Next week will mark Peyton Manning’s final trip to Indianapolis as an NFL quarterback. But even though age has slowed the five-time MVP to the point where many view him as a liability, I’m sure Colts fans would still rather have him under center than the bearded turnover machine once known as Andrew Luck. What was once a high-octane battle between student-and-master should now look more like a defensive struggle when the Denver Broncos (6-0, 4-0 road) visit the Indianapolis Colts (3-4, 1-3 home) in Week 9 (Sunday, Nov. 8, at 4:25 PM Eastern).
The rocket-like trajectory of Luck’s career meant he was supposed to be an MVP candidate this year. The fourth-year pivot was also supposed to lead the Colts to their first Super Bowl since Manning’s run in 2009. But a porous offensive line and a nagging shoulder injury has Luck tossing ducks to opponents at a pace Indy fans aren’t accustomed to seeing (at least, not since that train-wreck year when Curtis Painter was their QB). Luck has missed two starts due to injury and is still top-three in the NFL in interceptions thrown (nine INTs after Week 7).
Of course, the student follows in the master’s footsteps, and the 39-year-old Manning is one of the two QBs with more picks that Luck. Lacking even more zip than usual (and there wasn’t much there to being with), Manning can’t get the ball downfield and Denver’s offense has lagged as a result. But thanks to a dominant defense that does everything, including score points, the Broncos remain undefeated after a Week 7 bye and should roll into Indianapolis as big favorites.
That terrifying Bronco defense should get a boost for the Indy game, as well, with DeMarcus Ware scheduled to return. Ware leads a suffocating Bronco pass rush that will feast on an Indy offensive line that’s allowed 15 sacks and 50 quarterback hits. The weak o-line – coupled with some terrible decision making from Luck – has led to the Colts offense turning the ball over 15 times. Given that the Denver D has four return TDs on the year, they could single-handedly cover the spread in this game without Manning’s help.
If Indy is to keep it close, they can’t fall behind early and allow the pass rushers to “pin their ears back” (which is a saying I’ve never understood). Luck and his offense are averaging just 8.3 points in the first half, a number that will need to improve because Denver’s offense is surprisingly efficient in spite of Manning; thanks to a strong kicking game, a third of all Bronco drives end in points.
Luck is 2-1 in his career versus Denver, but he’ll truly need an MVP-like performance to pull this game out, especially since he can expect little help from the run game. Throw in a frustrated Indy crowd that will once again welcome the return of their favorite son, and the Colts seem destined for yet another loss (which still shouldn’t hurt their AFC South chances).
Much like the Pats game in Week 6, expect the Colts to be massive home underdogs. But also much like the Pats game, they are a threat to get a back-door, late-game cover.
Straight-up pick: Broncos.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)