All good things must come to an end. Every storied NFL career begins with a great potential, a climb through adversity, success on the field, difficulties off the field and that eventual crowning moment. Peyton Manning has already experienced all of these things. Yet, in the quest for many fans to consider him the greatest ever, he needs to accomplish one more thing, and then lay his gun to the ground. If you’re a football fan, soak it up…this will likely be Peyton Manning’s last ride.
8. He Turns 40 in March
Peyton Manning has been one of the best players in the NFL for a very long time. A very…long…time. The 39-year-old quarterback will enjoy his 40th birthday just over a month after the big game. The product of the University of Tennessee, as well as the Archie Manning household, Peyton Manning owns nearly every major NFL statistical record at the quarterback position. There are a couple of players (Tom Brady, Drew Brees) who are hot on his heels and will likely surpass him in the next couple of years, but these fellas are a wonderful product of what Peyton Manning brought to the game of football: the extra coach on the field of play. Considering Peyton’s injuries, it’s a small miracle he is still playing.
7. His Injuries Are Debilitating
Peyton has dealt with injuries that would force nearly any player into retirement. The fact that he plays quarterback, and doesn’t have to endure player-to-player engagement on every play is the only reason he’s still in the business. Before the neck injury, it seemed Peyton might be able to play until he was in his early to mid-40s. Everything was intact, he was still somewhat mobile and had the arm strength and accuracy to carry him through. With the spinal fusions, he borrowed some time and was able to adapt and cope with the loss of nervous activity. Now, other things are falling apart. It’s a big ask for him to compete at a high level with limited feeling in his fingertips, but to also navigate the pocket with a bum foot that is never going to be what it once was? Peyton is fighting a losing battle.
6. The Ridiculous HGH Scandal
Al Jazeera offered a report suggesting HGH supplements were sent to Peyton Manning’s residence, addressed to his wife, Ashley. This happened when Peyton was dealing with his neck issues in Indianapolis, and simply hoping he might have the opportunity to play football again. While HGH is a banned substance in the NFL, people should understand that many people outside of professional/sanctioned amateur sports take the substance to aid in recovery from accidents, surgeries, vanity or to increase physical performance. Is it illegal? No. Not at all. Is it fishy that it was sent to the Manning household, addressed to Ashley? Not really. That said, this report has really chapped Peyton’s hindquarters. He’s offered some pointed words at the media before, but recently he’s been simmering toward a boiling seethe. At a certain point, these allegations take their toll. And he’s over it.
5. His Skill Level Is Waning
The most likely reason Peyton will play out Super Bowl 50, and then retire? His skill level is waning. Therein lies the great suck. Peyton’s mental capacity for the game is the best it has ever been, and you can see that he’s always getting his team into situations to hit a big play, but he’s unable to execute. This was the case multiple times in the 2016 AFC Championship Game when he consistently missed Emmanuel Sanders on overthrows and under-throws. His deep ball is more of a hulking heave than a guided missile. Peyton was never the most mobile of quarterbacks, but he has lost more mobility due to his spinal inflexibility, and a bad foot. The foot seems to be on the mend, but the spine? That’s that. Could Peyton get healthy, and play another season? Sure. In a cold, high-altitude climate? Not likely.
4. What Else Can He Accomplish?
One of the most admirable things about Peyton Manning is his desire to call the perfect game—to play the perfect game. Season in and season out, he has offered a tireless, relentless pursuit of this goal. He is the finest student of the game the NFL has ever known. His understanding of the game makes him another coach on the field. However, when it comes to the actual game of football, what else can he possibly accomplish? He is a Super Bowl Champion, he has played in three Super Bowls thus far—Super Bowl 50 will be his fourth—he owns records, he has beaten legends, he has been awarded multiple league MVPs. He has done it all. If his team wins Super Bowl 50, he’ll have won a Super Bowl with two different teams, making him the only quarterback to ever achieve such a feat. The only quarterback.
3. Peyton’s Epic Post-Game Statement
Peyton Manning offered an epic quote regarding his future after the AFC Championship Game vs. New England. No, he didn’t offer it to the media. He offered it to none other than the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick. Embracing Bill after the game, NFL Films captured footage and audio of the brief conversation between the two living football legends. And Peyton told Bill, “Hey, listen, this might be my last rodeo. So, it sure has been a pleasure.” This isn’t someone suggesting they’re gonna up and quit when the season comes to an end, but we can safely assume that the result of Super Bowl 50 will weigh heavily into this decision. It seems, either way, Peyton is leaning toward retirement. We don’t imagine he’ll offer anything definitive in the week leading up to the game, but he will definitely be answering questions about this quote.
2. Denver Will Win the Super Bowl
At the time of laying virtual ink to paper, the oddsmakers have Carolina favored -4.5/-5. A Denver win would prove as an upset. Take the spread, people. Yes, Cam Newton is a beast. He is, hands down, the best football player who will be playing in Super Bowl 50. Alas, he doesn’t play on the most talented team. Denver owns the seasoned veteran talent, with some Super Bowl experience, and they are a kryptonite opponent for the Carolina Panthers’ defense. The Carolina defense is impressively stout, and athletic, but after teams adjust to the initial game plan, Carolina struggles to counter, and relies on Cam’s late game heroics. Arizona handed Carolina the NFC Championship with poor execution, and flub turnovers. That won’t happen in Santa Clara. Cam Newton will face the best defensive scheme he has faced all season. Denver wins. Peyton retires.
1. The Sheriff Will Ride Off Into the Sunset
Last, but certainly not least, the emotional investment into the career of Peyton Manning. The man nicknamed The Sheriff needs to prove it one more time before he walks away from the game. After the NFC Championship Game, Cam Newton was informed that the Panthers would be playing Denver. Viewers could see the brief shock in his eyes, “Oh wow. Playing The Sheriff. Well, either way, we’re going to live in the moment.” Cam, like Vegas, most pundits and most casual football fans, thought Tom Brady and the Patriots would prevail in the AFC. It would have been a much better match up for Cam and Carolina. This Denver team, and these Broncos players know what’s up. They’ll play on fire. It’s certainly not to say that the moment is too big for Cam Newton—who will likely win NFL MVP—but this game will end with The Sheriff’s ride into the sunset.