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The Indianapolis Colts travel to Colorado to take on the Denver Broncos in an AFC Divisional game on Sunday. Peyton Manning faces his old team for the third time since he signed with the Broncos; the teams split their previous two meetings with Denver winning the 2014 season opener 31-24.
Indianapolis fell behind 24-7 in that game and outscored the Broncos 17-7 in the second half, only to fail on fourth down conversion late in the game. The Colts outgained Denver’s offense 408-361
The Colts gained the right to play the Broncos by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 26-10 in the AFC Wild Card game. Andrew Luck completed 31-of-44 passes for 376 yards and a 104.0 passer rating. Daniel Herron totaled 141 yards (56 rushing, 85 receiving), and T.Y. Hilton went over 100 yards receiving on six receptions. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman had 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Denver, by virtue of the second seed, received a first-round bye. The Broncos won the AFC West for the fourth consecutive year with a perfect 6-0 mark versus division foes; they were a perfect 8-0 at home. Denver was the only NFL team to finish in the Top five in both total offense (402.9 YPG/4th) and total defense (305.2 YPG/3rd).
The Colts will rely on Luck, in more ways than one, to generate offense. The young quarterback threw for 4,761 yards with 40/16 TD/INT ratio in the regular season. He threw for 300-plus yards in ten games.
With a rushing average of 100.8 yards per game, the Colts ranked No. 22 in the NFL. Herron (425 yards) and Trent Richardson (519 yards) carried the load during the regular season; Zurlon Tipton had 10 carries for 40 yards in the victory over Cincinnati following Herron’s second fumble of the game.
Hilton (82), Reggie Wayne (64) and Coby Fleener (51) led a pass offense that saw ten players catch double-digit balls.
The Broncos had five players selected for the Pro Bowl; cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib were joined by linebacker Von Miller, safety T.J.Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware
Denver’s defense will force Luck to beat them through the air; they held opponents to 79.8 yards per game rushing, the fewest in their history. Miller and Ware, who have 24 sacks between them, intend on making Luck very uncomfortable.
Turnovers, pivotal in any game, are magnified in the playoffs. Denver is plus-five on the season while Indianapolis is minus-five. The Colts have put the ball on the ground 31 times losing 15, an aggressive Denver defense looks to take advantage of such opportunities.
Manning continues his march to the Hall of fame. At age 38, he threw for 4,727 yards with 39/15 TD/INT ratio. He passed for 300-plus yards seven times in the regular season with two games over 400 yards.
Demaryius Thomas, ten games with 100-plus receiving yards; Emmanuel Sanders, sixteen 25-yard receptions; Julius Thomas, 12 touchdown catches and Wes Welker, 87 playoff catches, make up an outstanding group of pass catchers. They caught 64 percent of the passes for which they were targeted.
C.J. Anderson has been the workhorse out of the backfield in the second half of the season. The second-year player has 767 yards on 162 carries with eight touchdowns in that span.
Manning and company face a Colts defense that was more adept at stopping the pass than the run. They had 41 sacks and 12 interceptions on the season. Denver’s balanced offensive attack will test Indianapolis all day.
Manning's arm strength and accuracy having been questioned, particularly after a four-interception game versus the Bengals on a Monday Night. Still, he boasts 13 years of playoff experience. That combined with Denver’s ability to run the football and play great defense creates a recipe for winning playoff games. The Broncos will advance and perhaps host the AFC title game.