For the first time in the history of the NFL, a quarterback who started 200 games or more for a previous team (that’d be Peyton Manning) will face that same team in the playoffs. In case the matchup wasn’t big enough for you, or if Peyton Manning had not posted enough NFL records or ‘firsts’ here’s another.
After what feels like countless years of crushing the Denver Broncos both in the regular season and the playoffs, Manning now is set to face his former team as a member of the one that he used to dominate. While these two teams played early on in the season, as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran would say — everything has changed. The Broncos are not the same team, nor are the Colts, and both teams have evolved after a matchup from week one of this season when the Broncos dominated the Colts before a furious fourth quarter rally ended in a 31-24 Denver win.
Now, the Colts return to Sports Authority Field at Mile High with the tall task of taking down Manning and the Broncos, the second seed in the AFC and coming off of a 12-4 regular season. The Broncos, unlike last year at this time, are not the Denver Mannings. With so many injuries last season, the Broncos got a really good stretch of defense in their first two playoff games from a unit that included — wait for it — Michael Huff.
No offense to Huff, but the Broncos didn’t have their best 11 out on the field defensively by any stretch of the imagination, and that all came to a head in the Super Bowl when Seattle put up 43 points between their offense, defense, and special teams, exposing the Broncos’ lack of depth and scoring at will in any phase of the game.
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This season has such a different feel. The Broncos ranked atop the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ overall defensive grades. The offense has completely changed its identity, which is scary for those who felt like everything to this point had to rise and fall on the right arm and brain of Peyton Manning.
At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Manning is even the Broncos’ most valuable player anymore.
Armed with an emerging running back in C.J. Anderson, a defense that can take over games, and All-Pro free agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders, things feel so much different for the Broncos this year. They feel so much less…Manning.
When the Colts won the Super Bowl with Manning, they needed much more than just him. They needed at least a timely running game and good defense to take down the Bears, who started the rainy Miami night with a kick return for a touchdown by Devin Hester. Not exactly the picture perfect start for a team to overcome. The Broncos had better be ready to overcome. They are not a perfect team, but at this time of year, that’s okay. You just have to be the hottest team.
It’s going to be hard to win three straight games right now, but the Broncos can do it, and I want to look at three reasons — other than Peyton Manning — why they can (and I believe, will) do it.