Giants-Broncos Means Manning Bowl III

Peyton Manning might very well be the best regular-season quarterback in the history of the NFL. But when it comes to the postseason, Peyton is the second-best quarterback in his family. Eli Manning can always use the second Super Bowl ring to quiet his critics and his brother and the fact that he beat Tom Brady (which is something Peyton has had a lot of trouble doing) for both of his Super Bowls and Super Bowl MVPs. But when it comes to the direct battle of Manning brother supremacy, Eli falls short with an 0-2 record in the Manning Bowl (2006 and 2010). On Sunday, however, Eli has a chance to close the gap a little more on which Manning is the best Manning if he can upset his brother and the Broncos at MetLife Stadium.

Ian Henson of Mile High Report joined me for an email exchange with the Broncos in town for Manning Bowl III this weekend to talk about how confident Broncos fans are, whether or not they trust Peyton in the playoffs and what will happen this Sunday in East Rutherford.

Keefe: The last time the Giants played the Broncos it ruined Thanksgiving. The Giants opened the 2009 season winning five straight games and then immediately lost four games. They came off their bye to beat the Falcons in overtime in Week 11 and then made the trip to the Denver for Thanksgiving night. Broncos 26, Giants 6.

Eli Manning threw for 230 yards and Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware each ran for 27 yards and the Broncos’ 16-0 halftime lead was too much to overcome.

After that game the Giants lost three of their final five games and gave up 166 points combined in those five games, finishing the season 8-8.

This time the Broncos have a chance to put the Giants’ season on life alert in Week 2. After this game, the Giants go on the road to face the Panthers, who will be looking for revenge from their Week 2 embarrassment against the Giants last year and then to Kansas City to face Andy Reid, who knows the Giants better than any coach in the league, and his new team.

With the Yankees battling for their wild-card lives I was looking forward to Giants and football season, but is it possible that it might be in serious trouble on Sept. 15? What’s it like to have your team coming off the most impressive Week 1 win in the league in which you dismantled the Super Bowl champions and your quarterback tied a single-game touchdown record?

Henson: Up until 2011, in the Season of Tebow, I had never been to a Denver Broncos game in which they had lost (and I have been to a lot of games). The last time the Broncos played the New York Giants in Denver, I was there. My phone blew up after the Josh McDaniels, “I just want to win a f—in’ game!” I had no idea what people were talking about, they got it from the NFL Network, I obviously couldn’t hear McDaniels from where I was sitting. I never considered traveling to be such a big factor when I was younger, but I know from living in New York and Denver, that the flight is just about as long as it is from New York to Los Angeles. Brutal for a flight in which you’re taking off and landing in the same country.

I have to confess, I was 18 when I moved to New York City, I was too young to get into any bars, thus forced to watch games wherever I could. That usually meant at home, this is how I developed a kinship with the Giants, they were always on and unable to see Broncos games in 2001 in a bar made me develop an interest. I will cheer for the Giants in any game that does not involve the Broncos.

The last time Denver and New York met, the Broncos had traded Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick to the Chicago Bears for two first-round draft picks, a third round and Kyle Orton. Orton had an atrocious preseason and had Denver fans begging for him to be benched in favor of Chris Simms. Fans hated McDaniels from the start; then the season started and the Broncos under McDaniels went 6-0 (including an overtime victory in which McDaniels beat his old coach Bill Belichick), the team went on to lose their next four games and in the meantime Orton got injured. Thanksgiving 2009, the Giants and Broncos game happened.

Orton’s first game back, the team was still in the playoff hunt, in a very weak AFC West. The Broncos went on to win against the Giants and the next week they whooped the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos travled to Indianapolis and Peyton Manning squashed what was left of Denver, even a record day by Brandon Marshall breaking Terrell Owens’ single-game catch record with 21 for 200 yards and two touchdowns did nothing. The Broncos picked off Manning three times, but Orton could not capitalize and in Week 14 the Colts had already secured home field advantage for the playoffs. Manning was always a Bronco killer, he has yet to prove that he doesn’t remain a Bronco killer.

In 2012, the Broncos were one of the best teams in the league, the Ravens weren’t. Denver easily handled a neutered Baltimore team in the regular season. The playoffs were an entirely different animal though, two overtimes later, the Ravens move on and the Broncos are sent back home. Tebow fans were commenting how he had gotten the Broncos that far, what was the point of Peyton Manning? Denver did not game plan for a single game in the preseason this year and as far as I can tell, started running scout team preparing for the Baltimore game in Week 2 or Week 3 of the preseason. Baltimore had no choice, no one could have guessed that Manning would throw seven touchdowns, but the only doubt anyone had was whether or not Denver could be over or under on the point spread.

It isn’t homerism to say that Denver is really good this season, that Baltimore game was without Von Miller and without Champ Bailey. The Broncos have replaced their running game with Wes Welker and Julius Thomas is scary good if he can stay healthy. Even Denver’s fourth string receiver caught a touchdown. It’s good for the week to be on top, but the Giants have ruined a previous Broncos perfect season before. In 1998, Denver was 13-0, came to Giants stadium and lost 16-20. New York killed the Broncos undefeated season and it was by less than a touchdown (a trend the Giants would be so famous for in 2007).

During our podcast, we neglected to mention that Eli has never beat Peyton. I don’t know how much that is coming up in New York, but as we are both aware, this may be the last chance that he gets. Peyton’s not likely to still be playing in three seasons when the AFC West and the NFC East meet again. I think that amateurs may point to the Giants shaky running game, but Denver shut down Ray Rice in week one. New York’s running game is a trap basically, Pro Football Focus pointed out that both Champ Bailey and Chris Harris were top 15 corners in the NFL last season, but if Bailey is healthy, it would probably be a better thing for the Giants. Harris will be on Victor Cruz, Harris spent the entire preseason and training camp pairing with Wes Welker and you have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie back in his natural position and matched up once again with Hakeem Nicks. This is why I say Bailey is the liability. I think Denver is much better off with Tony Carter on Reuben Randle than Champ on Randle.

I see no way that Denver runs the ball though and if the game is a shootout they probably wouldn’t want to anyway.

Keefe: We neglected to mention that Eli has never beaten Peyton because who wants to bring up that sore subject?!?! However, the Giants could gave beaten the Colts and therefore Eli would have beaten Peyton if not for the phantom pass interference call in the 2006 game that left Al Michaels and John Madden in shock on the broadcast. So maybe it would be 1-1 if not for the call that should have never been called, but it’s not and Peyton holds the 2-0 advantage.

Eli does the hold advantage when it comes to championships, which is all that really matters, isn’t it? But you could make the case that if not for Pierre Garcon’s terrible drop against the Saints in the Super Bowl and the onside kick against the Colts to open the second half, Peyton never would have been set up to throw a game-clinching interception and he would be 2-0 in Super Bowls as well.

But since this has turned into an Eli-Peyton discussion, for the moment, and if championships are all that matters (and they are, especially for fans), then how do you feel about the Broncos chances’ this season? You saw what Peyton can do firsthand in the regular season last year and in one regular-season game this year, but you also saw what he could do in the postseason when he seems to come up short in the big spot (even if he isn’t responsible for the defensive coverage on Jacoby Jones). Knowing how good the Broncos are and how good Peyton is and can be and how weak the AFC West and AFC are in 2013, are the Broncos going to be there in the end, barring any devastating injuries?

Henson: I will point out that I hated Peyton Manning as a Broncos fan for every single season of his career up until 2012. I remember the game that you are talking about, but much like the Giants last two Super Bowls, it could have gone either way. Eli makes the play when it counts, twice now and probably once or twice more before he is finished with his career. The same could be said for Peyton in his Super Bowl loss, one miss throw to Tracy Porter and they lose, last season in the playoffs he tosses an interception to Corey Graham to end the first overtime. Three plays later, the game is over. Eli doesn’t do that so much.

The Broncos handled the Ravens and I don’t think that the Ravens are a bad team, I thought that the Cincinnati Bengals would take the AFC North, but they just got toppled by the Chicago Bears. I think that Baltimore and Denver see each other again in the post season. The parallels between 2012 and 1996 for Denver are too many, 1997 of course was the year the 0-4 (in Super Bowls) Broncos finally made it 1-4. I think this season, even without Peyton Denver can make a playoff run. People were quick to point out that the Broncos were on their third center and without Von Miller, but Denver just extended Manny Ramirez for two more seasons and Shaun Phillips (Von’s backup) has 2.5 sacks and is currently second in the NFL. Their depth is scary and the AFC is in shambles right now. Houston almost lost to San Diego, the Raiders nearly handed to to the Colts, New England? Name a receiver on the Patriots that is healthy and not named Edelman…

What is going to be interesting to me is watching Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs vs. the NFC East. The Chiefs are returning 11 Pro Bowlers from last season, Reid, as much as people may dislike him in the NFC East, is a great coach. Give him Alex Smith, who doesn’t often make mistakes, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe … Pack that in with the fact that he’s been playing two games against every team in your division outside of his own team and man … That’s going to be fun entertainment. The AFC West may actually be the reason that the Giants win the NFC East this season. No one thinks the AFC West is worth anything, but look at Week One and how they handled themselves. I don’t know how long Terrelle Pryor will be a thing, but Mike McCoy won a playoff game with Tim Tebow, I think that he will be alright with Philip Rivers.

Speaking of Rivers, how do Giants fans feel about him?

Keefe: I have no reason to dislike Philip Rivers for any reason other than that he would have been the Giants quarterback, which I guess is enough of a reason to dislike him when you look at what he has accomplished in his carer compared to Eli Manning. It’s hard to justify not liking someone who has never really affected your team other than they would have been your franchise quarterback if things unfolded differently. It’s not like he’s David Ortiz or the baseball Manny Ramirez or Martin Brodeur or Tony Romo or Donovan McNabb or someone that has given you on-the-field reasons to not like them. I don’t like Rivers because had Archie Manning not made sure the Chargers didn’t draft Eli, he would have been a Giant. (It seems pretty stupid when you actually write it out.)

You talked about how the AFC West isn’t as bad as everyone might have thought before the season, but when I look at it I just see early-season hype storylines in Andy Reid succeeding in Kansas City, Terrelle Pryor being the much-needed franchise quarterback in Oakland and San Diego being revitalized and nearly knocking off Houston. I say “hype storylines” because these seem to be more for talking head shows rather than for real life. and it wouldn’t surprise me if all three of those teams were afterthoughts by the middle of October. (Though I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you either.) That means the Broncos are set up to most likely run the table in division matchups and then would just need to go something like 4-6 in their other 10 games to reach the postseason and they’re already 1-0, so 3-6 now. I guess I answered my own question from earlier if the Broncos will be there in the end this year.

But there has to be something that worries you about the Broncos, isn’t there? Tell me there’s something you’re worried about because when it comes to the Giants I’m worried about just about everything. But I guess that’s Giants football no matter what year it is.

Henson: I am not a big fan and was even less of a fan of Brock Osweiler last season. Osweiler played for Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, Erickson when 6-6 and for fear of losing draft position to a new head coach’s offense Osweiler entered the draft in 2012. The Denver Broncos traded out of the Dont’a Hightower pick (Pats), then again out of the Doug Martin pick (Buccaneeers), back into the second round and picked up Derek Wolfe and Brock Osweiler. The Wolfe pick doesn’t bother me so much and may pan out to be a really good pick, but the Osweiler pick still can get me steamed. In picking up Osweiler, the Broncos missed on so many players that they had met with, scouted and knew to be good players. Denver wins the Baltimore playoff game with Doug Martin as their running back.

It doesn’t end there though, Janoris Jenkins, Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Rueben Randle, Coby Fleener, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins! Every one of those players could have been picked up instead of Osweiler and instead, they have Osweiler. Now, there was some PR material given out around draft time to attempt to smooth over Broncos fans and let them know that Osweiler would have been a first-round draft pick in 2013, but the Broncos got him in the second round in 2012. So, I hated the pick, more so than the player, but Osweiler looked okay in the preseason and I have no doubt that with Denver’s very easy schedule, he could win eight, nine games if the worse were to happen.

Everything that I was afraid of happened. Ryan Clady who covers Manning’s blindside is not 100 percent, Ramirez at center is really the 32nd worst starting center in the league, the running game sucks, Von Miller is out six games, Champ Bailey is probably out at least four games, Elvis Dumervil on the Ravens, Eric Decker sucking (three catches and a fumble) … I’ve covered a situation in which Manning is gone. The team just really isn’t reliant on who the players are for whatever reason. Look back at Week 1, the Broncos gave up 21 points on mistakes made by special teams and defense (Danny Trevathan’s one yard fumble celebration cost Denver seven points, turned into seven for the Ravens and Wes Welker’s punt return drop inside of the five-yard line). Jack Del Rio and John Fox have worked together two season (their first was the year Carolina went to the Super Bowl, Del Rio left to coach the Jaguars after that), both seasons their defense has been ranked second in the NFL. This is their third season, the team would be well off with basically anyone at quarterback. Who couldn’t throw to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas? Now you throw Peyton into that mix and that’s 30-40 points a game, with a Top 10 NFL defense on the other side and one of the games best punt returners/kick returners.

I am really not this cocky about that team and I am sorry for coming off that way, I just got out of a Twitter conversation in which someone (I assume a 49ers fan) was letting me know that Colin Kaepernick is better than Peyton Manning. It’s hard to convince any Broncos fan that any new quarterback is anything other than a flavor of the day. We have witnessed Tim Tebow, through multiple seasons and see that two years later he is out of the NFL. That wasn’t Tebow winning as much as it was Denver’s defense and special teams coming through when it was clutch. Cue the 49ers, I’d like to say the Redskins too, but Mike Shanahan is an offensive genius and I think this year the Panthers could fit back into that mold. Ron Rivera has them with a stout defense again and Cam Newton just needs to air it out three to four times a game.

If the Giants are able to put together a running game, they can expose the Broncos up the middle probably. Wesley Woodyard (Denver’s middle linebacker) has just started practicing today (Thursday) and although he is good, he’s playing mike for the first time in his career and not at 100 percent. Denver would need to bring up strong safety Duke Ihenacho to assist and at that point Eli’s got the deep center over the top with only Rahim Moore to beat.

Another thing is the offensive play count, there has been much said about Philadelphia’s offensive play count, but Denver can demolish that. In the Ravens game, the Broncos only had 68 plays the whole game and exactly half of those came in the first half. In the third week of preseason, Manning had 33 plays in the first quarter and 23 plays in the second quarter (56 plays in one half). Philly had 77 in their entire game Monday night. I guess for the record in 2012, the average was 64 offensive plays per game. There are things in the Broncos arsenal that I don’t think that we will see until deep into the season, but putting up with a play count like that is going to be nearly impossible for any defense to deal with for long at 5,280 feet above sea level.

Then again, that whole thing is super hyped up. Patriots put up 94 offensive snaps in Week 1 and they damn near lost to the Buffalo Bills.

I see that you guys just put Dan Conner on season ending injured reserve, I am sure that doesn’t even really effect you though. You guys are so strong in your front seven.

Keefe: Another day, another devastating injury for the Giants. (And another devastating injury for the Yankees too as Brett Gardner hurt his left oblique striking out tonight and might be done for the season.)

Offensive play counts seem to the cool thing to care about and keep track of in the NFL now since it supposedly gives you a better chance to win. But like you said the Patriots nearly lost to the Bills (the Bills!) even with their high play total.

You mention the Giants running game possibly exposing the Broncos defense, but that would mean the Giants would have to have a running game, which they may not if Wilson is bad or fumbles again or if Da’Rel Scott plays or if Brandon Jacobs plays.

There is a lot at stake in this game. For the Giants, they need to bounce back off their six-turnover performance in Week 1 and avoid going 0-2. For the Broncos, they need to continue to prove they are the best team in the league and that Week 1 wasn’t just them taking advantage of a team rebuilding off a Super Bowl. And for Eli and Peyton it’s obviously much deeper than both of those things when it’s come to their personal rivalry, their family, their legacies and the perception of both.

It’s been almost four years since the two teams met and unless they meet in the Super Bowl between now and 2017, it will be another four until they meet again. What do you expect to happen on Sunday this time around in the Giants-Broncos meeting and the Manning Bowl?

Henson: Champ Bailey has just been ruled out for the Giants game on Sunday by John Fox. I don’t think that we were really expecting him anyway for this game and truthfully, no one is positive whether or not Bailey is needed at this point. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was targeted once in Week One, Joe Flacco sees Chris Harris laughing his ass off in Flacco’s nightmares. Tony Carter is one of the fastest players in the NFL and plays corner like he is a computer character on Madden who has been set to 99 everything and runs fundamentals perfectly.

Good news for New York is that Prince Amukamara is likely to play, I assume he takes Demaryius Thomas? And Eric Decker has already declared that he would have a better game, privately to Peyton Manning (Manning gives the offense drop statistics in their lockers after the game with that player’s name highlighted, Decker had four and a fumble last week).

Last season, Dennis Allen left the Denver Broncos as their defensive coordinator and took over the head coaching job for the Oakland Raiders. During Week 14, Allen’s Father passed away. The Broncos could have easily stomped on the Raiders, but instead turned in an incredibly conservative game and opted for field goals instead of touchdowns on four different scoring opportunities. Peyton threw for one touchdown and Knowshon Moreno ran for one off of a defensive fumble recover that ended on the Raiders’ two-yard line.

I say that story, to say this. I don’t think that anyone is going to run away with this game, if it gets to the point where Denver can offer a beat down, they won’t. The Giants are not the Baltimore Ravens. If the Giants are the ones to shift into fifth gear early, then of course Denver will attempt to keep up, but the Broncos won’t pile it on in New York. Fox used to coach there, Eli is Peyton’s brother and it’s an NFC vs. AFC game. What I do expect is for the Giants to get a turnover or two, because as bad as New Yorkers perceive David Wilson to be at fumbling, Ronnie Hillman is worse, off the top of my head, I think that he fumbled four times in the preseason, five, but one wasn’t given a red flag by the opposing coach like it should have.

Denver’s defense focuses on shutting down the opposing teams best player, so Victor Cruz may not have the greatest game, but Eli will have a ton of yards. Second-year undrafted linebacker Danny Trevathan (the one who fumbled the ball at the one-yard line, instead of scoring last week) has shut down nearly every tight end, including Jimmy Graham dating back to last season.

So, my prediction would be Broncos by two scores, unless they decide to feature Ronnie Hillman for some reason. Who covers Wes Welker? Mark Herzlich? Aaron Ross? Denver uses Welker as their ground game, a six-yard pass to Welker is just as good as a six yard run by Moreno, Montee Ball or Hillman. If you put Ross on Herzlich, how do the Giants account for Julius Thomas? It’s just too much for most, if any, defense to contain. The Broncos aren’t the 2007 New England Patriots, but Denver’s receivers are much better.

There is a huge amount of respect for the Giants receivers in Denver though, here is John Fox moments ago on your receivers, “Very formidable. Just their passing game in general — you saw what they did last week against Dallas, which is a very capable crew. Really, the difference in that game was turnovers, but otherwise offensively I think — in particular the passing game — they were right up there as far as top performances in the league.”

So there you have it, let’s see how many combined points this game can go for.