In Denver’s final game of the regular season, Peyton Manning replaced Brock Osweiler midway through the third quarter, sparking the Broncos to a 27-20 victory over the Chargers that, in the end, gave them the top seed in the AFC.
Manning, who hadn’t played since November 15, finished 5-of-9 for 69 yards. He will start for the Broncos this Sunday when they host the Steelers with a spot in the AFC Championship on the line.
That’s right. Manning, who has thrown nine passes over the last two months, will start ahead of Brock Osweiler, who had 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in 170 pass attempts this season. Manning, by comparison, had nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 198 attempts. Manning also had a lower completion percentage and an interception rate more than twice as high as Osweiler.
So, what do we make of Denver’s thinking here?
“I think this is going to be good for the Broncos,” former Pro-Bowl quarterback Trent Green said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “You look at Osweiler, and he is the heir apparent. I believe he’s shown enough in his time there that he is the quarterback of the future for the Broncos. I think that they can develop him and utilize him. Even though he’s been there awhile, he really fits into what (Gary) Kubiak and (Rick) Dennison like to do. If you go back and you look at what Matt Schaub did in Houston, it’s very similar to what they ask Osweiler to do during his time: under center, play-action pass rolls, you’ve moving around in the pocket a little bit, he has a big enough arm to make the play-action pass and throw it down the field, but he also can do the short throws. So I think for the future, he definitely fits in.”
But he doesn’t fit this weekend.
Manning, to be fair, had perhaps his best game of the season following a bye. He finished 21-of-29 for 340 yards in a 29-10 win over the Packers on November 1.
“I think Peyton with some time off, it’s going to be a huge benefit to him,” Green said. “If you look at him coming out of the bye week against Green Bay, he had that extra week to rest and that was his best numbers throwing the ball up the field. He was 6-of-9 on throws over 20 yards, and so with the amount of time he’s had off, obviously some of that is due to the foot injury and getting him healthy again. But I think with the bye week and the extra time that he’s had, I think it’s going to be big benefit to him. You’re not going to see some of the mistakes and some of the restricted play-calling that you saw with Peyton when he was dealing with an injury or Peyton when he was dealing with some shoulder issues. I think now you’ll see a Peyton that’s more willing and more able to stretch the field.”
The Steelers, it is worth noting, will be without Antonio Brown, who has been ruled out with a concussion. Brown had one of the best receiver seasons in NFL history this year, hauling in 136 catches for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had seven catches for 119 yards in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win in Cincinnati this weekend.
The Steelers will certainly miss Brown in Denver, which has the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
Kickoff on Sunday is at 4:40 p.m. ET.