Peyton Manning's match made in heaven

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 08, 2012

By Kerry J. Byrne
President, Cold, Hard Football Facts Peyton Manning Fan Club

The feeding frenzy is underway. Peyton Manning is no longer with the Colts and is now a tantalizing free agent prospect for those teams who believe – or suffer under the delusion – that they are just one proven quarterback away from reaching the promised land of pigskin.
Here’s a Cold, Hard Football Facts breakdown of 12 teams likely to enter, or that should enter, the Manning Sweepstakes, ranked in order from worst fit to best fit.

At the end of the day, there is only ONE perfect place for Manning. It's a team that:
  • has been desperately seeking a QB for its entire history 
  • becomes the instant undisputed No. 1 Super Bowl favorite if it acquires Manning
  • would pair Manning with a legit No. 1 Super Bowl-caliber D for the first time in his career

But there's one problem. This team's management must first admit it has a QB problem. If the team can soberly swallow the bitter pill of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, it would give the NFL a deadly combination: the perfect marriage of solid franchise in search of a QB and a QB in search of a solid franchise with a legit defense and legit Super Bowl dreams.

It's a team that is not on anybody's radar screen right now, but should be, especially Manning's.

So without further suspense, here are the 12 teams we analyzed, ranked from worst fit to best fit. 

12. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 49)
Draft position – No. 10
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 25
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 13

Desperation level – Moderately high. Like most organizations, the Bills have never truly recovered from the loss of their last Hall of Fame QB, in this case Jim Kelly, who last took a snap in 1996. There was a brief period of hope with Doug Flutie at QB – but we all know how that ended.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Not good. Barring some dramatic reversal of fortunes, perhaps even bigger than Manning could provide, the Bills are likely to be the fourth-best team in the AFC East in 2012. 
OVERVIEW: Ryan Fitzpatrick is what he is at this point: an average NFL quarterback. Would Manning be an upgrade? Sure. Would he be enough of an upgrade to lift a team with a bad defense (No. 30 in scoring in 2011) to the upper echelons of the AFC? That outcome seems like a lot to ask, even of Peyton Manning.
Plus, with the No. 10 pick, the Bills are in striking distance of a potential franchise quarterback.
Meanwhile, Buffalo just does not appear to be a place high on Peyton’s wish list:  Not a lot of weapons (Steve “Oops” Johnson was the team’s top receiver in 2011), in one of the iciest, bad-weather outdoor arenas in the nation.
Hell, Manning would probably rather retire than take a shot with the Bills – yet another lingering effect of the Curse of Doug Flutie.

11. Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 16)
Draft position – No. 4
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 24
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 21

Desperation level – Desperately high. The Browns have been searching for a legit playoff-caliber QB since the Bernie Kosar days. It’s become clear that Colt McCoy, a former CHFF favorite, can’t get it done in the NFL.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Not good. This team has been bad for a long time and has a lot of institutional issues.
OVERVIEW: Peyton-to-Cleveland makes sense at first glance. But it ain’t happening, folks. Manning has almost zero reason to go there: another cold-weather, wind-swept lakefront team that plays outdoors and that has struggled to win games, struggled to compete and struggled to piece together a legit OL.
But from the team’s point of view, they’re in striking distance of Robert Griffin III, the proverbial QB of the future, with the No. 4 pick. The Colts are taking Andrew Luck, the Rams still have young Sam Bradford and the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder last year. Peyton-to-Cleveland does not fit for either side, in other words.

10. Tampa Bay (4-12)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 12)
Draft position – No. 5
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 30
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 16

Desperation level – High. The team took a HUGE step back in 2011, thanks largely to a very disappointing season by once-promising QB Josh Freeman.   

Ability to compete in 2012 – It’s pretty ugly, folks.  Among the many problems on offense, the Bucs fielded the worst defense in football in 2011 (30.9 PPG).
OVERVIEW: The Bucs are ideal on the surface for many reasons: they’re desperate for a QB and Tampa, in terms of weather, is a great place to play QB.
But there are just too many issues with this team, including a brand-new coach, Greg Schiano, fresh out of the college ranks, and a terrible defense, to make it a serious option for Manning. If he’s moving to Florida, he’s moving to Miami, not Tampa Bay.

9. Seattle (7-9)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No. (No. 13)
Draft position – No. 12
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 13
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 30

Desperation level – Moderately high. The team did not have a legit No. 1 QB in 2011, a fact which caused immeasurable harm to a club that fielded the No. 7 scoring defense in the NFL (19.7 PPG). They are in position to grab a guy like Ryan Tannehill in the draft, though.  

Ability to compete in 2012 – Moderate. They’re capable of winning four games in the division and they have a good defense. Not a bad mix.
OVERVIEW: The Seahawks are VERY high on the list of teams that would benefit from Manning’s services. Hell, with that defense playing in the NFC West and a healthy Manning producing just an average season by his standards, Seattle was an 11- or 12-win season in 2011.
The problems are entirely on Manning’s side: Seattle is the NFL’s most remote outpost, a not particularly sexy place to play football and he just does not look good in sea green pants. Clashes with his eyes. More importantly, Seattle has a terrible offensive line: it couldn’t run the ball, it couldn’t protect the passer and it couldn’t convert third downs.
Manning would instantly make that unit better. But it’s doubtful the immobile aging QB would make it good enough to compete for a Super Bowl. Sorry, Seattle, no Manning soup for you!

8. Washington (5-11)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – Yes (No. 8)
Draft position – No. 6
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 26
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 22

Desperation level – Desperation is Dan Snyder's middle name.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Not great. The Redskins have a lot of statistical holes, as evident by their No. 26 ranking in our Quality Stats Power Rankings, and they play in a very tough division.
OVERVIEW: Few teams would benefit more instantly from Manning’s services than the Redskins. Expect the team to make a run at Manning harder than any other. It’s not an entirely bad situation from Manning’s perspective: a flagship NFL franchise in the Glamour Division that plays in a fairly warm-weather climate. It could be worse.
The bigger issues are with the personalities involved. Snyder has proven incapable of building competitive teams, and throwing money at QB without solving the team’s many other issues will not solve the problems overnight. Coach Mike Shanahan, meanwhile, runs a pretty distinct offensive system – lots of bootlegs, for example – that appears at odds with Manning’s skill sets. Just does not seem like it will work out well.

7. Denver Broncos (8-8)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 18)
Draft position – No. 25
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 28
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 23

Desperation level – Depends on who you ask. Tebow-Ites think the team is all set. Anti-TebowItes would chew off their left Rocky Mountain oyster if they thought it might encourage Manning to come to Denver and replace last year’s flawed hero.  

Ability to compete in 2012 – So-so. Bad team with a bad defense, but in a bad division anything is possible.
OVERVIEW: The Peyton-t-Denver to story is hugely compelling from a controversy point of view. The Denver public loves Tim Tebow. Executive John Elway is clearly not sold on him and would like to pull off what Rich Eisen of NFL Network yesterday perceptively called a “bloodless coup” that would overthrow Tebow Mania.
Landing Manning would give Elway a legit No. 1 option ahead of Tebow with which even the most ardent Tebow-ites could not argue. It would also give Tebow a chance to study the art of pocket passing from the perhaps the best ever at the craft.
There are plenty of problems from Manning’s perspective: Denver is another cold-weather city that plays outdoor football and, let’s face it, it’s not a very good team. It was something of a miracle the team went 8-8 and even won a playoff game last year with one of the worst defenses in football.
Manning would provide an instant lift to the passing game. But would it be enough to overcome a porous defense and make Denver a Super Bowl contender? Not likely. The OL is pretty bad, too. Manning-to-Denver is a GREAT storyline. But not a great scenario.

6. N.Y. Jets (8-8)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – Yes (No. 1)
Draft position – No. 16
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 15
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 28

Desperation level – Moderately high. Coach Rex Ryan has repeatedly said that Mark Sanchez is his guy. Gut GM Mike Tannenbaum has sung another tune, saying recently that he has a responsibility to weigh all options. And, well, it’s pretty clear right now that Sanchez is not about to become an elite QB anytime soon.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Very good, provided they address a few issues that harmed the defense immensely in 2011.
OVERVIEW: Fans and analysts love the prospect of Manning to the Jets. Why wouldn’t you? The game’s marquee player working his craft in the nation’s top media market for the sport’s most boisterous larger-than-life coach, battling Tom Brady twice each year with both in their twilight years, sharing the same stadium with his brother Eli?
Talk about great theater! Hell, imagine Eli vs. Peyton in Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands, each playing in their home arena!
It’s a great fit for football fans, the NFL at large and the Jets – provided so can manage the inevitable disgruntled back-up QB situation, really not a big deal in the larger picture.
But is it a great fit for Manning? Competitively speaking, the Jets may be closer to reaching the Super Bowl than most other Manning suitors. He will make them better. It’s a good situation for Manning. But not perfect. Cold-weather, outdoor stadium. Crazy coach. Crazy media market. Sharing the spotlight with Eli.
Even worse: the Jets fielded one of the worst OLs in football last year. If Manning wants to stay healthy, New York is not the place to do it. 

5. Oakland Raiders (8-8)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – Yes (No. 6)
Draft position – no first-round pick
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 20
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 15

Desperation level – Pretty high. Hell, chasing Peyton Manning is hardly as desperate as what the Raiders did last year, pulling Carson Palmer out of semi-retirement. 

Ability to compete in 2012 – Very good. The Raiders fielded a poor defense (No. 29, allowing 27.1 PPG), but still finished in a three-way to for first in the terrible AFC West. There’s no reason to believe they can’t win the division in 2012 with Manning at QB.
OVERVIEW: Manning-to-Oakland is a surprisingly good option on most fronts. The Raiders play outdoors, but rarely in cold or foul weather. The team has stockpiled plenty of offensive talent over the years, but has largely failed to have a QB ready to deliver them the football, and it has a great ground game, averaging more than 4.5 YPA last year.
Finally, the Raiders actually have a pretty decent OL by the standards of most of the desperate teams on our list.
All in all, Oakland is a great opportunity for Manning from a competitive standpoint. The only drawbacks are on his end: he’s never been a West Coast guy and the city of Oakland itself is not a particularly attractive option

4. Chicago Bears (8-8)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – Yes (No. 3)
Draft position – No. 19
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 17
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 25

Desperation leve – So high that Bears fans are giving out hand jobs in ChicagoLand parking lots in the hopes that someday they’ll land an elite QB. We've chronicled the team's six decades of QB woes numerous times here on CHFF.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Very good. The Bears were a 7-3 contender in late November before losing Jay Cutler to injury. The team then lost five straight games with Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown at QB.
OVERVIEW: The Bears are one of the most titillating opportunities for Manning from the point of view of the Cold, Hard Football Facts: a big-market, flagship NFL franchise that hasn’t had a legit No. 1 QB since Sid Luckman, yet that still manages to compete year after year.
The Bears have enough pieces in place that Manning could come up with a sub-par season (by his lofty standards) with, say, an 88 passer rating, and it could still be enough to carry Chicago to the promised land.
Oh, and Chicago is just a three-hour drive from Indy. Now that’d be intriguing culturally, and maybe even convenient for Manning, who professes his love for Indianapolis.
The problems: Chicago is cold, it plays outdoors and, most importantly, the offensive line has sucked in recent years, as the battered Cutler can attest. That fact alone may keep the Bears out of the Manning Sweepstakes – it would preclude Chicago if we were Manning – but it’s a very sexy option just the same.

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 17)
Draft position – No. 8
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 18
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 26

Desperation level – High. The Dolphins have not drafted a QB No. 1 since Dan Marino himself 29 years ago.  The decision to avoid the position has produced the expected negative results on the field, where the team has flipped QBs like a Little Havana slum lord flipping multi-family units.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Strong. The Dolphins were No. 9 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings in 2011, something of a miracle considering they did not have a legit No. 1 quarterback.
OVERVIEW: The fit is very good for Manning: a Southern, warm-weather city that had many pieces in place to compete in 2011.
The fit for the Dolphins, though, is not as attractive as it might be at first glance. The QB situation is not as bad as some made it out to be. Matt Moore actually played quite well with 16 TD, 9 INT and 87.1 passer rating and 6-6 record in his 12 starts (the team was 0-4 under Chad Henne). The Dolphins finished No. 12 in Offensive Passer Rating. Can Manning perform better than Moore? At this point in his career, and given his track record outdoors (88.5 career passer rating), it’s not an open and shut case.
Plus, Miami is in a position at No. 8 in the draft to grab Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden, or even move up for RGIII. But in the immediate future, Manning would make the team better this year and maybe next, then the team is back to square one at the QB position. What about signing Manning AND drafting a QB No. 1. Probably not a bad idea, if they could make the money work. But that's not likely.
The Dolphins with Manning would probably instantly surpass the Jets as New England’s No. 1 challenger for the AFC East title. The big caveat from Manning’s perspective, as is the case with many of these teams, is a very bad offensive line.
The Dolphins were No. 26 on the Offensive Hog Index last year and No. 30 at protecting the passer, suffering a Negative Pass Play on an onerous 12.48 percent of opponent dropbacks. If Manning wants to remain upright, South Florida is not the place for him.

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

Dome – Yes
Top 10 media market – No (No. 14)
Draft position – No. 13
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings– No. 21
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 31

Desperation level – Moderately high. The team has historically struggled at QB, a fact brutally evident in the wake of Kurt Warner’s departure.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Fairly good. With the exception of the 49ers, who need to prove that they were more than a one-year wonder, the NFC West remains weak. The Cardinals also beat San Francisco last season and were 4-2 in the division. Winning it is not out of the question.
OVERVIEW: The fit for Manning is almost perfect: he gets all the benefits of a dome, a smaller, less passionate media market, a team with talent on offense and a young, talented defense (No. 7 last year in Defensive Real Passing YPA).
The fit for the team is great, too: Quarterback was clearly a huge problem for the team in 2011: No. 29 in Real QB Rating.
Big problem, though: Manning is fresh off four neck surgeries and 36 years old. The prospect of playing behind perhaps the worst offensive line in football (54 sacks allowed) should be enough to scare him away. The prospects of playing in a dome are not as sexy when you're lying on your back staring up at the ceiling.

1. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

Dome – No
Top 10 media market – No (No. 24)
Draft position – No. 29
2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings – No. 2
Offensive Hog Index rank – No. 2

Desperation level – Not high, but it should be.  Coach John Harbaugh can preach all it want about his commitment to Joe Flacco. But the facts are the facts: a ho-hum QB is the only weak link on a team that was otherwise probably the best in football top to bottom. Baltimore finished in the top 10 in every single one of our Quality Stats in 2011 except those affiliated with the quarterback: No. 15 in Offensive Passer Rating, No. 18 in Real Passing YPA and No. 19 in Real QB Rating. The 2011 Ravens were GREAT everywhere except at QB.

Ability to compete in 2012 – Extremely high. Super Bowl-champ caliber high.
OVERVIEW: There is little chance that the Ravens will chase Manning. But if any team should put on the hard sell, Baltimore is it.
The team has never had a legit Super Bowl-caliber QB. Manning would instantly change that dynamic. Manning fans have long lamented that he’s never been paired with a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Well, a year or two in Baltimore, and he’d enjoy playing with a Super Bowl-caliber defense for the first time in his career
Oh, and not for nothing, the Ravens fielded one of the best OLs in football last year, No. 2 on our Offensive Hog Index. The aging pocket passer Manning would be as well protected in Baltimore as he would anywhere else in the NFL.
Quite frankly, Manning and the Ravens would be a deadly combination, one that wouuld instantly make Baltimore the NFL's No. 1 Super Bowl favorite in 2012.
It’s not necessarily a warm-weather city. But there aren’t too many snowstorms in Baltimore, either. Weather will not be an issue.
There is NO downside to signing with the Ravens from Manning’s perspective. In fact, it would be a dream scenario.
The only downfall here is the organization’s commitment to Flacco. If management can swallow the bitter bill of the Cold, Hard Football Facts and admit that Flacco is not the answer, then it’s an easy decision to chase Manning. If management stubbornly sticks with the average passer, they’re doomed to repeat the same old scenario we’ve seen since the franchise’s founding: a great defense handicapped by its QB.

Be bold, Baltimore. A Super Bowl title is there for the taking. Just pick up the phone. Make your case. No Manning suitor has a better one. And then lay out the "Welcome to Baltimore" mat for Peyton Manning.

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