Peyton Manning Faces Massive Test in Must-Win Game vs. Texans in Week 3

Jessica MarieCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on against the Atlanta Falcons during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 17, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Without overstating things—because after all, it is only Week 3—Peyton Manning really needs a win on Sunday against the Houston Texans.

It's still too early to say which teams are for real in the AFC and which are pretenders. Remember, last season, Tim Tebow's Denver Broncos didn't appear to be for real until right around Week 9.

Therefore, Manning has time to establish this team as a threat. However, it would be a whole lot easier to do that if he could find a way to get past Matt Schaub and the Texans.

If we were going to make predictions about which teams will be at the top of the heap at the end of December—and we're not, because it's too early, but just in the event that we were—the Texans would have to be one of the two or three teams at the very top of that list.

Objectively speaking, they have one of the most complete offenses in the NFL. They have a rushing attack led by the best running back in the league, and a quarterback who's capable of keeping up with the best out there as long as he can stay healthy. To top it all off, they currently have the NFL's top-ranked defense as well.

The one thing the Texans haven't done yet is play another team with another dominant quarterback. It's safe to say this rock-solid defense has not yet been tested. It's also safe to say that going on the road to Mile High is not a favorable place to be tested for the first time.

All the better for Manning to expose them this week.

Manning is still proving himself. He may be a four-time league MVP, but he's still adjusting to a new team and a new city, and he's still doing it after missing an entire year due to a neck injury. In light of all that, his dud of a performance against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football is a little easier to swallow.

However, if he plans to bring this team to a place that Tebow could not, he cannot afford back-to-back losses to two of the strongest teams (so far) in the league.

Every year, Manning has at least one meltdown game. He throws picks as well as tantrums and it seems like all hope is lost. He then comes back the next week and shreds whatever defense makes the mistake of challenging him.

Take his 2010 season as an example.

During a critical stretch from late-November to early December, Manning's Indianapolis Colts lost three straight to the New England Patriots, the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys. It seemed like the Colts were doomed, before Manning and his offense woke up and reeled off four straight wins to close out the season.

Manning needs to approach this week's game with a similar sense of urgency, and you know he will. He is the ultimate competitor, and he hates losing.

It's early, but a few months down the line, this could prove to be a critical matchup. Not only is this the perfect opportunity to push that record back up over .500, but it's also a perfect opportunity to get all the critics off his back for at least a few days.

At the very least, beating the Texans is guaranteed to shut people up for a little while, and Manning needs to do just that.