Based off Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck’s recent comments, neither is looking to play up their oft-compared careers ahead of Saturday’s AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts.
Manning and Luck’s careers collided in 2012, when Indianapolis let the former walk so they could select the latter with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Since then Manning’s taken Denver to a Super Bowl appearance, and Luck’s won two division titles and two playoff games in three short seasons.
"I've never thought much about the comparisons and how it affects me, and I'm sure he hasn't either," Manning said to The Denver Post Tuesday. "I guess if you're the first pick in the draft you're always going to be compared to other first picks, and if you play for a team, there's going to be comparisons to other quarterbacks who have played.
“Obviously, it's an outstanding start to his career. It's not a surprise at all to me. A guy who has as much talent as he has, you combine that with the type of work ethic that you hear that he has, and the times that I've been around him you just kind of knew he was going to do everything that he could to be a special player."
Trying to draw attention away from him and Manning, the following day Luck also squelched any hype surrounding the two quarterbacks.
"I think it's the players' team," Luck said. "I don't think one player is necessarily bigger than the other, and I will say the folks of Indianapolis have embraced me and I definitely call it home."
Despite their best efforts, the two will forever be juxtaposed, with Luck taking the older Manning’s team from him simply by being the best quarterback available in the 2012 draft and slowly rewriting the record books. This season Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes, and totaled 4,761 passing yards and a 96.5 passer rating, and he got the second postseason victory of his career three years faster than Manning.
As of now the all-time series is 1-1, but Saturday’s matchup at Mile High figures to be Manning’s best chance of getting the last laugh over Luck, whether he wants it or not. He can brush off any talk of his eventual retirement, and start another deep playoff run with a victory over the hot Colts.
Many have stated the 38-year-old Manning is in the twilight of his career, referencing his poor four-game stretch in the last month of the regular season. Manning tossed three touchdowns to six interceptions and even posted a 56.9 passer rating in a win over Buffalo.
But other than a thigh injury that has him on Denver’s injury report this week, Manning is largely the same player that finished the regular season with 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns to 15 interceptions and a 97.5 passer rating. He also carried the Broncos to a 31-24 victory over Indianapolis in Week 1, throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns. In the same game, Luck was picked off twice and sacked three times.
Manning also has one of the defenses in the NFL backing him up should he make any major mistakes. The Broncos were ranked third in total defense, ninth against the pass and second versus the run this season, and should benefit from the extra bye week they received for grabbing the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Denver also sends out a top 10 pass rush that accumulated 41 sacks this season, and a secondary that picked off 18 passes.
And it’s not as if Luck played perfectly towards the end of the regular season either. He’s thrown for less than 200 yards in three straight games, and has five interceptions to six touchdowns in the last four. Also, from Week 14 to 16, Luck couldn’t muster more than 5.5 yards per pass and only once completed more than 53 percent attempts.
Still, Luck shook off that late-season dip with 376 yards and one touchdown in last week’s 26-10 wild-card victory over Cincinnati, and he should be ready for a duel with Manning.
Luck also has a solid defensive unit behind him. The Colts generated 41 sacks this season too, and will try to stare down a Broncos offensive line that gave up only 17 all year, the lowest mark in the NFL.
But when the games to an end, the talk won’t be of which player was sacked the most or received the most help from their defenses or teammates. Luck and Manning will garner full credit or full blame for Saturday’s result, whether it’s deserved or not.