-- ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- He's 38 years old, in his 17th season and has four neck surgeries in his medical file. Whether he plays in the cold, the rain or with the sun high in the sky, Peyton Manning always seems to be under an is-he-done microscope.
Manning was asked Wednesday if he planned on playing in the 2015 season or if there were a set of circumstances that would make this season his last. And Manning responded with his intent to be the Broncos' quarterback next season no matter what happens in this one.
"I have not thought about those circumstances at all," Manning said. "I certainly plan on being back if the Broncos would have me, but at this point I'm kind of thinking about Oakland. I know this is the time where conversations about what head coaches are going to return and I guess for some reason I get to fall into that category because I'm closer to the same age as some of the coaches.
"I have no plans along those lines [of retiring],'' Manning added. "I'm enjoying playing, I'm looking forward to Sunday's game and hopefully the game to follow that.''
Despite plenty of public churn and drive-time discussion about Manning's play -- the loss to the Bengals on Monday night was his first four-interception game since 2010 -- Manning does lead the league in touchdown passes with 39. With one touchdown pass in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Raiders, Manning would become the first quarterback in league history with three seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.
He threw 49 touchdown passes in 2004 and threw a single-season record 55 touchdown passes last season.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently said he believes Manning still "has plenty of great football in him'' and that the Broncos believed Manning would play beyond this season.
With a win Sunday the Broncos would finish 12-4 and Manning would have his 11th 12-win season as a starting quarterback. A victory over the Raiders would also give the Broncos a first-round bye in the postseason as the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Following the team's practice Thursday, coach John Fox was asked about Manning's comments.
"I would say when you're kind of top three quarterbacks in the league, maybe the top of all time, I'd say there's a pretty good likelihood,'' Fox said with a smile. "He's had a tremendous year, we've still got things to get done and looking forward to the opportunity.''
It's been the general consensus around the Broncos' complex that Manning, whose contract runs through the 2016 season, would be back for 2015 even if the Broncos were to go on to a Super Bowl win to close out the current season.
Fox was asked Thursday if there has been any discussions among the team's decision-makers about Manning's plans in recent weeks.
"We pretty much, it's cliché, but in this business you pretty much stay one week at a time,'' Fox said. "So probably not a lot of conversation, if you're asking me moving forward would we like that opportunity I'd say yes.''
Manning is scheduled to have an exit physical, like all of the Broncos players, in the days following the end of the season. He is expected to have another check-up on his surgically-repaired neck in March as well, but unlike last season his check-up this time around is expected to be before the start of the new league year on March 10 and is not tied to any financial items in his contract.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who is scheduled to be one of the most coveted free agents in the league at season's end, said the Broncos' players have projected Manning to be back in '15 all along.
"I expected it, I haven't heard any talk about him leaving,'' Thomas said. "I'm worried about this year, what happens next year, we'll talk about that next year. From what I've heard he said he's coming back so that's good.''
Asked if Manning's return would influence him in free agency, Thomas said; "Whatever happens, happens, I would love to be here. But we'll see what goes on.''
The Broncos do have a franchise player tag available to use on one of their impending free agents in the coming offseason and if a long-term deal can't be worked out, Thomas would certainly be a leading candidate for that.
A franchise player tender is a one-year deal for the average of the top 10 contracts at the position that is guaranteed the moment the player signs it. This year for wide receivers the franchise player contract was for $12.31 million and is expected to be slightly higher when the new franchise tag numbers are set by the league in February.