When the Denver Broncos agreed to a huge five-year contract with Peyton Manning this offseason, I am sure they had high hopes that eventually he would play at the level he did prior to missing the entire 2011 season.
For Manning to be doing what he is right now, against one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL, he is not only making the Broncos' front office look smart, but is well on his way to winning his fifth MVP award.
Sunday night's 34-14 blowout win against New Orleans was vintage Manning. He threw for 305 yards, three touchdowns and completed 22-of-30 passes.
It was Manning's fifth-straight game with over 300 yards passing, and fourth-straight game completing at least 70 percent of his passes and three touchdown passes.
The worst game that Manning played was in Week 2 against Atlanta on Monday Night Football. He threw three interceptions and had just 241 passing yards, but all of his problems came in the first quarter. He made adjustments after that and nearly led a comeback from 20-0.
The level of dominance we are seeing on a week-to-week basis from Manning against good defenses (such as Pittsburgh, Houston and New England), combined with the way he has changed the culture in Denver and the great story of coming back, makes him a virtual lock to finish in the top three of MVP voting.
Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, who is obviously biased, points out just how much Manning has changed the way opponents play the Broncos.
Even at age 36, Manning takes a licking and keeps on ticking, as he not only survived the hardest hit he's taken this season, but delivered a completion to Eric Decker in the process. His mastery at moving Denver to the end zone has become so intimidating the Saints dared to go for it on fourth down at midfield early in the second quarter...and failed miserably.
Even the competition around Manning for the award looks like a two-man race, although a lot of things can change in the next nine weeks.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a better TD-INT ratio (21-4) than Manning (17-4) and completion percentage (69 to 68.5). Atlanta's Matt Ryan has a similar completion percentage (68.7) and TD-INT ratio (17-6).
Other than that, who can you argue has been better than Manning this season?
Sure, there are other players at other positions having great seasons. Adrian Peterson is having an incredible season (775 rushing yards, four touchdowns), especially when you think that he just had ACL surgery 10 months ago.
J.J. Watt is the most dominant defensive player in the world right now. He leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks and is sixth in passes defended. The next-closest non-defensive back in the latter category is London Fletcher with five.
But it is so hard for any non-quarterback to win the award, because they have to have historic seasons and hope that most top quarterback contenders have "down" seasons.
That isn't happening right now.
Plus, if you like to factor in competition, Denver has had to play Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston and New England already.
The Broncos have already separated themselves from a mediocre pack in the AFC West, despite being just 4-3. The schedule sets up very favorably for them to make a run at 10 or 11 wins this season.
Manning, even at 36 years old, is still the same quarterback that he was in his prime with Indianapolis. Not even a lost season that saw him undergo neck procedure after neck procedure has changed the way he plays.
If anything, Manning looks better than ever. He will carry that momentum all the way towards a fifth career MVP award.
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