Peyton Manning has been operating at full speed over the better part of the last five weeks. He's been the Manning we were used to seeing in blue and white for the last decade.
Any injuries, chemistry issues or whatever he may or may not have had over the first few weeks of the season seem to be long forgotten, and now—as many expected—the Denver Broncos are on top of the AFC West and Manning has firmly planted himself in the running for MVP.
Will the Broncos keep rolling against the 2-6 Carolina Panthers in Week 10? Most likely. Will Manning put up another 300-plus yards and three touchdowns? Probably not.
Looking at Manning's stats for the majority of 2012, he doesn't seem to have missed a beat from where he left off in 2010. The Broncos' record didn't always reflect that, but over the last few weeks, something has been clicking. He now leads the NFL in passer rating, and according to CBSSports.com's Andrew Mason, he's on pace to have the best season by any Broncos quarterback—ever.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have struggled for 75 percent of the 2012 season thus far. From Sept. 20 to Oct. 28, they didn't win a single game and currently sit in dead last in the NFC South, miles behind the division-leading Atlanta Falcons.
But defense hasn't been their problem. In fact, this defense has been pretty decent against the pass.
According to Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Carolina is ready for the challenge Manning will present. McDermott told the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person:
Listen, this is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and that’s the challenge. But it’s going to be our team versus their team, not just Carolina versus Peyton Manning. But we have immense amount of respect for what he’s done, as well as what he’s done this year coming back from the injury. And we’re going to have our hands full.
Last week, in a rare 23-13 win over the Washington Redskins, Carolina's defense held Robert Griffin III to 215 passing yards. RGIII failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since facing the Falcons in early October. According to Person, Griffin's longest pass was just 25 yards and he finished with a season-worst 74.2 quarterback rating.
Perhaps RGIII isn't really comparable to Peyton Manning, but the fact remains that this Carolina team—pathetic as it may be—has a pretty solid pass defense, and that's likely to hurt Manning's stats on Sunday. This is a defensive unit that doesn't give up too many touchdowns in the air, so even though Manning's numbers have looked superhuman over the last five weeks (15 total touchdowns, three interceptions), he's unlikely to continue at that pace this week.
Denver will still find a way to win. But en route to doing so, Manning's numbers may look just a little bit more pedestrian.