NEW YORK -- What if I told you that the Super Bowl could be a matchup of Matt Flynn and Tim Tebow? Well, you wouldn't believe me and that won't ever happen. But in light of how successful the Broncos and Seahawks 2013 seasons were, it's worth noting we're not that far away from a world where it's a possibility.
For the Broncos, their franchise flipped history thanks to John Elway's ability to sell Peyton Manning on Denver as a destination where he could win a Super Bowl. Having Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to throw to made things easier, but there was no guarantee Manning was going to love Denver. In fact, Denver, coming off a playoff win, looked like something of a longshot for Manning at first.
People were still high on the Tim Tebow buzz with most of Denver turning into a bunch of rabid, frothing Tebites. The only out Elway had when it came to Tebow was landing Manning and then dumping the left-handed backup. He managed to pull off both items on his list, but it's not far-fetched to think that Denver could still be dealing with Tebow.
If that's the case and Manning goes elsewhere, where are the Broncos? They're almost definitely sitting at home right now. Wes Welker doesn't come to Denver and maybe neither do most of the other low-cost, attractive free agents Denver signed this offseason, like Louis Vasquez or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Chargers and Chiefs probably finish as the top two teams in the AFC West and, even at something like 8-8, the Broncos aren't repping the AFC in the Super Bowl. Julius Thomas doesn't emerge; a pass-catching tight end who lacks blocking skills won't work when you're running the read option. Does John Fox still have his job without Manning? More than likely. But Denver's not sitting on 26 wins the last two years.
Maybe Denver's better than I'm giving them credit for if they don't land Manning. They won a playoff game after all. But the ripple effect wouldn't just be with them. The Jets agreed to pay a bunch of money and give up draft picks to land Tebow. They never used him, he was a massive distraction and Mike Tannenbaum ended up losing his job as a result of the Jets struggles.
"Obviously we made a couple mistakes -- trading for Tim Tebow most notably. But I would say beyond that, but we [could have done a better job with the bottom of our roster], especially toward the end," Tannenbaum recently said on CBS Sports Radio's Damon Amendolara Show.
The Jets are a better team with less scrutiny without going through the Tebow experience. The Patriots probably never pick him up. Tebow can never frame Aaron Hernandez. (I'm kidding. Allegedly.) We never talk about this amazing photo.
The Seahawks nearly found themselves in a similar situation. They went out and signed Matt Flynn as a free agent before the 2012 season. It was a surprise -- and one that was pretty heavily panned -- when they used a third-round draft pick on Russell Wilson.
I noted earlier this week that just four games into Russell's rookie season, many folks wanted to bench him for Flynn. Wilson landed the starting job out of training camp thanks to Pete Carroll and John Schneider being bold. But what if he doesn't fall to them in the draft?
Remember that in 2011 the Seahawks, who made the playoffs when they won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, trotted out a Tarvaris Jackson-Charlie Whitehurst combo at quarterback. They were really, really desperate to improve the position. Signing Flynn in free agency after he set Packers records against the Lions the year before was supposed to fix that.
There were major questions about Flynn -- Pete Prisco did a great breakdown here -- but he was supposed to help put the Seahawks over the top. Flynn got more guaranteed millions of dollars (10) from Seattle than passes he attempted for the Seahawks (9). Where are they if they don't get Russ?
The reality is this might be a 7-9 team again. Flynn clearly wasn't the answer; he was beat out by Terrelle Pryor for the Raiders job and the Bills couldn't use him over Thaddeus Lewis. Marshawn Lynch would still be dominating in the run game but Seattle wouldn't be in the Super Bowl.
Flynn would probably still be the starter on a team that missed the playoffs. Wilson could be playing for someone like the Jaguars (who knows if he'd be having the same success he is now; I'd venture that it would be close actually) or backing up someone like Tom Brady for the Patriots. We might not even know how good he could be long term.
Carroll and Schneider have done great work building the Seahawks roster but they don't get the same praise without the franchise quarterback. It's also significantly harder to build a stacked team like they have without the cheap investment at the most important position.
The Packers would've missed the playoffs in 2013 without being able to add Flynn for a critical stretch of games this year. The Raiders and Bills remain unchanged.
It's largely a futile exercise to try and predict what these teams would be without Manning and Wilson. They're both here in large part because they have those quarterbacks. But it's not far-fetched at all to consider a world where Tebow and Flynn are still the signal callers for the two teams set to square off in the Super Bowl.
And it's a scary world indeed.