It seems like everyone is playing “pin the team on the Peyton” in the wake of his release by the Colts. So I’ve applied my blindfold. (Pardon me if the typing reads like a string of Jim Irsay tweets.) And I’m ready to discuss Peyton’s next possible destination, in slightly more detail that I did on Wednesday’s edition of NBC SportsTalk.
Supposedly, a dozen teams have expressed interest in Peyton Manning. Frankly, a lot more should.
So here’s a team-by-team ranking, from those that should be most interested to those that should be least interested in putting Peyton on the roster, if the mutual goal for team and Manning is to win a Super Bowl.
This is simply our (my) opinion, not an attempt to gauge actual level of interest or to predict Peyton’s destination. In the end, that will depend on a variety of factors.
1. Texans: Instantly, the Texans would become the pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, which will be played in Peyton’s hometown of New Orleans. The offense would require some tweaking and there could be danger of a Favre-style “schism” via the handling of Matt Schaub, but a mostly healthy Peyton would make the Texans a legitimate championship contender.
2. Chiefs: Last year, despite the torn ACLs and fractured relationship between coach and G.M., the Chiefs nearly won the AFC West. With Peyton, they’d win it going away. And they possibly would pump up their record to the point where the road to New Orleans would wind through Kansas City.
3. 49ers: The NFC equivalent of the Texans, the Niners nearly made it to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith. Add Peyton Manning, and they could win the next two or three. Unfortunately, coach Jim Harbaugh already has declared his commitment to Smith. Though plenty of coaches have said one thing and done another, Harbaugh has created the impression that he’s not like the rest of them. If he wants to win some Super Bowls, maybe he needs to be.
4. Seahawks: They’re closer than anyone realizes to becoming a great team, and Peyton would get them to that level. The biggest concern is the quality of the offensive line. And the goal of keeping Peyton from taking a lot of hits will now take on a greater level of importance, given the four neck procedures.
5. Cardinals: With Larry Fitzgerald, a better-than-advertised defense, and one of the best return men in the game in Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals would get a major boost toward the top of the mountain from Manning. But will ownership spend enough to put the pieces in place around him? More importantly, will ownership spend enough to even get him?
6. Cowboys: They need a vocal leader, and Peyton would give them just that. More importantly, Peyton could provide someone who likely won’t make a big mistake in a clutch moment of a key game.
7. Ravens: The ultimate revenge on Indianapolis would come from picking up Peyton in a Mayflower van and then winning a Super Bowl with him. The only problem is that, to pull it off, the Ravens would have to be prepared to forever lose Joe Flacco, who is in the last year of his rookie deal.
8. Broncos: They’ll make a run at Peyton, and for good reason. First, they have the defense and running game to contend; throw in a high-level passing game and they become very dangerous. But the Tebow factor will make this one awkward, to say the least. If Manning struggles at all, the Tebowmaniacs will revolt.
9. Jets: Four years after the failed Brett Favre experiment, the Jets have rebuilt the lab — and they’re apparently ready to test out the exact same formula. Though it makes sense for the Jets to upgrade over Mark Sanchez, Peyton Manning and Rex Ryan appear at first blush to be the ultimate oil-water combination. On a regular basis, Rex would say or do something that would prompt Peyton to break out the ol’ “bitter beer face.”
10. Titans: Yeah, the Titans have Matthew Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. But they could swap out Manning for Hasselbeck, park Locker on the bench for another two years, and swing for the fences with Manning, who played college football in Tennessee.
11. Dolphins: They have the pieces to compete. But the rest of the roster — and the rest of the organization — doesn’t seem to be at the level necessary for Peyton to push them over the top.
12. Redskins: See Dolphins.
13. Jaguars: If new owner Shad Khan wants to shake things up in the AFC South, it would make more sense to trade up to No. 2 in the draft and take RGIII. But the Jaguars have enough pieces to make things interesting if they had Manning.
14. Raiders: Though on the surface it doesn’t make a lot of sense, the fact that the Raiders are in a weak division puts them in the discussion. Carson Palmer has a large salary that could be swapped out for Manning’s, and it wouldn’t cost a first-round and second-round pick to get him.
15. Bears: The new G.M. possibly doesn’t think much of Jay Cutler, and with the defense still having enough in the tank, Manning could have a similar impact on the Bears as Brett Favre did in Minnesota three years ago.
16. Vikings: Speaking of Favre and Minnesota, coach Leslie Frazier worked in Indy with Peyton. To the extent Peyton craves familiarity, this is one of his few options. The only problem is that Frazier played his “bring in a veteran quarterback” card last year with Donovan McNabb. New G.M. Rick Spielman is a Christian Ponder guy.
17. Falcons: Peyton could take this team farther than Matt Ryan, but the Falcons would be even less likely to pull the plug on Ryan than the Ravens would be to throw in the towel on Flacco.
18. Browns: They could use Manning, but he wouldn’t make enough of a difference to overcome the likes of the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. Besides, Brett Favre could surely share a few “Chilly” stories that would send Peyton’s interest level to absolute zero.
19. Bills: Chan Gailey seems to be tying his fate to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and if Peyton is going to go to the AFC East, he’ll have a better shot at winning the division with the Jets or the Dolphins.
20. Buccaneers: In a tough NFC South, the Bucs have a long way to go to get back into contention. Josh Freeman is one of the rare bright spots on the roster, and the young talent on the team would revolt if he’s benched or dumped for Manning.
21. Chargers: Between the presence of Philip Rivers and, for now, not a lot else, swapping out Rivers for Manning would make little sense.
22. Rams: If they wanted a new quarterback, they’d sit tight at No. 2 and draft Robert Griffin III.
23. Bengals: “Old and expensive” doesn’t fit with Mike Browns “young and/or cheap” strategy for building a roster.
24. Saints: If Drew Brees has a bug up his butt about the exclusive franchise tag, one way to solve the problem would be to trade him and bring Peyton home to Louisiana. To make that happen, Brees would first have to start saying things that turn off the locals, something that’s highly unlikely to happen.
25. Eagles: Coach Andy Reid knows it’s win-big-or-bust in 2012. Too much money and cap space is tied up in Mike Vick. Acquiring Peyton would make it too hard to put a competitive team in place around him.
26. Panthers: Cam Newton had the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history. Including Peyton.
27. Steelers: The organization seems to be souring a little on Ben Roethlisberger, in part because he has grown too accustomed to running the show. The answer definitely isn’t a guy who would expect to run the show.
28. Patriots: Yes, this one should maybe be lower. But Bill Belichick has done some outside-the-box things. Of all the teams that clearly don’t need Manning, the Pats would be the one most likely to at least pause for a half-second and ponder the possibilities.
29. Lions: With Matthew Stafford throwing for 5,000-plus yards last season, the sky is the limit for the guy who may do for Detroit what Peyton did for Indy.
30. Packers: Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers.
31. Giants: Super Bowl XLVI MVP Eli Manning.
32. Colts: Duh. With or without Peyton, this team is several years away from competing for a Super Bowl berth. Besides, if the Colts wanted him and he wanted the Colts, he’d still be there.