AP Sports Analysis: The case for Peyton Manning

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos should start Peyton Manning for the playoffs.

Their best chance to go on a Super Bowl run is with the 39-year-old quarterback who rescued them Sunday from a potential slip-up when he replaced Brock Osweiler and led Denver to a 27-20 comeback win over San Diego.

Instead of tumbling into the wild-card round and a road game this weekend at Kansas City, the Broncos (12-4) are the AFC's top seed and get a coveted bye - along with extra time to pick a passer.

''Either one of them would be great,'' said cornerback Chris Harris Jr, adding it may not matter who's running the offense ''if we don't allow them to score.''

That's the thing: Denver's dominant defense could very well render less meaningful coach Gary Kubiak's quarterback decision.

Just to be safe, though, what the Broncos need is a quarterback who can manage his way through 60 minutes to complement the league's stingiest defense.

That makes Manning the best choice, no offense to Osweiler.

Manning has two dozen playoff games on his resume, Osweiler not a single snap in the postseason.

So, Manning should be under center, albeit with a quick hook should things go awry like they did in his last start, Nov. 15 against the Chiefs, when he threw four interceptions and hobbled to the sideline with a torn left plantar fascia.

Osweiler is more accurate, athletic and mobile, sure, but Manning gets rid of the ball quicker. He makes better decisions at the line of scrimmage, where he's still the league's best decipherer of defenses.

He takes fewer hits, meaning he has less of a chance of getting stripped on a sack like Osweiler did last weekend, when the Broncos committed five turnovers.

That was emphasized by the team forgoing its final timeout and trotting to the locker room rather than try to get into field goal range for the strongest kicker in the NFL - a signal that Kubiak's faith in Osweiler as a leader was teetering.

Osweiler may be the best quarterback on Denver's roster right now, but Manning is the best option. What he lacks in arm strength and movement he more than makes up for in panache and pedigree.

Plus, Manning has something to prove after serving as a backup Sunday for the first time in his illustrious career.

As GM John Elway once said, ''I like getting Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders.''

Throw in the Al Jazeera report that linked his wife to HGH shipments and Manning is motivated to write the final chapter in Denver - and quite possibly on his brilliant career - with a three-game run to greatness.

Manning has been humbled both on and off the football field. He's seen his name dragged through the mud and watched people question him while he was hurt.

Sitting out the equivalent of seven games was good for him, though.

In watching his longtime backup take over the team and keep the Broncos afloat, he saw that Kubiak's offense was going to work with or without him.

This is no longer a case of Kubiak having to contort and conform his offensive philosophies to Manning's. Manning will do whatever it takes to become the first NFL quarterback to lead two teams to a Super Bowl title.

That's the mindset you want in your quarterback heading into an AFC scramble that is as jumbled as any playoff bracket we've seen.

Go with Manning. Have Osweiler ready in relief.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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