Where does he rank among the all-time greats? Does he need a win on Sunday to be one of the all-time greats? Could he already be the greatest of all-time?
I've been asked that last question a couple of times myself. Jim Kelly was asked, too, in a recent chat with fans on NFL.com, and here's what he said:
Dan, Toronto: If the Colts win the Super Bowl this Sunday, do you think that Peyton Manning will be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game?
Jim Kelly: I think he's the greatest QB to ever play now. he's such a technician out there, his arm strength, how he commands respect and is a leader, too. There's no doubt in my mind he's the greatest QB to ever play. But it will solidify a lot of minds in the media. In my mind, he's the greatest QB to ever play. Period. But for all those media types who have never played, this in their minds, he has to win to get put on that pedestal. People have to understand football is a team sport, more of a team sport than any other sport. It's won or lost as a group when they eliminate mistakes.
Bold words, and maybe you'd expect the part where Jim Kelly thinks that Super Bowls are overrated when judging a quarterback's place in history, seeing as Jim Kelly went 0-for-four himself in Super Bowls.
That said, I do agree with the larger point. It's possible to be a great quarterback -- even the best quarterback of all-time -- and not win a Super Bowl. Having a great quarterback might be the biggest factor in winning a ring, but think about how many other things have to go right, too. You need a defense, you need a running game, you need a competent coaching staff, you need a kicker who won't choke, you might need to avoid playing in an era where there's another historically great team, etc., etc.
I'll play Jim Kelly's advocate. If you look at it in a certain way, it's actually easy to argue that Peyton Manning is the best ever. Manning plays against the most evolved defenses ever. He sees more different looks, all designed specifically to confuse him, than have ever existed in the game before, and he remains consistently great. Not to mention that the athletes themselves evolve, with defenders being bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than they've ever been.
So if a guy's the best right now, I think that entitles him to make the argument that he's better than those who came before him, simply because the game has evolved to its most complex and most difficult form. He's been able to take all the things other quarterbacks have learned before him, and build on it and build on it. Maybe that makes him the best ever.
That's just one way to look at it, though, and I'm aware that there are dozens of viable arguments to be made against Manning or for other QBs. It's not a ridiculous question to ask, though, and that itself is a pretty big compliment for Manning.