It's October. The leaves are changing; summer has left us, and the 2012 NFL season is in full swing. Some teams have surprised their fans and critics, while others have crumpled under pass-rushers and injury bugs.
In Denver, the Mile High City, the Broncos sit at 3-3 after a roller-coaster ride through the first six weeks of the season and then a much-needed bye week.
In Week 8, Denver will take on the New Orleans Saints, and not surprisingly, much of the media attention has been about the Broncos immensely likable and popular quarterback, superstar Peyton Manning.
Manning has revived the Broncos and turned them into a team of national relevance. He has also—especially after the Week 6 comeback victory against the San Diego Chargers—made them the front-runners in the lowly AFC West.
Denver's wins and losses have of course been team efforts, yet for today, let's take Peyton Manning back to school and make him think it's 1996 in Tennessee. Here's a full report card for Manning at the NFL's midseason mark.
Peyton's aim has been phenomenal this season. He has a completion percentage of 67.8, which is almost three points higher than his career average of 65 percent.
He's also only thrown four picks; three of these were in one quarter against the Atlanta Falcons, and one of them was due to a miscommunication between Manning and wide receiver Matthew Willis and was truly Willis' fault.
Peyton is on-track to complete 411 passes this season, which would rank as his second-best figure in this category throughout his whole career.
The Atlanta first quarter was sloppy, though, and—albeit an anomaly—rather inexcusable for an NFL quarterback not named Matt Cassel.
There was much banter when the season began about Peyton's arm strength, and speculation was further fueled when it was confirmed that Brock Osweiler was warming up to throw a potential Hail Mary pass in the game against the Atlanta Falcons.
There are two realities here. The first is that having a fresh quarterback, especially one with a longer-range arm, come in to throw a bomb is not that uncommon. Manning has never been a gunslinger, and he never will be. His strength is his accuracy, not his deep ball. Secondly, Peyton's arm looks plenty strong, and it is no weaker now than it was when he was a rookie.
Manning is averaging eight yards per completion, which is slightly above his career average of 7.6.
Additionally, Manning's No. 1 target, wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas, ranks first in the league with 12 receptions of over 20 yards.
Nothing seems the slightest bit weak or unusual about Manning's arm strength.
Peyton's never exactly been a mobile home. He rather likes his spot in the pocket and prefers throwing the ball as his main quarterback duty.
Peyton's best rushing season was in 2001 with the Indianapolis Colts, when he ran 35 times for 157 yards. Those yardage figures equal to a game-and-a-half for Robert Griffin III, so it's clear here that Manning's never been a rusher.
This season, Peyton's hung in the pocket even more than usual. He's only attempted 11 runs for eight yards, and some of these have been kneel downs.
While Peyton will never be considered a dual-threat quarterback anytime soon, he has looked good escaping pressure and avoiding the sack, which he did brilliantly in the Monday night comeback win against the Chargers.
As always, Peyton's been as expert in terms of clock management, and he's played his best, unsurprisingly, in the fourth quarter.
Peyton's ability to run the no-huddle with such ease has reformed Denver's offense and turned them into a new type of threat for defenses to defend. Between DeMaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley, Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, defenses have five very potent receivers to look out for, and thanks to Peyton's awareness, they best not let them slip-by unguarded.
Peyton's also nabbed defenses twice for having 12 men on the field, although it was not called in Week 1 against Pittsburgh. (Remember the replacement-referee debacle?)
Anyone who tries to deny Peyton's potency as an NFL quarterback or his impact in Denver is trying far too hard to be a devil's advocate. The numbers speak for themselves, and Peyton is on track to have the best statistical season of his career in every major category.
Age is clearly not a factor for Manning at the moment, and it may in fact be his greatest strength. Manning looks completely in his element on the football field, and he's so quickly meshed with his new team to turn Denver into a squad with a venomous offense that defenses must cover with rigidness.
There's one more figure to look at before we dismiss Manning from class, and that's his passer rating. It's currently 105, which is second-best in the league (Aaron Rodgers) and nearly 10 points higher than his career best of 95.2.
To come back from neck surgery, sign with a new team that struggled offensively in the season prior and to post figures like Manning has in the first six games of the season is simply unbelievable.
Denver certainly has a few kinks to get out of the chain, but with Manning under center and an easier schedule lying ahead, I don't think things will stay tangled very long.
Midseason Final Grade: A-