INDIANAPOLIS – When the NFL schedule was released exactly six months ago today the first game announced by NFL Network was when the Denver Broncos would be taking on the Indianapolis Colts.
The date of Oct. 20 would have all eyes on Lucas Oil Stadium with Peyton Manning returning to take on a team he quarterbacked for over a decade.
After months of endless storylines, the hype will finally subside on Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. when the Broncos and Colts kickoff.
Manning has led the Broncos offense to an NFL record 265 points after six games with his 22 touchdown passes leading the NFL.
During Wednesday's conference call with local media, Manning did not try and predict what his emotions will be like on Sunday night.
"I got 52 other players and a number of coaches counting on me to be prepared and to be focused because we're playing such a good team and a tough defense in a loud, loud place to play," Manning said of predicting his pregame emotions.
"If this was a scenario where all I had to do maybe was come back and wave and smile and kiss a few babies and sign a few autographs, it'd be different. But somehow I got to figure out a way to stay away from (Robert) Mathis and try to complete a few passes on (Vontae) Davis and (Antoine) Bethea and that's going to be tough because I think it's a tough defense. That's all I know to do from a preparation standpoint right now and all the prediction, the future questions, it's just too hard to answer."
In similar fashion, Andrew Luck strayed away from any "emotion" type questions as he realizes that he's facing an undefeated Broncos team.
Luck and Manning were teammates at last year's Pro Bowl and the Colts second-year signal caller speaks very highly of the opposing quarterback on Sunday night.
"He is a great role model for guys my age growing up, just how to play the position, how to handle yourself on and off the field," Luck said of Manning.
"I've always had the highest respect of him. My dad backed Archie (Manning) up my dad's rookie year. We always really enjoyed watching all the Manning's play. I definitely hold him in the highest respect."
For Luck, his attention isn't on the hoopla surrounding Manning's return.
Luck has enough to worry about with two-time Pro Bowler Von Miller returning to a Broncos defense that leads the NFL in stopping the run.
"We're preparing to play against a very solid Denver Broncos defense with good players, with Von Miller coming off the edge, Champ (Bailey), studs, studs back there," Luck said on Wednesday.
One Colts player that is worrying about Manning and the Broncos offense this week is safety Antoine Bethea.
For a handful of seasons, Bethea went up against Manning in practice but now there will not be anyone holding No. 41 back from hitting No. 18.
"I'm pretty sure we are going to love to get our chances to get 'P' on the ground a few times," Bethea said. "But like I continue to say, it's going to be a fun game. The atmosphere is going to be crazy Sunday night, it's going to be a lot of fun."
Sunday night marks the first time since Week Two of the 2011 season that Lucas Oil Stadium will play host to a prime time Colts game.
Putting all pregame festivities aside, Chuck Pagano is sure where the more than 66,000 fans will reside when 8:30 comes around.
"I go back to our fans and the 12th man, and again I know there will be mixed emotions early in that thing, but I trust and I know that when it is kicked off where the loyalty will be. That's where it's always been and it'll be there at 8:30 come Sunday night. It'll be behind the horseshoe and it'll be for the Indianapolis Colts."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSBroncos quarterback Peyton Manning versus the Colts defense:The stats surrounding Manning and the Broncos passing offense are mind-boggling. Manning has torched defenses all season long and his 22 touchdowns after six games is an NFL record. The Colts secondary is fifth in the NFL in pass defense and LaRon Landry could return this week. Will Landry's presence help tame Manning the Broncos air attack?Colts running back Trent Richardson versus the Broncos front seven: Richardson was effective on Monday night but limited offensive snaps didn't allow for major numbers. Now, the Colts rushing game will be going up against the league's top rush defense (69 yards per game). Sustained drives would seem to be a recipe for success against Denver so Richardson might see his reps increase significantly come Sunday night.Quick Facts
-The Colts have allowed 13 points in the fourth quarter this season, which ranks first in the NFL.
-The Colts are looking for their seventh "bounce back" win since the start of the 2012 season.
-Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn (2010-2011) previously played for the Broncos.
-The Broncos have won a franchise-record 17 straight regular-season games, which is the fourth longest win streak in the NFL history.
-The Broncos 265 points scored this season is the highest total in NFL history through six games.
-Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme (2008-2011) and offensive tackle Winston Justice (2012) previously played for the Colts.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what makes it so difficult to get pressure on Peyton Manning):
-"There's nothing that he hasn't seen and there's nothing that he can't recall. He's got the ability to, I think they call it chunking if I'm correct. I don't know if I'm right or wrong, probably wrong, but he's got a volume and can handle a volume of information. And so there's nothing that we will do or anything that anybody else has done that he has not seen. He's unbelievable at the line of scrimmage of previewing the defense, if you will, all those type of things, so it's going to be difficult. But it's exciting. It's going to be a great challenge for our team and for our guys. He's a special player."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what the Colts need to do to slow down the Broncos offense):
-"It's a huge task. It's a huge undertaking. We faced a really good quarterback last week who had a lot of weapons and these guys, they've got plenty. And they all got numbers. You're looking at 15 of the 22 touchdowns that he's thrown between two guys, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker, but they all got numbers. 88 (Demaryius Thomas) is a pretty good wide receiver. We know what Welker can do. Knowshon Moreno, (Ronnie) Hillman, they got running backs, tight ends, (Eric) Decker. He's got a great comfort level with a lot of guys. It's all hands on deck. They've got 11 guys on the field, we've got 11. Guys are going to have to win their one-on-one matchups more times than not for us to have a chance to win this football game."
Colts Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne(on going up against Peyton Manning and the two's bond):
-"That's what it's all about. You build a bond with a lot of guys throughout the years, especially when you've been somewhere for a long time. I've been here for 13 years. I've seen so many guys come in and out. I've met so many guys and gotten to know them, so many guys just throughout those years. At the end of the day, you want to keep those friendships going. You want to develop even more friendships. That's what it's all about. When we play for those four quarters, it's a battle, but at the end of the day when it's all said and done, you dap a guy off and you continue to ask him how their family is doing and things of that nature. This league is an elite group. It's the best of the best. It's a tight fraternity. So, whenever you get the opportunity to fellowship with your brethren, it's always cool."
Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on what he sees from the Colts on both sides of the ball):
-"Offensively, obviously in this league it all starts with the quarterback. Andrew (Luck) has done a phenomenal job early on in his career of running the system the way it's supposed to be run. I think with the multiple formation personnel groups, the number of different passing combinations, route trees, however you want to say it. He's done a great job of taking what a defense gives him. He's got some talented players around him. He's got one of the greatest receivers of all time in Reggie Wayne that has had a number of success. You look at the last 10 years or so, Reggie has been one of the best year in and year out. It's great when you have players like that surrounding you. He's done a good job of just running the system the way it's supposed to be run. Then historically, obviously their defense has been one of the tops in the league of getting after the quarterback. They've done a great job with (Robert) Mathis obviously and then with (Dwight) Freeney being there in the past years of coming off the edge and they just continue to do the same thing. They do a good job with 11 guys getting after the quarterback and being aggressive on the coverage on the outside."Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on what makes Antonio Gates so good):
-"I think if you ever come to a practice and watch the way he practices, number one, that's where it all starts. I think every day in practice with him and Philip (Rivers), the relationship and the understanding of how to play the game, how they run certain routes, the adjustments they make on route techniques, route depth, certain coverages or techniques that a defender is going to use on him. I think they could both go out there blindfolded and catch balls together and complete passes. It all starts in practice. It's his work ethic that really sticks out to me. A guy who has played as long as he has and had as much success, you see why. It's easy to see why he's had success because of the way he goes out there every day and works."Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning(on what he's feeling coming back to Indianapolis):
-"Well, I feel like it has to be a business trip. It's a tough team we're playing. It's a very good defense that we're trying to get ready for. It may sound strange, but it's an unfamiliar opponent. A lot of guys on defense that I've never played against and even a lot of our players haven't played against. Certainly didn't play them last year, so, it's not like a division game or a team you played in the playoffs that you're a little more familiar with. Still getting to know them early in the week and that's the only way I know how to approach it. I can't tell you how I'll feel walking into the stadium and those type of questions because I just can't tell you. I can't predict and I've never been through anything quite like it. All I know right now is what I have to do to prepare and that's what I'm working on right now as of Wednesday."