With the fantasy playoffs just one week away in most 12-team formats, owners have already begun assessing their chances at making a run at the league title.
Drafted eighth among quarterbacks in ESPN leagues, Manning became a relative steal in fantasy circles. The Broncos signal-caller is fifth among quarterbacks in standard scoring coming into Week 13 and (relative to draft position) he's arguably been the second-best value at the position this season.
Nevertheless, Manning's brilliance will be all for naught if he can't keep it up in the fantasy playoffs.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of how Manning will fare against his fantasy-playoff opponents.
Week 14: at Oakland Raiders
If you're looking for the most significant turning point in the Broncos season, there are only two possible options: Week 4's drubbing of the Raiders or Week 6's scintillating 35-point second-half run against the Chargers.
Most would point to the latter, but the former was a proving ground for me. It was that game where Manning first showed signs of his pre-neck-surgery form, completing 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in Denver's 37-6 victory.
Since then, these two squads have been on diametrically opposite paths. Oakland seems destined for another offseason full of turmoil and roster turnover, while the Broncos are among the Super Bowl favorites.
That talent chasm will be obvious next week, as Manning should at least match his performance from Week 4. The Raiders have been in a nosedive of late, giving up 42.3 points per game over their last four contests.
The only reason for hesitation here is that the two teams play each other on Thursday Night Football, which has been a death trap for elite fantasy stars. Nonetheless, this is way too good of a matchup to ignore.
Value: Top-3 Fantasy QB
Week 15: at Baltimore Ravens
In a normal season, you see the matchup against Baltimore, cringe and hope Manning can pull off a solid-enough performance to not sink your week.
Luckily, this isn't a normal season. Coming into Week 13, the Ravens rank No. 23 in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 244.4 yards per game. The secondary has been ravaged by injuries all year, including a season-ending ACL tear to star cornerback Lardarius Webb.
That means Manning should have little trouble tearing apart Baltimore and coming away with a 300-yard performance.
One semi-important problem: Baltimore has been excellent against opposing quarterbacks in the red zone. In their first 11 games, the Ravens have given up just nine touchdown passes, which leads the NFL.
If your league emphasizes touchdowns heavily, Manning may be a risky play. He'll give you solid yardage numbers, but expecting anything more than one or two touchdowns seems unrealistic.
Value: Top-8 Fantasy QB
Week 16: vs. Cleveland Browns
If you ride Manning this far and get to your league's championship game, Week 16 will be the time to reap a massive reward. At 3-8 coming into Week 13, the Browns are a last-place football team and have had controversy in the secondary all season.
What's more, by the penultimate game of the season, Cleveland will be playing for nothing but draft positioning. Denver, assuming all goes as expected, should still be in the run for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
With the stakes so high, expect no blown coverage to go unpunished. The Browns defense certainly isn't as bad overall as the team's record indicates (Cleveland ranks 14th in the NFL in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric), but has been rather putrid on the road. In six games at home, Cleveland has 10 interceptions, compared to just three in five games (all losses) away from the Dawg Pound.
Things can and will obviously change as season wears along, but Manning should help lead your team to glory in Week 16.
Value: Top-3 Fantasy QB
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