There will be a lot of answers provided in Sunday afternoon’s late game between the Colts and the Broncos.
Forget all the niceties about both teams “winning” as a result of the Colts’ decision to jettison Peyton Manning prior to the 2012 season.
The Colts tried to do it in the nicest possible way, but they basically fired Manning so they could draft the brilliantly talented and healthy Andrew Luck with the No. 1 draft pick out of Stanford in 2012. Manning took advantage of his freedom to sign with the Broncos, and he has recorded three of the best seasons any quarterback has ever put on the board.
But this game will go a long way towards telling us which team won that maneuver. Luck’s apprenticeship is long over and he is in the early part of the prime of his career.
Manning clearly proved he had plenty left in the tank after he left the Colts, and he would like to play another two years once this year’s Lombardi Trophy is handed out.
The Colts and Broncos have split two regular-season meetings in the last two years, with the Colts winning 39-33 in 2013 and the Broncos winning the return match in Week One this season by a 31-24 margin.
It was easy for all sides to be civil in those regular-season games, but this is the divisional playoffs and the winner will get a chance to go to New England (presumably) and play for the AFC Championship.
The public civility has not come to an end because Manning is not likely to say anything bad about his old team and Luck will continue to show his “respect” for Manning. However, the Colts’ strategy is to pound Manning and hit him as hard and as often as possible.
They would like to knock Manning out of this game. That would give them a much better chance of surviving and advancing.
There are several issues with Manning as he approaches this game. One that has been coming to the surface is a thigh injury that has kept him from sliding comfortably in the pocket and buying time for his stellar crew of receivers to get open.
The other issue with Manning is his waning arm strength. This is a subject that the Broncos are unwilling to discuss and one that they claim is non-existent.
However, the numbers tell us otherwise, because Manning has not thrown the ball well over the last five weeks of the season. He has a 5-6 TD-interception ratio over that time frame, and that’s not going to get the Broncos where they want to go.
Manning has had a chance to rest and recover since the Broncos had a week off thanks to earning the No. 2 seed and a bye in the AFC playoffs. That’s what he desperately wanted, and it should mean that he is in a much stronger position to get back to being the record-setting quarterback who ranks with the best who have ever played the game.
Luck has passed most of his tests during the first three years of his career. He has led his team to the playoffs each of those seasons, and he already has two postseason victories – over the Chiefs last year and the Bengals last week – at this point.
But now he has to confront the master in Denver. Luck has all the measurables like arm strength, accuracy, quick release and athleticism working for him. However, what will his state of mind be as he faces Manning in a playoff game?
Luck has passed all of his tests to this point, and as impressive as his physical characteristics are, his intelligence and ability to handle pressure seem to be at just as high a level.
While he is well-equipped to handle this assignment, he still has to prove that he is truly up to the task and won’t be overwhelmed by the moment.
Both quarterbacks will be measured by the final score.
If the Broncos win, Manning takes his team to the AFC Championship for the second year in a row, and he gets a chance to fight for a second Super Bowl.
If the Colts win, Luck gets a chance to demonstrate that he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the game and prove his own credibility.
This will be a war, and all the niceties will go out the window. Manning gets a chance to show he still belongs, while Luck gets his chance to prove he is worthy.
Don’t count out the Old Master. There are still bullets in his holster, and he will not be afraid to use them.
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