- Thank you very much, Peyton Manning. – (SportsNetwork.com) - Thank you very much, Peyton Manning.
Were it not for the Denver quarterback's inhuman start to the 2013 season and the Broncos' already largely consensus status as an unstoppable team force, the Sunday matchup between the unbeaten Seattle Seahawks and the once-beaten Indianapolis Colts might be awash in Week 5 hyperbole.
Instead, their get-together at Lucas Oil Stadium is being billed not as a possible Super Bowl preview, but simply as a terrifically intriguing matchup between two splendid young passers.
Upon inheriting the horseshoe logo from Manning to begin last season, the Colts' Andrew Luck was considered a future star who'd encounter some turbulence with a team that went 2-14 a year before.
Instead, the ex-Stanford standout woke up the echoes of Peyton's Place, leading Indianapolis to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance as a rookie. He's picked up this year where he left off last, winning three of four in September to forge a first-place tie with Tennessee in the AFC South Division.
He completed 54.1 percent of 627 passes in 2012 and is on track to far exceed that percentage in season No. 2, which he's begun by connecting on 82-of-128 throws -- or 64.1 percent, with five touchdowns against only two interceptions.
A sluggish beginning last week against Jacksonville ultimately ended in a 37-3 victory and a 22-for-36 day for Luck with a pair of TDs and 260 yards.
"The sky is the limit," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He did get off to a slow start, but he is an even-keeled guy. He is one of those guys who can put things behind him and move on. Talent combined with that kind of mindset, the sky is the limit."
Not surprisingly, Seattle coach Pete Carroll feels the same way about his guy, too.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson received significantly less attention than Luck after his selection in the third round of the 2012 draft -- a full 74 choices after the Colts' got Luck -- but he's made up the gap by leading Seattle back to the NFL penthouse after four straight years below .500.
The Seahawks' 4-0 start in 2013 is the first in franchise history and has given them a head start toward what could be another franchise first -- consecutive double-digit win seasons.
Wilson accounted for 140 of the team's final 150 yards last week, when Seattle rallied from a 20-3 halftime hole to overcome Houston, 23-20, in overtime.
"Russell Wilson was just extraordinary in how he did it," Carroll said. "It wasn't just by big numbers in throwing the football, it was just by playing the game and taking advantage of the opportunities that he could, and he did."
Wilson finished at 12-for-23 for 123 yards and an interception against the Texans, while also running 10 times for 77 yards -- including a long run of 25 yards. For the season, he has 131 rushing yards, 787 passing yards and a 95.3 passer rating.
"He doesn't change the way he plays," Carroll said. "They were coming hard after him, there were some spaces, and he was well aware of how things were going. We needed his help and he gave it to us."
The Seattle defense helped plenty as well by holding Houston off the scoreboard in the second half. The Seahawks are second in the league in scoring defense, fifth in total defense and third in interceptions.
A 58-yard pick-6 return from Richard Sherman forced the OT session, which ended when Steven Hauschka kicked a 45-yard field goal.
"There (are) still 12 more games before you even get close to playoff time," Carroll said, "so we're a long ways from home right now."
The Colts' brass shares that sentiment while embarking on a stretch that includes Seattle (4-0), San Diego (2-2), Denver (4-0) and Houston (2-2) between now and early November.
Indianapolis is fourth in the NFL in scoring defense and eighth in total defense, though its three wins thus far have included a dismal Oakland (1-3) team and an even-worse Jacksonville (0-4) squad that's being compared to the poorest in recent league history.
The high point came in a Week 3 rout of the San Francisco 49ers.
"We know it's a marathon and not a sprint," Pagano said. "Sitting here at 3-1 four games into it, I'm pleased where we are at and where we are heading. The good thing is we faced two really athletic quarterbacks. Facing (Oakland's) Pryor and then (San Francisco's) Kaepernick definitely was good for us to see, and see early. Those guys can run around and Russell Wilson is an unbelievable talent.
"He has two eyes, but it's like he has eyes all over the place, in the back of his head. He's just got that sixth sense."
Aside from Luck and Wilson, the game is also a duel of premier running backs Marshawn Lynch and Trent Richardson. Lynch has gone for 43, 98, 69 and 98 yards in four weeks, while Richardson posted 47 and 58 in two games with Cleveland and has run for 35 and 60 in two games with the Colts.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Beating the Seahawks, to a large extent, means containing Lynch. To do that, it will be incumbent upon the Indianapolis defensive line to control the line of scrimmage. Lynch has yet to go for 100 yards in a game, but he does have the knack for getting the tough situational yards when needed. The Colts have been gashed for 106.8 rush yards per game thus far against lesser opposition, which doesn't exactly bode well .
On the other side, Luck will face his toughest secondary test against a Seattle backfield that's accounted for seven interceptions and helped hold opponents to just 191 aerial yards per game. That said, the quartet of Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will have its hands full with a talented fleet of Luck targets that include Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton.
The Seahawks and Colts are two of the nine teams -- aside from Denver -- that are either 3-1 or 4-0 through the season's initial quarter. And while the Chiefs (4-0)-Titans (3-1) and Saints (4-0)-Bears (3-1) matchups this week mean the same things in the standings, the feeling here is that the winner of this one might be a little closer to having a date in New Jersey in February.
Toward that end, Seattle feels like it's a smidge ahead, thanks to the all- around play of Wilson, the impact of Lynch and the smothering nature of the defense.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 20, Colts 19