September 03, 2014

Seeing Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts again shouldn't faze Peyton Manning, who got the best of his former team back in Week 1.

There's a ton more on the line this time around.

All eyes figure to be on Manning and Luck as the well-rested Denver Broncos face Indianapolis in this AFC divisional matchup Sunday at Mile High.

"It was my hope and dream that this sort of situation would occur. I feel blessed that it has," Colts owner Jim Irsay said of facing Manning under these circumstances. "I think it's going to be a great game and having these two great quarterbacks go against each other at this point in their careers is really exciting."

This marks Manning's third matchup against a Colts team with which he spent the first 14 years of his career before getting cut loose following the 2011 season, which he missed after undergoing multiple surgical procedures on his neck. The Broncos suffered a 39-33 loss in Manning's much-anticipated return to Indianapolis last season before holding on for a 31-24 home win Sept. 7.

"We had them the first game of the season and he was fine," Broncos Pro Bowl wideout Demaryius Thomas said of Manning. "It's a playoff game so it's a little bit different because if you lose, you're done and if you win, you keep going. I can't really talk for Peyton, but I think he's fine."

The iconic signal-caller has thrown for 655 yards with six touchdowns against his former team, while Luck has racked up 598 yards and five scores in those games.

"It's not the quarterback versus quarterback thing. We're not on the field at the same time," Luck said. "I have a lot of respect for (Manning), what he does, what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense, that's what I worry about."

Denver (12-4) had an extra week to prepare for Sunday's showdown after earning the conference's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. The break couldn't have come at a better time for a Broncos team that listed 22 players on the injury report heading into a 47-14 rout of Oakland in its regular-season finale.

The 38-year-old Manning sat out all of last week's workouts before returning to practice Monday. Leading tackler Brandon Marshall also participated for the first time since suffering a foot injury in Week 15, and he's expected to return.

"It was much needed," safety Rahim Moore said. "I needed it, our team needed it, especially guys like Peyton, who's been playing since I came out the womb. ... He's an older guy. He needs it. You can't run a Ferrari - or no, a Bugatti - too much. He's our Bugatti. That's how Peyton is to his team, so you've got to give him some rest."

Manning wasn't anywhere near his best over the last four games, posting a quarterback rating of 76.8 with three TDs and six interceptions while averaging 247.5 yards. He'll likely need to post better numbers to keep pace with Luck, who completed 31 of 44 passes for 376 yards with a TD in last Sunday's 26-10 wild-card win over Cincinnati.

Luck led the NFL with a career-high 40 touchdown passes and finished third with 4,761 yards, just ahead of Manning's 4,727.

"He's one of those guys that you have to play a 60-minute game against," Broncos Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware said of Luck. "He has really good pocket awareness. He's always one of those guys, just like Peyton, where he hits the open guy the majority of the time. He plays a fundamentally sound game."

T.Y. Hilton caught six passes for 103 yards against the Bengals while running back Daniel Herron had 10 for 85. Herron also ran the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a score but fumbled twice, giving him four over the last seven games.

Turnovers could prove costly against a Broncos team that racked up 13 takeaways in winning five of its final six games, with its only loss coming 37-28 at Cincinnati on Dec. 22. Denver finished .500 on the road, but it outscored opponents by an average of 14.6 points in going unbeaten at home.

Manning posted a QB rating of 117.5 at home to rank second in the league, significantly higher than his road mark of 89.0.

"They're a great football team and obviously they've got a great, great quarterback," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's always a huge challenge and at the same time, we're going to embrace the opportunity, embrace the moment. It's exciting, it's fun. It's always a great chess match."

The Colts (12-5) will need to be wary of C.J. Anderson, who led the NFL with 648 rushing yards and eight TDs over the last six weeks of the regular season. The Broncos are 12-0 when compiling at least 88 yards on the ground.

Indianapolis has allowed an average of 126.2 rushing yards over its last five games, including last week's victory.

"The biggest thing is stopping the run before you can get to (Manning)," Colts defensive end Cory Redding told the team's official website. "We have to focus on that. That's where all our attention is going to go. Then when it's time to focus on 18, our coaches will draw up a good game plan, and we'll attack it the best way possible."

Indianapolis will likely be keeping a close eye on Julius Thomas after the Pro Bowl tight end posted seven catches for a season-high 104 yards and three touchdowns in September. While Thomas hauled in 12 TDs over the first nine games, he hasn't scored since due in large part to a nagging sprained left ankle suffered in Week 11.

Thomas is fully expected to suit up, and the Broncos are hoping to have left guard Orlando Franklin available after sustaining a concussion against the Raiders. Safety David Bruton Jr. is uncertain to play due to the same injury.

Denver had dropped back-to-back divisional-round games before beating San Diego 24-17 en route to last season's Super Bowl, where it was embarrassed by Seattle in a 43-8 loss.

The Colts haven't won in the divisional round since getting by Baltimore 20-3 on Jan. 16, 2010, with Manning leading the way.

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