler is 2-0 in his first two career starts, and his 2015 stats (which include the end of the Week 10 game against the Chiefs) look pretty nice. His completion percentage is a respectable 61.3%, a bit higher than Manning’s. He also leads Manning in a laundry list of other categories, including TD%, QBR, yards per attempt, and interception percentage.

Osweiler’s arm strength has opened up the Broncos’ playbook a bit, allowing for more explosive downfield plays. Perhaps even more importantly, his lower turnover rates have helped out the Broncos defense, which remains the most important part of this 2015 squad.

Will There Be a Quarterback Controversy?

If Osweiler keeps up his current pace, there will absolutely be a quarterback controversy when Peyton Manning returns. As of right now, the sample size is still too small, so keep an eye on the Broncos’ upcoming games. Denver will face the Chargers and Raiders in the next two weeks, which will pit Osweiler against divisional opponents. Assuming Manning is still out, Osweiler will face the Steelers and Bengals in the next two games after that.

If Osweiler keeps his stats above Peyton’s 2015 marks and wins the vast majority of his starts, then there will be plenty of people calling for him to start in the playoffs––especially given Manning’s injury troubles in the past few postseasons. What was once unimaginable now seems almost likely: the best quarterback of all time could lose his starting job. There’s a quarterback controversy on the horizon in Denver, and it could be one for the ages.

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