It's the master versus the apprentice in the AFC, says Romilly Evans, and Peyton Manning can come out on top in this war of the QB stars...
"Peyton may no longer be shiny and seamless, but there’s still a lot going on under the hood"
Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
Start-time: Sunday, 21:30
TV: Live on SS1
This game is all very Star Wars:
Darth Vader: "I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now "I" am the master."
Quite who is the master of evil between sorcerer Peyton Manning and apprentice Andrew Luck, of course, really depends on which guy you back. So let's quickly sap the drama form this narrative. Manning and his stampeding Denver Broncos are the form horses to be supported, some recent missteps aside. After all, despite appearances, as Obi-Wan says: if to strike this veteran five-time MVP, he'll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
The quarterbacks for the Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts may be the lead actors in this galactic-of-stars epic to determine who will advance to the AFC Championship game.
However, it's the overall make-up of each team which steers me strongly towards the Mile High massive.
After all, Manning underperformed in the closing weeks of the regular season by his own lofty standards. Expectations, of course, appear to be the one problem with an all-time great still struggling to secure his status atop The Hall of Fame. Only a second ring will silence the detractors (especially after last season's Super Bowl no-show) who insist that Manning falls short of Tom Brady et al when the play-offs get tough and the temperatures plummet.
The 38-year-old's arm strength clearly isn't what it was and his record when the mercury falls beneath 40 degrees is a paltry 10-12 - and an alarming 0-4 in the postseason.
Mitigating factors can diminish his apparent culpability. Yet this year, for once, Manning finally leads an outfit on both sides of the ball which can provide a team solution to this one season when he truly faces some individual deficiencies. New England's Brady should take note.
Firstly, Denver no longer simply need to pass the ball. The emergence of a running game, under the patient and persistent moves of CJ Anderson (the first Bronco to run for two 150+ yard games since 2004) will free Peyton's arm and options up against Indy. While a progressively hard-hitting D have at last afforded Von Miller and Co the elasticity to make big plays (sacks and strips) which can punish the Colts in the one area where "Lucky" and his carriers are susceptible: coughing up the ball.
These errors can morph Luck from a Ferrari into a Reliant Robin.
The new face of the Colts may be the NFL's man of tomorrow but he has not quite yet there today. Residing in an aggressively average AFC South has again allowed Luck to hide his weaknesses (decision-making) but Mile High Stadium and its unblemished 8-0 record present a rarefied air where he struggles to breathe. Denver stormed to a 24-0 lead here in Week One before taking their foot of the pedal in the second half. This time, they might as well step on the jugular.
Sure, Luck to TY Hilton ranks among the best QB-WR combos out there and they will always pose a threat. However, with the likes of stalwart Reggie Wayne and RB Trent Richardson fading to the margins of relevance, Indy seem a touch one-dimensional on offense.
Their defense is similarly dependent on one or two stars. Cornerback Vontae Davis could give red-hot Demaryius Thomas a torrid time, but that will only free up the rest of Manning's crack receiving crew. Julius Thomas and Wes Welker are back and ready to make up for late-season insignificance, whereas one of this campaign's real finds, Emmanuel Sanders, should be ready for the downfield strikes.
Two seasons ago, one wondered if Manning would ever be able to play again after four neck surgeries and his ejection from Indy. This weekend, the Colts should get a blast from the past, even though they rightly built for the future with Luck. Peyton may no longer be shiny and seamless, but there's still a lot going on under the hood.
In short, under Manning, the Broncos are a little beaten up but they're still a fast ship. You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon?
Back Denver Broncos (-7) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.0811/10 or better
Back Denver Broncos (-3.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Denver Broncos to win on the Match Moneyline @ 1.384/11 or better
Back Over 28.5 Denver Broncos Total Points @ 1.9110/11 or better