Week 7 is a big week for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. As a team, they are 6-0, and sit atop most experts' NFL Power Rankings. For Manning as an individual, Week 7 marks his return to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which is referred to by many as "The House That Manning Built." Peyton, of course, spent more than a decade with the Indianapolis Colts, enjoying many playoff seasons and a Super Bowl victory with the squad in 2007. Manning turned the Colts into an NFL powerhouse, so his homecoming, which has already been marred with controversial statements from Colts owner Jim Irsay, is sure to be big news.
I would expect nothing shy of a standing ovation for Manning when he takes the field in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The Colts' fans enjoyed 11 playoff seasons with Manning under center, and they'll all have kind greetings for the gentlemanly quarterback.
Don't expect Manning to get lost in the ceremony though; Peyton is a business-first guy, and this Sunday's game won't be any different. To him, the Colts are just another opponent, another defense to dissect, and a roadblock standing between his team and their seventh win of the season.
While everyone wants to see the Peyton show on Sunday night, don't bank on it. The Colts are one of the better teams in the NFL in defending the pass. They have held opposing offenses to just 205.7 passing yards/game, and while they haven't faced a quarterback like Manning or a trio of wide receivers as deadly as Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker, they are undoubtedly tough to pass on.
Part of the reason why the Colts may be covering the pass so well is because everyone realizes they can run the ball on them. The Colts have been giving up 132 rushing yards/game, on average, which is abysmal in today's pass-happy NFL. Four players—Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Mathews—have rushed for over 100 yards against the Colts this year. Knowshon Moreno, Denver's budding star of a running back, should expect to work a full shift on Sunday. Don't be surprised to see Manning hand the rock off 20-25 times, and be even less surprised when 17-20 of those carries go to Moreno.
Another key to Denver's success on offense will be protecting Manning, which the offensive line has done a fantastic job of this year. Manning has only been sacked five times, and three times were in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts' defense, however, has been quite effective at getting to opposing quarterbacks. They have 17 sacks this season as a team, and outside linebacker Robert Mathis, a freak of a football player, has contributed 9.5 of those. The Denver offensive line will have their hands full protecting Manning on Sunday night.
In the end, the game, while memorable, shouldn't be too close. The Colts defense is going to be overwhelmed, as most defenses would be, trying to cover Welker, Thomas, Decker and tight end Julius Thomas. Between the skill of the Denver receiving corps, Manning's football I.Q., and the looming threat of Moreno, the Colts will surrender more than 30 points to the Broncos in this one. With Von Miller returning to help the Denver defense, Andrew Luck and the Colts' offense are going to struggle. Luck will be able to pass for 300 yards and two or three touchdowns, but he'll be sacked at least three times, and the Colts will have no luck running the ball against a Denver defensive line that has played well against such.
Final Score Prediction: Denver-37, Indianapolis-21
Bold Stat Predictions for the Denver Offense:
P. Manning, QB: 331 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 Int
W. Welker, WR: 9 receptions, 73 yards, 1 TD
D. Thomas, WR: 6 receptions, 123 yards
E. Decker, WR: 3 receptions, 45 yards, 1 TD
J. Thomas, TE: 6 receptions, 44 yards
K. Moreno, RB: 19 carries, 81 yards, 2 TDs and 4 receptions, 31 yards
R. Hillman, RB: 4 carries, 24 yards and 2 receptions, 15 yards
M. Ball, RB: 2 carries, 9 yards