Story lines abound:
Peyton Manning returns to his old Indianapolis stomping grounds Sunday night as quarterback and savior of the Denver Broncos.
Andrew Luck, the quarterback who replaced Manning, is, for the most part, doing a great Manning impression, having led his team into the playoffs his first season and to the top in the AFC South this season.
Linebacker Von Miller returns to the Bronco lineup after a six-game suspension and should immediately start working his way toward double-digit sacks.
Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, is already almost double-digit in terms of sacks with 9.5, and will face a restructured Bronco offensive line.
Indy, at 4-2, is a game in front of Tennessee in the AFC South but coming off a disappointing 19-9 Monday night loss in San Diego.
And, yes, Colt owner Jim Irsay has added yet more fuel to this fire, as if it were needed. He’s the guy who made the decision to jettison Manning in favor of Luck. Then this week, he made bulletin board fodder for the Broncos by claiming Manning wasn’t getting it done as a Colt.
Yes, lots going on as the Broncos head into Sunday’s sure-to-be ear-splitting atmosphere in domed Lucas Oil Stadium.
Manning is to be honored in some way for his years as a Colt.
Think poor Peyton will be all teary-eyed and blubbery? Or do you think he will be focused to the max?
I vote for No. 2.
Manning wasn’t at his best last week in a 35-19 victory over winless Jacksonville. The Broncos, who have averaged 44 points per game, have played two mediocre games this season, both at home against bad teams. They beat Oakland 37-21 and Jacksonville 35-19, both 16-point victories, but not quite up to snuff.
When Manning and his offensive mates pay attention, which they will certainly be doing in spite of the noise – Hello, silent count – they tend to score touchdowns by the bushel.
Last Monday, the Colts were dominated on the ground, where the Chargers, a team that has not been able to run the ball, gained 147 yards. The Colts are allowing 132 yards rushing per game, 29th in the league.
The Broncos likely will not rip off huge chunks of yardage on the ground repeatedly Sunday, but will run often directly at Mathis to slow his pass rush and allow Manning time to find any of his four Amigos via the air.
There is good news for Denver on the defensive side, where all of the injured are due to be back in action. Inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, defensive end Robert Ayers and corner Tony Carter are all expected to return to join in the fun as Miller debuts.
This will be the first time this season that the Bronco defensive starting unit as it was drawn up in the summer will be on the field together.
What they will be going against will be a Colt offense that has become surprisingly conservative.
Luck, who possesses one of the best arms in the business – he’s accurate to boot – has thrown for only 215 yards per game, 23rd in the league. He has thrown for just more than 1,300 yards (Manning has 2,179) and is middle of the road in terms of QB rating at 89.6 (Manning is at 128.8).
At least some of the conservative play calling has come about in the last three games because the Colts traded a first-round pick to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson, a first-round pick last year.
But Richardson has only averaged 2.9 yards per carry with the Colts.
Richardson gets most of his yardage up the gut – which is where the Broncos are the strongest as they are the league’s best against the run, allowing only 69 yards per game.
I was afraid of this one – until I watched the Colts lose on Monday night and Irsay went public with his feelings on Manning.
I’m not afraid now. Manning had no comment on Irsay’s comments, but will answer loudly Sunday. I’ll take my 6-0 record picking with or against Denver and say it’s the Broncos 38, Colts 28.