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Marino & Manning: The "What If" discussion

When I was browsing the Sun-Sentinel's website on Wednesday, I came across an interesting post from Dave Hyde. Hyde was asked about why Peyton Manning's Colts always seem to be a contender while Dan Marino's Dolphins always seemed to just fall short.

Hyde's response was a good one. He talks a lot about the defensive support each player has had. The Dolphins had a top ten defense in points allowed five times in his 17 year career. Manning, meanwhile, has played on five teams with top ten defenses in only 12 seasons - including in four of the last five seasons.

In those seasons that saw Marino have the support of a top ten defense, his Dolphins did accomplish some good things. In 1983, Marino's rookie year, the Dolphins won the division before falling in the divisional round of the playoffs. The next year, behind a high-scoring offense and the 7th ranked scoring defense, the Dolphins had the second best record in the NFL but fell to the 49ers in the Super Bowl - a team that only lost one game all season.

The 1990 season saw Miami go 12-4 and have the second best record in the AFC. But their fourth ranked scoring defense let them down against Buffalo, losing in the divisional round 44-34. The '95 Dolphins had the 10th ranked scoring defense. And again, the Dolphins reached the playoffs. But again, the Dolphins fell to Buffalo, surrendering 37 points to them in a Wildcard game. Then in 1998, Marino's second to last season, the Dolphins had the top ranked scoring defense in the NFL. But the team lost to Denver in the divisional round, allowing 38 points to Denver's offense.

It's telling, though, that every time Marino had a top ten defense supporting his high-scoring offense that the Dolphins were a playoff team. And in three of those five playoff losses, the Dolphins fell to the eventual AFC Champions or Super Bowl Champions.

But what's even more telling than the disappointing defenses that Marino was paired with are the disappointing running backs Marino was forced to play with. Only once in his entire career did Dan play with a 1,000 yard runner - which was Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1996. Peyton Manning, meanwhile, has had a 1,000 yard running back supporting him in nine of his 12 career seasons - a whopping 75% of his career versus Dan's 6%.

Think that makes a difference?

And this is what I can't help but wonder about. With Peyton Manning on the verge of possibly winning his second Super Bowl title, some people are already getting close to referring to Manning as the greatest of all time. Not one of the greatest. The greatest. Period.

What if Marino had played in this day and age with the kinds of supporting casts around him that Peyton has had in his first 12 seasons? How would everyone see Marino then?

You think he had ridiculous numbers when he played? Just imagine if he got to play in this version of the NFL - where the rules are clearly skewed in favor of offenses, and receivers in particular. And just imagine he had better defenses and some actual ground support out of his running backs. The question might just become not if Marino would have any rings, but rather how many would he have.

Obviously this discussion means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But I just think it's impossible not to wonder "what if."