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Peyton Manning: Which team can protect him best? A dark-horse favorite.

Peyton Manning has said he wants to choose his new team within a week. What factors will be most important to him? A strong offensive line could be a big plus.

By Staff writer / March 9, 2012

The 2009 cover of ESPN the Magazine highlighted the bond Peyton Manning (18) has with his longtime friend and Indianapolis Colts center, Jeff Saturday (63). Manning will want a similar bond with the center of any team he joins.

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By some counts, 14 teams have expressed interest in Peyton Manning since the Indianapolis Colts cut him Tuesday night. Of those, the teams considered serious contenders to land the future Hall of Famer include the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks, The Washington Redskins, the Houston Texans, and in somewhat of a surprise, the Denver Broncos.

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Reportedly, Manning is visiting Denver Friday and will make subsequent visits to Phoenix and Miami. Manning says he wants to make his decision within a week, and it seems he has his pick.

He has a slew of factors to weigh when choosing a team. Off the field, he'll want a team that will allow him enormous license in running the offense. On the field, wide receivers will be a big consideration – a quarterback, after all, needs someone to catch his passes. But this late in his career, just as important may be a good offensive line that can protect him.

“At this stage, I’d say that the O-line is more important to him than the receivers,” says Mike Tanier, a contributor to The New York Times Fifth Down blog and a staff writer at FootballOutsiders.com. “You can make the receivers better. That’s what he was doing the last three years in Indianapolis. But he knows that to make the receivers look good he’s got to be upright.”

True, Manning was working behind a terrible offensive line in his last year with the Colts, and a line that was perhaps only average before that (as with the receivers, Peyton made them look better than they were). Furthermore, he gets rid of the ball so quickly that he’s rarely in danger of being sacked.

But essential to his success is a smart center, since centers are generally responsible for calling out protection schemes at the line. Unusually, Manning often changes the protection schemes himself, meaning he will need a center who can keep up with his football mind.

And, quick release or not, he’s likely to be more aware of the potential for injury after a year on the sidelines. But which Manning suitor can offer him the best protection?

According to Mr. Tanier, the clear winner is the Houston Texans. “They’re a dark horse contender for him, but they can point to an impact dominant O-line to protect him. They made it to the second round of the playoffs with a third-string quarterback.”

The Texans, he says, specialize in cut blocking, a barely legal tactic that involves blocking people at the knees. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak knows a thing or two about scary offensive lines: as the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, he helmed the intimidating Denver front that sheltered an aging John Elway to two Super Bowl victories.

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