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Peyton Manning's 'NCAA bracket' nears championship round

QB Peyton Manning. (Getty Images)

QB Peyton Manning. (Getty Images) Credit: QB Peyton Manning. (Getty Images)

Manning Madness is nearing its conclusion ahead of the Tuesday's opening of the NFL free-agency period at 4 p.m. Here's an NCAA-style look at the pursuit of Peyton Manning since his release last Wednesday by the Indianapolis Colts:

Play-in game
(4) Tennessee Titans (9-7) def. (5) New York Jets (8-8)
The Jets looked at their team, realized Manning wouldn't like what he sees, and extended Mark Sanchez despite misgivings. The Titans believe Manning would solve their long-term averageness problem.

Final Four
(1) Arizona Cardinals (8-8) vs. (4) Tennessee Titans (9-7)
(2) Miami Dolphins (6-10) vs. (3) Denver Broncos (8-8)

Miami, a heavyweight among the contending suitors, had been ignored by the Manning camp until reports surfaced yesterday that the four-time MVP would meet with new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin this week, as well as Titans coach Mike Munchak. But if one of the Final Four should drop out, unseeded Houston is poised to jump in as an 11th-hour dark horse.

Title game
Matchup TBD
Notwithstanding the apparent entry of Miami and Tennessee into the sweepstakes, Manning's in-depth visits to Denver and Arizona last weekend suggest a two-team race for the favor of Manning's inner circle. However, given how many teams were once floated as possibilities - including Kansas City and Washington - the championship matchup is hardly set.

We see Manning choosing Denver. Never mind Tim Tebow, who's considered Denver's answer at QB everywhere except the Broncos' front office. This team offers Manning an unmatched combination of inducements: a winning tradition, ardent fans, a proven defense, a reputable coach and familiar AFC foes. It's a foundation for Manning's No. 1 priority: a Super Bowl title in 2012.

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