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Top 8 Biggest What if’s in NFL history

What if?
Publish Date: 02/24/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

The NFL, heck, almost every NFL game, no matter the score, has a handful of plays every game that if you change just one of them, you could change the winner. On a historical level, a few things stick out that could have changed the NFL as we know it!

1) What if Peyton Manning did not become an Indianapolis Colt?

The Colts were somewhat a laughing stock in the NFL and had been since the late 70s as the Irsay family had run it into the ground. In 1984 they moved to Indianapolis in the dead of night, sneaking out of Baltimore. The Colts could not get a new stadium in Baltimore, so they moved to Indianapolis, which offered a brand new state-of-the-art stadium called the Hoosier dome.

By the time we got to the end of the 1990s, the Colts were a mess, attendance not good, and the Irsay’s were not going to get a new stadium deal. Los Angeles needed a team, and the Colts looked like a perfect place to relocate! But then that all changed as the Colts, with the number one draft pick selected, Peyton Manning, changed everything! In just his second season, Manning took the Colts to the playoffs, and from there, the face of the NFL was Peyton Manning. If Ryan Leaf had been the choice, I truly believed that the Colts would have been relocated.

Video: Why Jim Irsay Drafted Peyton Manning,

Why Jim Irsay Drafted Peyton Manning, “I’ll win for you”

2) What if John Elway had become a Baltimore Colt?

The top two on this list go hand in hand as the 1983 drafting of John Elway could have saved the Colts franchise. The Colts were last relevant in 1977 when quarterback Bert Jones had led them to a third straight playoff appearance. Injuries would destroy the rest of Jones’s career. In the 1983 draft, the Colts had a chance to grab a game-changer in the first round. Unfortunately, as they say, John Elway refused to play for the Colts and the rest is history!

Elway was a legend in Denver, and the Colts were in Indianapolis just a year later. Would Elway play in Baltimore have kept the Colts there? I think this situation turns out with a move to Indianapolis either way, as Robert Irsay had burnt so many bridges a new stadium deal would have been doubtful. But, still, you have to wonder if the addition of Elway would have excited people enough to change Baltimore city leaders’ minds?

Video: John Elway:

John Elway: “The Trade” (Baltimore to Denver)


Video: John Elway:

John Elway: “The Trade” (Baltimore to Denver)

3) What if Greg Cook never gets injured?

Cook was drafted in 1969 by the Cincinnati Bengals and had a fantastic first four games for the Bengals until injuries ended his career. He played most of the 1969 season hurt and was still named the rookie of the year. What makes this interesting is that Bill Walsh called Cook the greatest quarterback he had ever been around. Many things may have changed in NFL history if Cook never gets injured.

In 1970 with no Cook at quarterback, the Bengals started Virgil Carter, who had a much weaker arm than Cook. Carter became Cincinnati’s quarterback, leading Walsh to perfect the west coast offense, which didn’t need the arm strength of the Greg Cook-led offense. Now the Bengals made the playoffs in 1970, 73, and 75. Do those playoff games end up any different with a talent like Cook at quarterback? Who knows, but all of the things that could have turned out differently with Cook at quarterback are mind-numbing to think about.

Video: NFL Films: Greatness cut short for Greg Cook

NFL Films: Greatness cut short for Greg Cook

4) What if Bill Walsh is named Bengals head coach in 1976?

Paul Brown retired after leading the Bengals to the playoffs in 1975, and he had a choice to make as his replacement. The options were his long-time assistant Bill Johnson or his offensive coordinator Bill Walsh. He picked Johnson, and the rest is history, and it’s not good history for the Bengals. Johnson would be fired a little over two years later, and Walsh would win 3 Super Bowls, and two of those wins came at the expense of Paul Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals. I think it’s safe to say that if Walsh had been hired in 1976, the 49ers dynasty probably never existed, and it’s possible a dynasty in Cincinnati would have been highly likely.

Video: Bill Walsh: A Football Life - The West Coast Offense

Bill Walsh: A Football Life – The West Coast Offense

5) What if the 49ers had drafted Aaron Rodgers?

Rodgers wanted to stay out west and become a 49er; the Niners had other ideas as they passed on Rodgers and instead picked Alex Smith. Smith was a solid quarterback, but Rodgers has ended up being a hall of fame. I think it’s safe to assume if Rodgers gets drafted by the 49ers, he may have at least one or two more Super Bowl rings with the Niners. Rodgers being drafted by the 49ers would have also dramatically changed the fate of Colin Kaepernick, who would have never been a 49er if Rodgers was there. You can look through the NFL news every day. I find things that could have changed the way things have gone with just one minor tweak.

Video: Why the 49ers should have drafted Aaron Rodgers

Why the 49ers should have drafted Aaron Rodgers

6) What if the Chargers go with Brees instead of Rivers?

Sure both were great quarterbacks, but Rivers is a borderline hall of fame, and Brees is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s tough to imagine the Chargers not winning a Super Bowl if Brees had stayed. The Chargers had some loaded teams that always came up a little short in the playoffs. I think it’s safe to say that the Chargers would have won at least one Super Bowl with Brees at the helm. I will also add that if Brees stays and wins a Super Bowl or two, the Chargers may still be in San Diego, where they belong.

Video: What You Don't Know About Drew Brees Quarterback Controversy With Philip Rivers

What You Don’t Know About Drew Brees Quarterback Controversy With Philip Rivers

7) What if Ernie Davis doesn’t tragically die?

Davis was drafted in 1961 to pair up with the legendary Jim Brown in the browns backfield. Tragically before that pairing could happen, Davis passed away from Leukemia. Now, what if in this one would be how good would Davis have been? The second question would be, would Jim brown played a few more years if Davis had been in the same backfield to help Brown carry the load.

Video: Ernie Davis Documentery - The History Of Ernie Davis in Timeline

Ernie Davis Documentery – The History Of Ernie Davis in Timeline

8) What if Nick Saban and the Dolphins had signed Drew Brees in 2005?

Nick Saban wanted Drew Brees, but the dysfunctional Dolphins front office made a low-ball offer to Brees while the saints signed Brees. This could have changed football at the college and NFL levels. Maybe if Saban gets Brees, he never leaves Miami; perhaps the big rivalry in the NFL would have been Saban vs Belichick, which would mean no Alabama dynasty, among many things that could have happened had the Dolphins signed Brees.

Video: N 'if' L: What if Drew Brees had signed with the Dolphins? | NFL

N ‘if’ L: What if Drew Brees had signed with the Dolphins? | NFL

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