March 20, 2012: The Day the Earth Stood Still for the Denver Broncos?


January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) following the 26-16 victory against the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports


A few important dates in U.S. history:

July 4, 1776:  The original “Independence Day.”

Oct. 29, 1929:  Black Tuesday, the stock market crash.

Dec. 7, 1941:  A day that has lived in infamy.

June 6, 1944:  D-Day. 

And, of course, March 20, 2012.

March 20, 2012?

Yes, that’s the day the fortunes of the Denver Broncos turned, the day Peyton Manning agreed to a contract with a team that had just been down Tim Tebow Road.

Think the Broncos would be sitting at a hotel in the New York City area getting ready to play the XLVIIIth Super Bowl if John Elway, John Fox and the rest of the Bronco brain trust hadn’t gone all in on Manning?

Actually, today’s Bronco foe, the Seattle Seahawks, are what the Broncos might have been had the Bronco brain trust decided to stick with Tebow.

Seattle is not bashful about spending thanks to the NFL’s richest owner, Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft among other things. Seahawk salaries total almost $104 million, the second-highest figure in the league and they have spread the wealth with 11 players on their roster making $3 million or more per year (Denver has just three).

A look at Seattle’s player contract list shows its quarterback, a young, free-wheeling type in Russell Wilson, is due a meager $526,000 in this, his second NFL season.

The Seahawks were briefly involved in the Manning chase, but opted instead to sign free agent quarterback Matt Flynn for $20 million over three years.

It was Seattle’s biggest roster gaff.  Flynn, who became a Seahawk two days before Manning became a Bronco, was eventually jettisoned to Oakland for a fifth-round draft pick after he had been beaten out by Wilson.

The Broncos have also done their fair share of spending, with their player payroll sixth highest in the league at just more than $86 million. Manning takes up a huge chunk of that, $15 million this season, more than one-sixth of Denver’s payroll.

Cornerback Champ Bailey is the Broncos’ next-highest-paid player at $9.5 million, with a sharp drop off in salary after that – linebacker Wesley Woodyard is third at $3 million per.  

That’s how the two teams are put together:  The Broncos paying big for two legendary veterans, the Seahawks spreading the wealth.    

That’s our match-up today. It’s what Elway & Co. bet on.

Question is, will it pay off?

We’ve been through two weeks of discussing key match-ups.

Manning and his fabulous receivers vs. the best secondary in football: Will the record-setting QB continue this incredible passing fancy or will Richard Sherman and his pals have the last laugh?

The Bronco front seven vs. “Beast Mode” Lynch: Can the Broncos continue to stop the run behind a big fella becoming a legend in his own right, “Pot Roast” Terrance Knighton?

Will the Bronco offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league protect Manning against an aggressive blitzing Seahawk front six or seven?

Can the Broncos keep Wilson in the pocket where he is less-than average as a passer, or will he continuously escape and fling the ball downfield on the run, where he is one of the best?

Will Percy Harvin of the Seahawks, Denver’s Trindon Holliday or another special teamer turn the tide?

And, finally, will the weather cooperate with Manning & Co., meaning the wind stays down and the blizzard stays away, or will this turn into one of those nasty, ugly evenings fit for neither man nor beast nor Bronco?

I have spent roughly two weeks trying to find edges, locate mismatches, maybe come up with the definitive reason one team or the other wins it.

I’ve looked at Manning after bye weeks (he’s 14-9 including playoff bye weeks).

I’ve looked at Manning vs. great defenses he’s faced year after year (roughly .500 including playoffs and Super Bowls).

I’ve checked out Manning and his worst games (a 35.0 QB rating in a 41-6 loss to Miami in 2001 as a Colt and a 58.5 rating and three first-quarter interceptions against the Falcons in 2012 as a Bronco).

Now, I’m just going to take advice from my buddy Bill Serviss:  “It’s just meant to be.  Let’s put our trust in Peyton,” he said.

No reason to stop now. I’ll take my 15-3 record picking with or against Denver and say this is indeed a Super Sunday, just as Elway and Fox planned it early in 2012.

It’ll be higher scoring than most think:  Broncos 32, Seahawks 27.

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