Will I play another game?
Please don't let it end this way.
Chicken parm, you taste so good.
Here in Week 14 of Peyton Manning's 18th NFL season, it is fair to wonder whether one of the greatest quarterbacks in history is finished. If he is, he's going to need that chicken parm as comfort food.
All we know for sure is that Manning, 39, is going to miss his fourth straight game Sunday, when his Denver Broncos play host to the Oakland Raiders. He has been sidelined by a foot injury since being removed from a miserable mid-November loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. In Manning's place, Brock Osweiler has led the Broncos to three straight victories.
Manning was back on the practice field last week, but only for light throwing drills. He did not perform any team drills. If you are the Broncos players and coach Gary Kubiak, it's difficult to determine how you should be cheering for this one.
The best story, of course, would be for Manning to return and regain the form he has flashed for so many years while also leading Denver to a Super Bowl title. The more realistic outcome, if Manning returns, is that he will continue to look like the quarterback who stuck around for one season too many.
It is possible that the torn plantar fascia that required Manning to wear a boot on his left foot was the primary reason for his struggles. It was impossible, however, not to notice at the end of last season and throughout this one that Manning's arm strength was on a steep decline.
Sad is the only word to describe what we have seen from Manning this season. The quarterback who has spent a lifetime carving up opponents with his accuracy has completed just 59.9 percent of his passes and thrown only nine touchdowns. He has never thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes in a season.
Manning also has thrown 17 interceptions in nine games. He has not thrown more interceptions than touchdowns since his rookie year of 1998 with Indianapolis.
That past brilliance combined with the Broncos' Super Bowl-caliber defense is going to make for a tricky and delicate decision when Manning is ready to return. Will Kubiak and general manager John Elway have the guts to tell Manning that the best thing for their team is keeping Osweiler on the field?
Furthermore, is keeping Osweiler in the starting role really what is best for the Broncos? Yes, he was good in his first career start against the Chicago Bears, and, yes, he rallied Denver to a win over New England a couple weeks ago. But he was merely a game manager in a win over San Diego last week.
Manning is going to want to return. He knows that the only thing missing from his legacy is multiple Super Bowl titles, which is what every great quarterback craves. Only 11 QBs have won multiple titles, and Peyton's brother Eli is one of them. So is Elway, who had to wait until the final two seasons of his career to get his championship victories.
Maybe Elway will be the sympathetic ear that Manning needs to regain his job and get one more shot with the aid of a great defense. Or maybe it will be Elway's competitive juices that prevent Manning from that opportunity.
Either way, a difficult decision lies ahead for the Broncos. The chicken parm will not taste so good for Manning if he is told to watch the postseason from the sidelines.
NFC East's rocky road
Somebody is going to win the Eagles' division because the NFL says it must happen. If you study the teams, however, it's a lot easier to come up with reasons why each one won't win.
Washington, for example, has the easiest remaining schedule. Its four opponents are a combined 20-28, but three of those games are on the road, where the 'Skins have yet to win.
Dallas has the second-easiest schedule - its remaining opponents are 26-22 - but the Cowboys do not have Tony Romo, which is why they are the longest shot in Las Vegas.
The New York Giants and Eagles are the cofavorites, according to the Vegas book Bovada. The Giants have not beaten a winning team all season and have blown five fourth-quarter leads. This is the fourth quarter of the season, so that can't be good for the G-men.
The Eagles are the only team in the division with victories over winning teams, having beaten the New York Jets and New England. The Eagles also have three home games remaining, which you think would be good for them. Then you realize they are 2-3 at the Linc this season. Then you think about the hideous losses to Dallas, Miami, and Tampa Bay, and you wonder: How can they possibly win the NFC East?
Since leading Atlanta to a 56-22 record in his first five seasons at quarterback, former Penn Charter star Matt Ryan and his Falcons have fallen on hard times, and this season might be the worst of it. A 6-1 start has been followed by five straight losses. Ryan's Achilles' heel is the interception. He has had five multiple-interception games this season, which is tied with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck for the most in the league.
Here come the Seattle Seahawks again, peaking at just the right time. They have recovered from a 2-4 start by winning five of their last six, including a 38-7 road beat-down of the Vikings last week. The Seahawks have scored 29 or more points in their last four games and have allowed 13 or fewer in four of their last six. That looks a lot like the team that played in the last two Super Bowls, and it could also be the team that gets a first-round playoff game against the NFC East winner.
According to Stats L.L.C., only eight running backs in the NFL have four or more dropped passes this season. The list includes the Eagles' DeMarco Murray, with five, and Ryan Mathews, with four. Only Chicago's Jeremy Langford has more drops than Murray among NFL running backs. Murray and Mathews are a big reason why the Eagles are fourth in the NFL with 24 drops.
Top early afternoon game: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
It's highly unlikely that the Steelers will catch the Bengals for the AFC North title, but they are battling the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs for a wild-card berth and cannot afford to lose. The Bengals, who have not won a playoff game since January 1991, can clinch their fourth AFC North title with a victory and will be the AFC's top seed if they can win out.
Top late afternoon game: Dallas at Green Bay
The last time the Cowboys visited Green Bay, their chance to reach the NFC championship slipped out of Dez Bryant's hands in the most controversial non-catch of the season. This time, the 4-8 Cowboys are playing to get even with the other three dogs in the dreadful NFC East. The Packers needed a miracle in Detroit at the end of their last game to avoid losing for the fifth time in six games.
Sunday night game: New England at Houston
Coming off consecutive losses to Denver and the Eagles, it appears the Patriots will still be without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman in this game. The Patriots have not lost three in a row since 2002, when they lost four straight to San Diego, Miami, Green Bay, and Denver. The Texans are 4-2 at home and tied with Indy for first in the awful AFC South.
Monday night game: N.Y. Giants at Miami
During the Giants' current three-game losing streak, quarterback Eli Manning has completed just 52.7 percent of his pass attempts (68 for 129) and has a 77.6 passer rating. The Dolphins are 1-2 and have scored just 49 points since rallying from a 16-3 deficit to send the Eagles into a three-game losing streak.