NFL Playoffs: Colts at Broncos

Every preseason I give predictions on the awards and playoff picture. Some of it may very well be wishful thinking in the back of my mind, because something like Peyton Manning going against Andrew Luck, well that seems just too good to be true. Well, it’s here and it’s happening, and we should all be excited.

As for the Indianapolis Colts, there was only one hiccup of a season where they didn’t have a franchise quarterback at the helm. That hiccup led to Manning’s departure, you know, Luck’s predecessor with Indy. Manning still plays for a team with a horse logo by the way, and the future Hall of Famer will host the rising superstar. It was not only something to root for, but a distinct possibility that I really thought we would be honored to watch.

Please, do not get the X’s and O’s in me wrong, unlike what you see on sports TV stations, it really is about the QB against the defense. The Denver Broncos had the best defense in the AFC in terms of fewest yardage allowed, 3rd best in all of football. Their strength is against the run, something the Colts don’t do very well, so that aspect of the game may not matter. Last offseason, Denver invested in the secondary with Aquib Talib and T.J. Ward, and got Chris Harris back from injury, all of which made the Pro Bowl. That enough will be a tall challenge for the turnover-prone Luck, who will also have his head on the swivel for a pair of Pro Bowl sack masters, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. No wonder defensive coordinator, Jack del Rio, is resurfacing as a head coach candidate.

T.Y. Hilton is the only playmaker that defenses really need to focus on containing. Reggie Wayne is a great guy that will be in the Hall of Fame conversation down the road, but his best days are clearly behind him. Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are the first duo of tight ends to catch 8 touchdowns in the same season, and believe me, Luck is going to need them. You can say that Dan “Boom” Herron has come on as of late, especially as another passing target, similar to Ahmad Bradshaw’s role before his injury. The Colts always try to keep a defense honest by dialing up plays on the ground. It’s also a good game plan when Manning is the opponent, so it’s the defense that needs to step up on the road because I don’t think they’ll suddenly find success running. Denver will man up outside and send some fast rushers off the edge, so we will see if the linebackers can contain, or even negate, Luck’s scrambling.

The Colts lone defender to make the Pro Bowl, Vontae Davis, can only matchup with one of the Broncos’ prime targets. Greg Toler on the other side is a good corner, so I expect them to stay on their sides, but they should mix it up throughout the game. Matchup wise, I see Davis getting the call to cover Demaryius Thomas, with Toler lining across Emmanuel Sanders. The x-factor here is tight end Julius Thomas, this offense is nearly unstoppable when Julius isn’t banged up, and he’s had a lot of time to heal his ankle. Not to overlook Indy’s defense or anything, despite losing Robert Mathis, they ranked 11th this season. We don’t really know if Manning or Thomas are healthy, but the balance that C.J. Anderson has provided will give Indy their biggest challenge to date.

Denver is at home, with the superior defense, and a better offense. These teams ranked 3rd and 4th in yards this season, Colts being 3rd. As far as putting points on the scoreboard goes, Denver finished 2nd with a 30.1 point average, but the Colts weren’t far behind in 6th with 28.6. All the sings point toward a convincing victory for Manning against his former teams, and you know the Broncos have their sights on returning to the big game. Turnovers are crucial in any game, but they are harder to overcome in the playoffs. Luck had 22 turnovers on the year, a handful more than Manning coughed up. Luck’s 40 touchdowns were the most in 2014, Manning was one shy ranking 2nd, but with a higher QB rating of 101.5. For me, Luck’s potential is clear to see but his performances haven’t really been impressive. The hype is real, but is slowly treading towards the over-exaggeration of Paul George’s game in the NBA, who I hope can return close to his pre-injury form. Both great players, just not quite there yet. Luck has a lot of setbacks that are comparable to Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford, but just like you, I see those moments for the ages like last postseason’s comeback in Kansas City.

I know Manning has had his cold weather and playoff woes, but this is the face of not only his team, but the league for his entire career. Luck has more to prove, as a younger player should when it comes to the game’s elite QBs. This is a hump for Luck to get over, because I’m not buying his inflated passing numbers for attempting the 2nd most passes in 2014. When it comes to great players, you can only nitpick to compare them. This weekend, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat to watch this epic clash. Manning has tense moments facing his former team before, but covering the spread of a touchdown is something I think they’ll do, unless Luck elevates his game to another level.

What’s even greater is that we get another fantastic matchup, as the winner could be traveling to Tom Brady’s neck of the woods, as the New England Patriots are also favored to beat the Baltimore Ravens by a touchdown.