Four neck surgeries and a late-career change of scenery haven't stopped Peyton Manning from reclaiming his title as the best quarterback in the league, and the 11-time Pro Bowler should have no trouble racking up huge fantasy numbers in Sunday's matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
At this time last year, Manning hadn't completed one pass, yet alone attempt one.
Turn the clock forward to November and the former face of the Indianapolis Colts leads the NFL in passer rating (108.6), completion percentage (69.5), yards per attempt (8.23) and ranks third in touchdowns (20).
After throwing to Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Marvin Harrison during his 14-year reign with the Colts, Manning has been re-energized by throwing to youngsters Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and, of course, the ageless Brandon Stokely.
The Hall of Fame lock wasn't considered a sure thing in fantasy circles before the season started, but Peyton has firmly established himself as an elite fantasy starter capable of putting up 20-plus points on a weekly basis.
In facing the struggling Panthers, No. 18 looks like a lock to surpass his weekly 20.1 average.
Although Carolina ranks No. 12 in pass defense (224 yards per game), Ron Rivera's squad shouldn't be confused as a great defensive team.
Despite the low yardage totals, opposing quarterbacks are completing 67 percent of their passes against the Panthers—third-highest in the league—while also posting an 89.5 quarterback rating.
However, with just nine passing touchdowns allowed, the Panthers have actually done a solid job in keeping quarterbacks out of the end zone.
Will that stop Peyton from having his way with their young defense?
Not for a second.
Between Thomas and Decker, Manning has two big, fast, physical receivers who can out-physical Carolina's smaller DBs.
In fact, Decker may be the hottest receiver in the league right now, as the former third-round pick has caught at least one touchdown in five consecutive games, including two in each of his last two outings.
The 6'3", 218-pounder doesn't have elite long speed, but is a great route runner and has sticky hands.
While Decker embodies reliability, Thomas can have mental lapses mixed with spurts of greatness.
Checking in at 6'3", 229 pounds, the former Georgia Tech star has special physical gifts, and playing with Peyton has allowed Thomas to ascend into one of the league's most dangerous playmakers.
With two big-bodied receivers on the outside, Manning should be able to take advantage of Carolina's depleted secondary.
Never considered their strength, the Panthers are already out starting cornerback Chris Gamble for the year with a torn labrum and have had to rely on rookie Josh Norman at right cornerback.
While the Coastal Carolina product hasn't embarrassed himself, facing the likes of Thomas and Decker will be a monumental challenge for the first-year pro.
Besides the rookie corner, Manning should already be dreaming of beating up the Panthers' shaky veteran safeties down the field.
Haruki Nakamura has proven he's not starting material, and Thomas could stretch the field and make big plays against the overmatched safety.
The Panthers' only hope of leaving Manning owners disappointed could come with their pair of defensive ends: Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.
However, while the two have combined for 14 sacks, Manning's protection has been stellar, especially with Ryan Clady on his blindside.
As long as the offensive line holds up, expect Manning to become only the second quarterback this season to toss multiple touchdowns against the Panthers in what could be a vintage fantasy performance for the leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
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