Divisional Round NFL Picks: Look For A Dallas Upset At Lambeau

Tony Romo

Indianapolis Colts (+7) at Denver Broncos

As the age-old debate goes, would you rather have the quarterback with undeniably some of the best regular season performances of all time or the one that wins playoff games? If circumstances allow, perhaps the Indianapolis Colts can have both.

At least, with today’s quarterback.

Peyton Manning is easily one of the best football players — not just limited to quarterbacks — in the history of the league. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as his name appears on a ballot, and will be in the discussion for best quarterback of all time for decades to come.

If only he didn’t struggle in the playoffs.

To say that Peyton Manning “can’t win the big game” is laughable. He can. He has. But it is equally naive to dismiss the tangible evidence that he does not perform at his best level when the stage grows.

11-12 in 23 career starts, Manning frequently led one of the best two teams in the conference throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Despite losing one year to injury and changing teams upon his return, Peyton Manning has continued this trend, earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs for each of the three seasons he has played in Denver. Consistent as this may be, it also includes his production tapering off towards the end of the season.

Historically, Manning averages a hair over 280 yards and two touchdowns per game in the months of September, October, and November, combined. In regular season games in December and January, his averages drop to 261.2 yards and 1.77 touchdowns per game. Finally, in all January games – playoffs or regular season – Manning’s numbers fall further – an average of 252.2 yards and 1.41 touchdowns per game.

2014 was yet another confirmation of the pattern, as Manning’s averages from September through November held at a steady 311.42 yards and 3 touchdowns per game, only to plummet to 247.5 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game in December. What should indicate that his performance — arguably the most important factor in Denver’s success, as evident by a 38-10 regular season with Manning — will suddenly turn back upward? But, in fairness, Manning can only carry the team so far on Sunday. The other side of the ball – and its opponent – is largely being overlooked.

Prior to the 2010 season, Aaron Rodgers was considered one of the better quarterbacks in the league, although not in the elite class in which he resides today. Everyone knew he had talent and was likely to thrive in the league for years, but without solid evidence confirming such suspicions, he was frequently left out of the conversation that, at the time, deservingly included Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.

Does it seem that far-fetched that a deep playoff run for Andrew Luck would yield the same public accolades that Rodgers gained in 2010? More accurately, isn’t it possibly that Andrew Luck is on the verge of a career-altering breakout at any moment?

The explosion takes place on Sunday, as it will take a shootout by Luck and the Colts to keep pace with Peyton Manning – surely on a mission. Luck, on the rise, tops the man he supplanted in Indianapolis, as the Colts win by four and beat the spread.

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Mario Mergola
Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola