How often does a future Hall of Fame quarterback leave a team and it somehow works out for everybody right away?
That appears to be the case with the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos this season. Peyton Manning was deemed expendable after a series of neck surgeries made his return to the field at age 36 questionable. Plus, the Colts tanked without him and were poised to draft Stanford's Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.
It might have been too early to give up on Manning, but Indianapolis made him a free agent and took its chances with Luck -- even if that meant a lengthy rebuilding process. It definitely wasn't supposed to work out this well this fast. But Luck and the Colts kept rolling with a 20-13 win over Buffalo on Sunday. That win put them at 7-4 and in the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoffs with five games left.
"The Colts are going to the playoffs," NBC analyst and former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy insisted Sunday. He later added: "Just like Peyton, when [Luck is] a little bit off and a little bit confused early, it doesn't bother him. That's what I love about this young man. When they need the big throws, he still wants the ball in his hands. He wants to make the play. ... He is the reason they are in playoff contention."
The schedule is a bit rough with two games against 10-1 Houston. But with Tennessee (4-7), Detroit (4-7) and Kansas City (1-10) also left, there is a decent chance at 10 wins. That should be enough to outlast a decimated Pittsburgh and a resurgent Cincinnati, which are both 6-5.
Meanwhile, Manning has played in all 11 games and has the Broncos (8-3) on the verge of clinching the AFC West title as soon as next week. All Denver has to do is beat Tampa Bay at home Sunday and the second-place Chargers (4-7) can't catch them. The Broncos already have swept San Diego and own the tiebreaker. And who would they face in the postseason? As of right now, Indianapolis in the wild-card round. Of course.
- Brian McNally