By Garret Heinrich

In the summer of 2012, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time was a free agent. A rare thing in the world of football. But Peyton Manning had his choice of spots to settle after being released by the Indianapolis Colts following neck surgery.

Manning was rumored to be meeting with multiple teams, but many of the reports that happened at the time, and that have come down since, have said Peyton wanted to choose the Houston Texans but Gary Kubiak, the front office or a combination of the two didn’t want the Hall of Fame quarterback.  Fast forward to 2015/2016 and Gary Kubiak is coaching the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl and Peyton Manning is his quarterback.  The coaching staff is almost identical to the one that led the Texans to a 12-4, the players are different, but could the addition of Peyton Manning have made enough of a difference to turn the Houston Texans into a Super Bowl contender every year?

Let’s look at the 2012 Houston Texans replacing Matt Schaub with Peyton Manning and compare them to the 2015 Denver Broncos to see if Houston could have been enjoying the success that Denver has since getting Manning.

I’m only looking at the 2012 Texans because that would have been the first year of Peyton Manning in the Gary Kubiak system which compares favorably to the 2015 team.

(All 2012 players are in their 2012 form, not current form.)

2012 Houston Texans QB: Peyton Manning (2012 version) – 2015 Denver Broncos QB: Peyton Manning (2015 version)

Advantage: Houston Texans

Look 2012 Peyton Manning was a lot better than 2015 Peyton Manning. He’s not 2013 Peyton Manning, but we’re not talking about him right now, stop getting me side tracked!

2012 Texans RBs: Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Justin Forsett – 2015 Broncos RBs: Ronnie Hillman, CJ Anderson, Juwan Thompson

Advantage: Houston Texans

Arian Foster is a top 5 running back in the league when healthy, and he was healthy in 2012.  He had 351 carries and 40 catches for 1641 yards. Imagine if he’s not getting 350 carries, he might not be getting cut before the 2016 season.

2012 Texans WRs: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter – 2015 Broncos WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Andre Johnson is a borderline Hall of Famer (I’d put him in), but his depth wasn’t as good. Behind Walter was Lestar Jean and rookies Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey.  Just the top two current Broncos receivers are better than that group.

2012 Texans TEs: Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham – 2015 Broncos TEs: Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis

Advantage: Houston Texans

Owen Daniels from 2012 beats Owen Daniels from 2015.  And I never thought I’d say this, but Garrett Graham might be a better choice than 2015 Vernon Davis. What happened to that guy.

2012 Texans Offensive Line: Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Ben Jones, Derek Newton – 2012 Broncos Offensive Line: Ryan Harris, Evan Mathis, Matt Paradis, Louis Vasquez, Michael Schofield

Advantage: Houston Texans

Look at the Texans Offensive Line. That is solid. That is a powerful O-Line. Probably not good enough to stop the 2015 Broncos defense, but luckily that isn’t the ‘What If’ scenario I’m presenting so deal with it.  Also, the Broncos would have a better chance here if they were healthy, but they aren’t so deal with that too!

2012 Texans Offense vs 2015 Broncos Offense

Advantage: Houston Texans (4-1)

The Houston Texans offense in 2012 was potent with Matt Schaub at quarterback. Imagine if they had competent Peyton Manning at the helm.

Now onto the Defense:

2012 Texans Defensive Line: J.J. Watt, Shaun Cody, Antonio Smith – 2015 Broncos Defensive Line: Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson

Advantage: Houston Texans

No matter how good the Broncos defense this year is, that Texans 2012 Defensive line was when J.J. Watt decided to start becoming J.J. Watt.  And just having Watt and the hilarious Shaun Cody and the hilarious and really good Antonio Smith on the line with him totally gives the Texans the win here.

2012 Texans LBs: Brooks Reed, Bradie James, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin – 2015 Broncos LBs: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan

Advantage: Denver Broncos

This really isn’t even close. The Broncos linebackers are amazingly good. The Texans in 2012 had Cushing leave in week 5 for the year, Brooks Reed tore his groin and Conor Barwin returned to earth after an 11 sack 2011.  DeMarcus Ware is probably a hall of famer, Von Miller is a top five defensive player in the league.

2012 Texans DBs: Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Glover Quin – 2015 Broncos DBs: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Both of these secondaries are solid, but in 2012 Kareem Jackson wasn’t yet the Kareem we know in Houston, J-Joe and Manning were both injured off and on all year.  The Broncos have good young talent with the veteran lock down presence of Talib gives them the slight edge, and it’s very very slight.

2012 Texans Defense – 2015 Broncos Defense

Advantage: Denver Broncos (2-1)

The linebackers for the Broncos might have been enough to win this category for them, they are that good.

2012 Texans Special Teams: Shayne Graham (K), Donnie Jones (P), Jon Weeks (LS) – 2015 Broncos Special teams: Brandon McManus (K), Britton Colquitt (P), Aaron Brewer (LS)

Advantage: Denver Broncos

McManus is a fantastic place kicker and Colquitt is a very very good punter and the Texans did not yet have the glory that is Shane Lechler, so they are a little lacking.

In the end, if I were looking back, I’d be very very depressed if I were a Texans fan watching Gary Kubiak coaching Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl in a few weeks. This is what the Houston Texans could have been. They could have been the 2015 Denver Broncos, with a better offense and a slightly worse defense. But imagine what 2012 (a team that went 12-4) would have been like if Manning chose the Texans. Imagine how different 2013, 2014 and 2015 would have been.  Gary Kubiak would still be Houston, the Texans might have been in the Super Bowl once, maybe twice.

But alas, that isn’t how history will remember it, and now Texans fans will watch their former coaches and former players possibly hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and they will just have to think, what if.



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