Peyton Manning became the NFL's highest-profile free agent ever after being released by the Indianapolis Colts last March. He has answered the question on his health and now looks for a statement game to secure his status as the leading MVP candidate in 2012.
The season has shown definite progress for Manning. There were obvious signs of weakness in his throws late in the summer; he had three of his first five deep passes intercepted.
He quickly began to compensate, and he continues to get stronger. Manning still doesn't appear to be 100 percent, but he is playing well enough to make a 2012 MVP bid.
All he appears to need at this point is a statement win and a showcase performance.
The Broncos had their bye weekend in Week 7, and they face the New Orleans Saints in a Sunday night game in Week 8. This matchup could produce an amazing stat line for Manning.
The Saints defense has struggled following the action taken by the NFL for the bounty scandal. They've allowed more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than any other team.
Josh Freeman threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, completing 24-of-42 passes against the Saints last week. Philip Rivers hit the Saints for 354 yards and two touchdowns, while Aaron Rodgers had four touchdowns and 319 yards, completing 31-of-41 attempts.
Matt Cassel is the only opposing quarterback to not have a huge game against the Saints. But when your running back can rush for 233 yards, quarterback play can become secondary.
This matchup is made for Manning to have his biggest day of the season.
As long as the Saints can score enough to keep Manning and the Broncos offense engaged, a 400-yard game with four touchdowns isn't unrealistic.
Manning has already made the top of some lists of MVP candidates. ESPN.com blogger Mike Sando has him listed at the top of his list.
In Manning's favor is a league-leading 984 yards over his last three games. Sando also points out that the Broncos have played the fifth-toughest schedule thus far.
Bill Williamson, also of ESPN.com, saw Manning's last game as being transcendent:
Through six weeks of the 2012 season, credit Peyton Manning for providing the signature moment of the NFL season. His sixth game as a Bronco became an instant 'Monday Night Football' classic, and it changed the landscape of the AFC West race.
In a stunning 30-minute whirlwind, Manning (who thrust himself into the MVP race Monday night) and his improving Broncos scored 35 unanswered points to shock San Diego, which led 24-0 at halftime. Manning completed his first 13 passes of the second half, three of which went for touchdowns.
I'm not willing to go so far as to use Williamson's "miracle" moniker, but it is hard to argue that Manning is back.
Their season gets much more manageable over the last 10 games. The Ravens are the only team with a winning record. The Chargers stand at .500, and the remaining eight games are against teams with a losing record.
Manning should make sure he has room for more hardware than the pending Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and Seattle Seahawks.
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