Can Denver win minus Manning?

Peyton Manning is aiming to win his second Super Bowl this season. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Strange as it sounds, some of the Denver Broncos' AFC West rivals wouldn't mind if Peyton Manning & Co. won the Super Bowl this season. It's not that they are secretly fans of the Broncos -- far from it. But in assessing their own prospects, they realize how much the future would brighten if Manning decided to walk away from the game a champion at age 37, his health and legacy intact.

"Everybody in the AFC West would be a little happier," an executive from another team in the division mused. "You'd have a more enjoyable vacation, that's for sure."

There is also at least an outside chance a postseason physical exam scheduled for March could nudge Manning from the game if results show instability in his surgically repaired neck. No decent person could root for that outcome, but as Manning himself has stated, the end is coming sooner than later. And if it comes this offseason, then what for Denver?

"I think they are going to take a big crash," a personnel evaluator from another AFC team predicted.

"They will be a good football team," a coach from an AFC West rival countered.

"Nobody is set up to weather it," an NFL player agent said. "It's like being set up to weather when Babe Ruth retires or when a supermodel dumps you. You can never be."

Opinions are mixed, but what does the evidence say? Let's take a closer look.