Why Super Bowl XLVIII Was a One and Done for Peyton Manning and the Broncos

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) watches against the Seattle Seahawks  during the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game at MetLife Stadium Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks won 43-8. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Just making it into a single Super Bowl in this modern day, built for parity, NFL is very difficult.

Making it into back-to-back Super Bowls is extremely difficult.

And winning back-to-back Super Bowls is the NFL’s equivalent of catching a unicorn.

During the past 33 years, only four teams have managed to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and during the past decade, only one team—the New England Patriots—has managed to make it into the big game two years in a row.

The teams that are successful one year are typically slapped with some of the most difficult schedules the following year. As it is, the Denver Broncos will have the second most difficult schedule in the league during the 2014-2015 season, facing off against 16 opponents with a combined winning percentage of .570.

Stringent salary caps also make it difficult for teams to hold on to a core group of superstars.

And, of course, there is also an element of luck that goes into winning any Super Bowl title in terms of players staying healthy, and the ball taking some favorable bounces throughout the course of the regular season and playoffs.

The NFL is not like major league baseball where teams such as the New York Yankees are able to lock up a core group of players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, etc. and essentially purchase themselves a long-lasting dynasty.

As it is, the Denver Broncos will likely lose running back Knowshon Moreno and his 10 touchdowns on 1,038 rushing yards, as well as wide receiver Eric Decker and his 11 touchdowns on 1,288 receiving yards to free agency during this offseason due to salary cap concerns.

That is 21 touchdowns and 2,326 yards heading out of town this offseason that will be very difficult to replace with the Broncos' “next man up.”

Tight end Julius Thomas and star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will also be unrestricted free agents after the 2014-2015 season, per Sports City. Both players will undoubtedly command big time money in the free-agent market, and the Broncos will be lucky to hold on to even one of the two after next season.

This is simply the business of professional football. Revenue sharing, salary caps and scheduling difficulty based on a team’s success during the previous season are all designed to make it very difficult for successful teams to remain successful for a long period of time.

Needless to say, this business model has been incredibly successful for the NFL as the league has now transformed itself from baseball’s younger, less popular cousin into by far the most popular sport in America; and there is little question that parity has played a key role in the NFL’s rapid expansion over the past 20-30 years.

Whereas baseball’s popularity has gravitated more towards the larger markets such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. the NFL has spread its tentacles out to every corner of the country.

While cities such as Green Bay, Indianapolis and Buffalo wouldn’t have a prayer of even landing a professional baseball team let alone being able to build a successful ball club due to the economics of that sport; these cities have hosted successful football teams for a very long time and can proudly boast some of the most loyal fans in the game.

So what is the point of this very brief overview of the NFL’s business model with regards to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos?

Well, if history is anything to go by it is unlikely that Manning will ever have a chance to redeem himself from his disastrous performance in Super Bowl VLVIII.

Manning will turn 38 next month and despite putting together a record-setting 2013 regular season, Manning’s days in the league are clearly numbered.

Two-to-three more seasons is probably the very best that Broncos’ fans could hope for out of Manning.

And this potential two-to-three-year run for Manning will begin with the second toughest schedule in all of football next season.

Aside from tough divisional rivals such as Kansas City and San Diego, the Broncos will travel to New England again next season, as well as Seattle and Cincinnati.

The Broncos will also host San Francisco, an Indianapolis Colts team that defeated the Broncos last season and a rapidly improving Arizona Cardinals.

That is 10 very difficult football games in a 16-game schedule.

Although anything is possible, let’s just say that the likelihood of the Broncos going 13-3 again next season is extremely slim.

Between the almost inevitable loss of some key offensive players such as Moreno and Decker, a difficult 2014-2015 schedule and a quarterback that is inching ever closer to the green pastures of retirement, it is certainly going to be an uphill battle for Denver to get back to the Super Bowl again next season, or anytime soon for that matter.

Let’s, for arguments sake, say that Denver falls short of its quest to reach the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons in 2014.

That would mean that Manning would be one month short of his 40th birthday by the time Super Bowl L rolls around in Santa Clara, California.

As the Broncos walked off the field at MetLife Stadium on a balmy February night in New Jersey, there was a palpable feeling that the air had just gone out of this entire organization’s sails.

A Seahawks loss would have been an entirely different kettle of fish. Seattle is a very young team that has a core group of players locked up for at least the next two seasons and will have an excellent chance of returning to the Super Bowl in the coming years.  

But that was not the case with the Broncos.

Circumstances surrounding the team, as discussed above, meant it was clear all along that the Broncos’ trip to Super Bowl XLVIII was the culmination of a two-to-three-year plan the organization had to strike while Manning was still behind center.

The Broncos have always been a strong organization and John Elway has shown that he has what it takes to build a winning football team. But, speaking in terms of Manning and this particular Broncos team, Super Bowl XLVIII was not A shot at a title, it was likely their ONE shot at a title.

This realization is what made the Broncos', and particularly Manning’s, performance at MetLife Stadium all the more difficult to watch. And although the Broncos’ players, front office and fans would never admit as much, there was an almost tangible feeling in the days and weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII that everyone involved with the Broncos’ organization knew that Super Bowl XLVIII was more than likely going to be Manning’s last shot at a title.