Officially, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is probable for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs with an ankle injury. Unofficially, it’s hard not to wonder whether something more is going on.
The use of the term “probable” (which connotes a virtual certainty the player will be available for normal duty) and the repeated declarations from interim coach Jack Del Rio that Peyton will play has created the clearest possible message that Manning will start on Sunday night. But the chatter remains that Manning has a high ankle sprain, and that it’s not getting any better.
Unless and until the Broncos secure the top seed in the AFC, there will be no in-season opportunity to give Peyton a game off to expedite the healing process. And if Peyton is going to miss a game that counts, the game that makes the most sense to miss would be the one to be played against a defense that could transform the injury from something with which he can play to something with which he can’t play.
That’s why we’ve been keeping a close eye on the Broncos’ website and Twitter page today for a possible downgrade of Peyton from probable to questionable.
So far, he remains probable.
But what if the Broncos decide to seize on that minor sliver of doubt embedded in the term “probable” and shut Peyton down? It would be a brilliant maneuver, giving the Chiefs no time to prepare for Brock Osweiler.
It would, of course, require the Broncos to explain their decision to insist that Peyton will play but then not actually play him, and the Broncos could be fined by the league.
But who cares about a fine? It’s a cost of doing business in connection with trying to win a Super Bowl. The 1997-98 Broncos won two of them despite salary cap violations that eventually resulted in the stripping of draft picks.
But not the stripping of the Lombardi Trophies.
A fine paid to enhance the chances of beating the Chiefs a small price to pay for the pursuit of a championship. Losing to Kansas City on Sunday night would make winning a championship in 2013 much more difficult. If Peyton indeed can’t play, springing the truth on the Chiefs as late as possible would help the effort to win.
None of this means Manning won’t play. Indeed, there are no rumors he won’t play. All signs point to Manning playing.
But if for some reason Manning couldn’t play, the Broncos will have concocted the best possible con for making the Chiefs think they’ll see Manning and not Osweiler on Sunday night.