If The New York Giants Never Traded For Eli Manning…
What would the NFL be like today if this had become a reality? Photo by John Marshall Mantel/AP.

2004

1. Giants take Ben Roethlisberger, who was rated higher on their board.

2. Unable to resist, the Browns take Philip Rivers at six, while Kellen Winslow falls to the Steelers at 11

Big Ben quickly takes the starting job from Kurt Warner and leads the Giants to the playoffs as a wild card in his first season. However, it’s not enough to get past the Eagles in the NFC championship game.

Instead of going 15-1, the Steelers end up with a top 10 pick in the next year’s draft. But Rivers in Cleveland leads the Browns to their second playoff appearance in three years, finishing as a wild card behind Carson Palmer and the Bengals. However they are bounced quickly and the Patriots end up defeating Philadelphia in the Super Bowl.

2005

1. After getting a top 10 pick in the 2005 draft, the Steelers select Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers has an up-and-down rookie year. Ultimately they make the playoffs as a wild card, getting in over Rivers’ Browns. Rodgers leads his Steelers into Cincinnati, but can’t make it out of there as the Bengals win their first playoff game in 15 years. Palmer leads the Bengals into Denver to take on Jake Plummer’s Broncos, and wins. New England goes into Indianapolis to take on Peyton’s Colts and once again the Colts can’t get over the hump. New England defeats the Bengals in Cincinnati in the AFC championship to go to their fourth Super Bowl in five years. On the NFC side, Big Ben leads the Giants to the NFC championship game, but once again falls short, this time in the Pacific Northwest to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander’s Seahawks. The Seahawks deny the Patriots their fourth title and get their first.

2006

1. Sean Payton, recently named head coach of the Saints, takes a young undrafted QB from Dallas by the name of Tony Romo with him to New Orleans.

2. Eli never pans out, the Chargers decide to keep Brees; Eli Manning traded to Dolphins in 2006

3. Cowboys trade for Daunte Culpepper after Drew Bledsoe washes out 

LaDainian Tomlinson breaks Shaun Alexander’s single season touchdown record and Drew Brees has a stellar year as the Chargers roll into the playoffs. Brees makes a couple of great throws in big moments to get the Chargers past the Patriots in the divisional round, and gets them to the AFC title game against Peyton’s Colts. The Chargers owned that series in the 2000’s, and they win again and get to the Super Bowl. On the NFC side, everyone looked up at the Bears all season, but the Giants make their third straight NFC title game behind a great year from Big Ben and a vastly improved defense. The Bears had suffered injuries down the stretch to their defense and Big Ben gets over the hump in his third year, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl against Brees’ Chargers. However Roethlisberger struggles in his first game on the biggest stage and the Chargers are champions as Marty Schottenheimer goes out on top. 

2007

1. After a couple years of being just a playoff team, Aaron Rodgers finally gets it going in Pittsburgh

The Patriots were far and away the favorites to  win the AFC, and the whole league, all year. But they were trailed closely by the up-and-coming Steelers, who finish 15-1, only falling to New England. Those two run through the AFC playoffs, setting up a huge clash between the two for the AFC title. However, the Patriots barely survived a divisional round game against Cleveland, as the revitalized Browns defense complements the Rivers-to-Edwards connection. The Steelers win the AFC title game on a Hail Mary that is caught by Santonio Holmes, ending the perfect season for the Patriots. Behind Tony Romo in '06, New Orleans got to the playoffs, but this time they are a major force, getting all the way to the NFC championship game after defeating Big Ben’s Giants. In the divisional round, Culpepper to T.O. is a huge success and they defeat Brett Favre’s Packers to set up a meeting the with the Saints for the NFC title. Dallas gets ahead on a couple of early mistakes by the young Saints signal caller, and despite Romo’s best efforts, he can’t lead the Saints back. We get a blast from the past as Rodgers and the Steelers face off against Culpepper and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. This becomes the beginning of the end for Culpepper in Dallas as the Steelers win in a blowout, injuring Culpepper before halftime. 

2008

1. Culpepper has had a couple of decent years with Terrell Owens, but by 2008 he’s proven himself to be too banged up to be a solid contributor.

2. Eli Manning finally blossoms in Miami, looking like something close to a decent QB. They take the AFC East with Brady knocked out for the year.

3. Brett Favre, given an unlimited time frame to play for the Packers, never gets dealt to the Jets and subsequently never plays for the Vikings.

With that in mind, the Cowboys sink, but Big Ben and his Giants rise up and take the #1 seed in the NFC. Behind a fierce defense, they run through the NFC playoffs and make it to their first Super Bowl since 2000. The Dolphins make it all the way to the AFC title game before running into Peyton’s Colts. The older brother gets the better of the younger once again as Peyton advances to his first Super Bowl. Finally, Big Ben manages to win it all, as the Giants defeat the Colts in the Super Bowl. 

2009

1. The Cowboys take Josh Freeman in the 2009 draft, needing a quarterback due to Culpepper's injuroes ending his career. 

The AFC lacks any real dominant team. The closest thing becomes the Cincinnati Bengals, who makeover their defense, turning it into a top unit. Finally, Carson Palmer has his big moment, getting to the AFC championship game again to take on the Ravens and young starter Joe Flacco. Experience wins out and the Bengals get to the Super Bowl, in large part due to Cedric Benson’s revival. The Giants slip up after winning it all last year, so Favre and the Packers end up taking the NFC. It’s a close Super Bowl between two gunslinger quarterbacks, but in the end the Bengals take it, winning their first Super Bowl. 

2010

1. After winning the Super Bowl, things fall apart in Cincinnati. Personalities don’t mesh anymore and they sink to the bottom of the AFC North. Favre also shows signs of age in Green Bay, and things fall apart there too, meaning they end up with the top pick in the next draft. 

Matt Ryan leads the Falcons to the top seed in the NFC. Michael Vick comes back and leads the surprising Eagles to the playoffs as well. The NFC Divisional round features a dynamic showdown between Atlanta’s future and their past. Ultimately, the Falcons win. The NFC East champions, the Giants, take down Romo and the Saints on the other side. Matt Ryan leads the upstart Falcons over Big Ben’s Giants to advance Atlanta to their second Super Bowl. The AFC North sends three teams to the playoffs as the Browns, Ravens and Steelers all advance. Brees’ Chargers, Peyton’s Colts and Brady’s Patriots are all seemingly a cut below the three North teams. In the divisional round, Rodgers leads the Steelers over the Patriots while a gritty battle between the Ravens and Browns culminates with a win for Cleveland, and Rivers gets to his first conference title game. But Rodgers is too much once again. The Steelers go on to defeat the young Falcons in the Super Bowl as Rodgers wins his second ring. 

2011

1. After 2010, Favre retires. They end up with Cam Newton at the top of the 2011 draft. With the second pick, the Panthers take Von Miller and the Broncos take J.J. Watt. The Texans end up with Nick Fairley, the Lions get Corey Liuget, Chargers take Cameron Jordan, Saints take Cameron Hayward and Steelers take Derek Sherrod to help protect Rodgers (yeah, right).

Under Matthew Stafford with Calvin Johnson, the Lions light up the NFC North and edge out Newton’s Packers and Cutler’s Bears. Newton does lead the Packers to wild card spot though. But the Lions, in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, upset the 49ers in the Divisional round, and take on the Giants in the NFC title game. But Big Ben does what he does best and leads the Giants to a third Super Bowl with him at the helm. In the AFC, after a Peyton injury dooms the Colts, the Texans end up in the playoffs. The Dolphins get back in after a good year from Eli Manning, and a young signal caller from Denver gets an unorthodox offense into the playoffs. Tebow’s Broncos upset the Texans in the first round, and Brees’ Chargers take down the Dolphins. The Broncos don’t have the gray matter to upset the Patriots, and in an epic duel Rodgers one-ups Brees as the Steelers take down the Chargers to advance to the AFC title game. Brady gets revenge for 2007 on Rodgers and the Steelers this time, setting up a matchup with Big Ben and the Giants for another Super Bowl. The Giants defense comes after Brady in the same way they did Peyton in 2008 and Big Ben wins his second Super Bowl for Big Blue.   

2012

1. After another year of Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers end up winning the race to the top pick in the 2012 draft. With that pick, they take Andrew Luck. The Colts, knowing that RG3 was not worth that selection, decide to hold on to Peyton Manning. The Colts get Ryan Tannehill as the QB of the future.

2. The Broncos hold on to Tebow in 2012.

3. After Freeman fails in Dallas, they trade up for RG3. While this happens the Redskins take a chance on Brandon Weeden (which fails).

After missing the playoffs last year, the Ravens are set for one last run with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Flacco finally looks like he has what it takes to get it done when it matters. That gets tested when they end up in a divisional showdown with the Steelers, but unlike previous times, the Ravens pull it out. On the other side, Eli Manning and an improved Dolphins defense upset Brady and the Pats, setting up a Baltimore-Miami title game. Flacco gets it done again and leads them to the Super Bowl. In the NFC, the Giants suffer a Super Bowl hangover and they regress. Behind a good offensive line, RG3 plays like a franchise quarterback and leads the Cowboys to the division title. Luck leads the Panthers to the playoffs in his first season, joining Newton’s Packers, Ryan’s Falcons, the 49ers and the revitalized Seahawks. After falling short last year, the 49ers emerge victorious in the NFC and we get the Harbowl. Ravens win and send Lewis off as a winner. 

2013

1. After Tebow struggles, the Broncos use their first rounder to draft Geno Smith. Under John Elway and with a capable receiver DeMaryius Thomas, Smith actually becomes a decent starter.

2. Tim Tebow displaces Sam Bradford in St. Louis, following Josh McDaniels, who drafted him in Denver. Bradford is released and winds up as the starter in Tampa Bay, lobbing jump balls to Vincent Jackson in the five games he stays healthy. 

After a defensive revival in Carolina, Andrew Luck leads the Panthers to the top seed in the NFC. The Giants get back into the playoffs alongside the Eagles from the NFC East. The Packers get in, joined by the Seahawks and 49ers. But this time around the Panthers were just too much for everyone else as Luck hits deep balls to Steve Smith and uses pinpoint accuracy with Greg Olsen underneath, leading Carolina back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2003. With a capable defense, Rivers gets the Browns to the Super Bowl in the AFC. Brady’s weapons in New England just run out, and Peyton’s Colts fall just short in the AFC title game in Cleveland. Rodgers has a down year in Pittsburgh behind a banged up offensive line, and Brees starts to show signs of slowing down in San Diego but still gets the Chargers to the playoffs. It’s a back and forth game between Carolina and Cleveland for the Lombardi Trophy, but the Panthers defense makes the difference and gets the Panthers their first league title. 

2014

1. Denver finally passes San Diego with Geno Smith, and Kansas City also makes the playoffs as Brees slows down. 

2. Andy Dalton leads Cincinnati back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. 

3. After signing just a two year deal with the Colts, Peyton Manning leaves and goes to San Francisco. Tannehill takes over in Indianapolis.

The 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers, Lions, Cowboys and Giants make it from the NFC. The Eagles fall apart from 2013 and Newton can’t stay healthy in Green Bay, leaving the Lions to take the North. The Broncos, Chiefs, Colts, Steelers, Bengals and Patriots make it from the AFC. Finally, as a member of the 49ers, Peyton Manning gets his first Super Bowl ring, defeating Brady’s Patriots. After that, Peyton rides off into the sunset.

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