News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Colts

November 2, 2012

Colts' loyalty tested by Manning, Broncos

TERRE HAUTE — We’re approaching the halfway point of the NFL season and so far it’s been surprisingly enjoyable.

I wasn’t sure how I would handle following two favorite teams — 1a.) the Indianapolis Colts and 1b.) Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — but the new arrangement hasn’t caused me any loyalty conflicts yet.

That may change Sunday, however.

For the first time in 2012, the Colts and Broncos will play at the same time. Not against each other, but each has a start time of 1 p.m. ET — Indianapolis at home vs. Miami and Denver making a rare Midwest trip to Cincinnati.

Thank goodness I have DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. My guess is I’ll be bouncing from channel to channel while monitoring my fantasy teams on the home computer.

Speaking of my fantasy teams — don’t worry, this won’t take long — 2012 turned into the perfect season to draft Manning as a top-tier quarterback.

Back in August and early September, skeptics were saying Manning no longer possessed adequate arm strength and could not regain his old form. Such widespread doubt enabled me to select him in much later rounds than I did when he was in his prime a few years ago.

Thanks in large part to Manning being Manning stat-wise again, I find myself in position to play for several fantasy championships in a few weeks. I’m guessing if any of you have Manning on your fantasy teams, you’re in contention for your league championship too.

For example, if Manning passes for exactly three touchdowns against Cincinnati on Sunday, he’ll be on pace for 40 this season, which would be the second-highest total of his illustrious career that began in 1998.

Kinda sounds like he’s in his prime right now, actually.

Kinda sounds like he’s a shoo-in to take home the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. (Sorry, Adrian Peterson. You’re great, but you didn’t miss all of 2011 with a serious neck injury.)

And kinda sounds like he’s battling Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers for the NFL Most Valuable Player award, which he’s already won or shared four times.

If Manning somehow wins MVP No. 5 after all the adversity he’s been through in the last two years, don’t be surprised if the NFL starts presenting the Peyton Manning Most Valuable Player Trophy after he retires.

Back to the teams in discussion here, fortunately the Broncos and Colts weren’t scheduled to face each other in the regular season after Manning signed with Denver in March. But each is 4-3 heading into this weekend and Denver appears to be in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis is unlikely to catch 6-1 Houston at the top of the AFC South standings, but a wild-card berth is not out of the question. Defeating the surprisingly respectable Dolphins in two days would help immensely toward achieving that goal.

Hypothetically, how crazy would it be if the AFC playoffs opened in January with the No. 6 seed Colts traveling to snowy Denver to play the No. 3 seed Broncos? You think ESPN might devote a little air time leading up to that matchup?

The Colts seem less likely than the Broncos to be in that position, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility.

Like Manning, future Hall-of-Famer (hopefully) Reggie Wayne is enjoying a resurrection to his career. Through seven games, he’s caught 54 passes for 757 yard for Indianapolis. Playing the always-fun numbers game again, if Wayne hauls in exactly six passes against the Dolphins, he’ll be on pace for a career-high 120 this season.

Not bad for a receiver whom a lot of so-called experts thought was too slow and washed up.

Then there’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, the guy who made Manning expendable and the guy everyone expected to be great someday but not necessarily this season.

Luck’s ability to throw darts on the run behind a less-than-spectacular offensive line has made the Colts much more fun to watch compared to 2011 and his presence has contributed mightily to Wayne’s return to elite status. The Colts’ offense doesn’t always explode with points — the most obvious example being the 35-9 loss to the New York Jets three weekends ago — but inconsistency is what you get with a rookie quarterback, even one as talented as Luck.

The Colts’ defense also has been inconsistent, but getting outside linebackers (that still sounds strange) Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis healthy at the same time Sunday should greatly improve the pass rush.

Yes, this has been an entertaining NFL season to watch so far. Looking ahead, I’m figuring Denver wins Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans to give the 36-year-old Manning at least two titles for his career and Indy wins three or four with Luck over the next 15 years.

Hopefully, Wayne, who will turn 34 this month, can be part of at least one of those.

Sounds like a win-win for all parties involved, even if it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by fax at (812) 231-4321; or by e-mail at david.hughes@tribstar.com.

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