The Steelers have plenty of questions regarding the health of their starting quarterback. For a change, the Broncos don’t.
Peyton Manning is healthier than he has been all year, per a source with knowledge of the situation. He’s even healthier than he was in Week One against the Ravens, because the plantar fascia tendon in his foot had been bothering him since training camp. With extensive rest and rehab after November 15 through Week 17, the foot is better than it’s been all year.
And the rest of Manning’s bumps and bruises also have cleared up. If the Broncos can win this week and next, he’ll get another two weeks to prepare for what would be his fourth career Super Bowl appearance.
Contrast that with a year ago. As the divisional game against the Colts approached, Manning was constantly in the training room, getting treatment. This year, Manning hasn’t been there in multiple weeks.
The health of Manning, along with the MCL injury suffered 13 days ago by backup-turned-starter-turned-backup Brock Osweiler, have created a clear presumption that Manning will be not only the starter but also the finisher on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Amid speculation that Manning may be on a short leash, the source says there’s no more of a leash on Manning now than there has ever been at any time during his career with the Broncos.
But there’s a caveat. Apart from injury, a seat-of-the-pants decision by coach Gary Kubiak can’t be completely ruled out. That’s what Kubiak did in the regular-season finale against the Chargers, when he decided the team needed a spark, and Manning gave them one in place of Osweiler. But there has been no talk of Manning being benched in advance of the game, and there’s no plan or formula that Kubiak will have entering the game for flipping the switch back to Osweiler.
Still, Kubiak’s handling of the quarterback situation has helped the team secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, showing that his instincts have been accurate. Whether his instincts kick in on Sunday if the Broncos fall behind by a couple of scores in the second half can’t be predicted until Kubiak is in that situation.