Broncos Week (and Peyton's Return Week) is Here

USA TODAY Sports

This is the moment many people have been waiting for: Colts vs. Broncos. Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis. It is a huge game for Andrew Luck and Jim Irsay.

After a closer win than some expected against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning didn't want to talk about his team's next game.

"I think the good thing about this game today is that we will come in tomorrow, meet with the coaches, and really try to correct the mistakes from this game," Manning said on Sunday. "We've got some injuries that we've got to wait and see on. I think we'll use tonight and tomorrow to really clean up this Jacksonville game and start on the next opponent later on in the week."

Again Manning was asked about next week - his return to Indianapolis. "I'll probably cover that on Wednesday. Do I have to talk Wednesday still? OK, I'll do all that Wednesday. I'm going to enjoy this victory and we'll be ready to play come the rest of the week."

All Manning wants is business as usual. Only this will be anything but.

Appropriately honoring a player like Peyton Manning is a nearly impossible task to begin with. It becomes even more difficult when he is on the opposing team.

And yet that is the situation that Colts' owner Jim Irsay finds himself in as Sunday's primetime game between two of the NFL's best - the Colts and the Broncos - quickly approaches. Of course, as much as Manning would like you to believe otherwise, this is more than just another game. Much more.

The greatest player in Indianapolis sports history returns to the town that he put on the map and the stadium nicknamed "the House that Peyton Built" to face the franchise he saved - and he returns as the opposition with something to prove. The only thing more dangerous than Peyton Manning? Peyton Manning with a chip on his shoulder.

As graceful as Manning's release was and despite the classy fashion that Manning and Irsay handled the release in, don't make any mistake: Peyton Manning would like nothing more than to return to Indianapolis and show the nation why he truly was Indy's hero to begin with. It's easy to see why this game is so big.

I'm a Colts fan first. No doubt about that, and anyone who questions that has no idea what they are talking about. But at the same time, I watched Peyton Manning play week in and week out. I saw the impact he had. I saw his greatness. Without a doubt, Peyton Manning will always be my favorite player ever. That will never change. And for all but just a few years (the current period we are in), being a Manning fan and a Colts fan has been and will be synonymous. But not right now, and that's where I have to make the distinction that I am a Colts fan first.

Many people, however, found out that they were really Peyton Manning fans first. That's no problem, besides the fact that they identify themselves as big Colts fans. You know what that has done to the reputation of Colts fans? It hasn't been pretty.

Put simply, they've been seen as fair-weather. Much of it has been deserved. They had trouble selling tickets last year after they cut Peyton. And don't just think that the opinion of Colts fans was just last year - my hometown of Warsaw has opted multiple times this season to show the Bears over the Colts. That never happened with Peyton. Ever.

It's the little things like that which add up to create this perception that Indy is a fair-weather fan base. A lot of fans followed Peyton to Denver, and a lot more were cheering for both the Colts and Broncos. That was all fine... until now.

Now, their two loves collide. I know the feeling too. Now, they are going to have to choose between the Colts and Peyton Manning. What that decision is may honestly depend quite a bit on Sunday's game. For Andrew Luck, it's a game that he needs in order to step out of Manning's shadow.

Yeah, the 49ers and Seahawks games were big wins, but there would be NOTHING better for Andrew Luck's legacy than beating Peyton Manning in "the House that Peyton Built." Nothing.

Let's just imagine what might happen should Manning's Broncos (the favored team, might I add) go into Indianapolis and pull out a win (something that shouldn't surprise anybody). After giving him a tremendously warm welcome, Colts fans will have had a firsthand view of the player they knew as the greatest for so many years. And they will have seen him pull out yet another win at Lucas Oil Stadium, once again playing well. Think they'll be very happy? Nope.

Or what about the rest of the country, those who don't even understand what Peyton meant to this city? They'll be watching too, because this is a premier event in the NFL. And if they see Manning come into Indianapolis and win, the skeptics and naysayers will be out in full force. Instead of it being Skip Bayless and a few others, it will be a much larger crowd blasting the Colts' decision to go with Andrew Luck over Peyton Manning.

I know it was the right decision. You (hopefully) know it was the right decision (you'd better after reading this site). But there are a lot of people who laugh at the fact that the Colts were apparently stupid enough to release arguably the greatest player of all time who is having arguably his best season ever less than two years after the release.

Jim Irsay's legacy would go down as the one who cut Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck's climb to replace him would become even steeper. Are either of those things fair? Not at all. But in this day and age of social media (a.k.a. instant "analysis"), overreactions rule. And they certainly would be running rampant after a Broncos win.

That's why I say that this game is perhaps the biggest one that Andrew Luck has played in the NFL so far. That's why I consider this game so crucial. That's why this game has massive implications.

For Andrew Luck, this is an opportunity to step out of the shadow of his predecessor and make his biggest statement yet. In his first Sunday Night Football game, he has a chance to show the country that not only is he the future, but that the future is now. Sure, Peyton's Broncos are winning games, but so are Luck's Colts. Sure, Peyton is playing like the MVP, but so is Luck (not on the same level, of course, but he still has played like an MVP). But beating Manning's Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium under the lights? That would be big. Really big.

And remember that this is a guy who has gone 15-7 since being drafted first overall in the 2012 draft, and a guy who has won 9 of those games by leading a game winning drive in the 4th quarter. He has thrown for 5,720 yards and 30 touchdowns while adding 409 yards and 7 scores on the ground. And that was all in his first 22 games, in which he set numerous rookie records - many of which were held previously by Peyton Manning, I might add.

And we're not even considering the fact that many have thought of the Colts as the AFC's second best team and a legitimate Super Bowl contender (we'll see what they are saying now after the loss Monday night...) and that on Sunday night they get a chance to go up against the best team in the AFC. It should be one heck of a football game period, regardless of circumstances, and it's a chance for the Colts as a team to establish themselves.

But, as we all know, this game has much more implications than just a battle of the AFC's best. For Jim Irsay, this game could go a long way in determining how he is viewed legacy-wise. When he decided to release Peyton Manning, we all knew that it was one of those legacy-defining moves. How could it not be? He has taken a lot of heat already for the decision, as Manning has been lights out since signing with the Broncos. But so far, Andrew Luck and the Colts' own success has kept the critics at bay. But if Luck and the Colts lose to Manning and the Broncos in front of a Colts crowd that already is going to have conflicted feelings, the naysayers will be out in full force. It will take a lot for Irsay to overcome it - quite possibly nothing short of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy alongside Andrew Luck.

Should the Colts lose (and don't misunderstand me - it is in NO WAY a given; the Colts actually have a good shot), us here at Stampede Blue will do our best to keep level headed and convey the (seemingly) obvious fact that the Colts made the right move. Several other Indy media members will too, and a few national media people will as well. But the public? That's another story entirely, and unless the Colts want to watch the hometown fans go crawling back to Peyton (which many have done already), they'd better win on Sunday.

Ever since the NFL schedule was released this past spring, the October 20 game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts was one circled on many people's calendars. Why?

Because Indy's beloved Peyton Manning returns. Because it's a huge game between two good teams. And because there's a lot more riding on it than just a win or playoff seeding. There are potentially legacies at stake here.

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