(SportsNetwork.com) - Generally you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.
Unless you're Andrew Luck that is.
Peyton Manning did so much for the Indianapolis Colts that it's almost surreal to think Luck is far ahead of the pace the future Hall of Famer set during his first three seasons in the Hoosier State.
Whether the still emerging Luck, and perhaps more importantly his teammates, have progressed enough to take down the veteran Manning and the supremely talented Denver Broncos in the AFC's divisional round of the playoffs will be answered on Sunday afternoon.
"It was my hope and dream that this sort of situation would occur," Colts owner Jim Irsay said when taking about facing Manning. "I feel blessed that it has. I think it's going to be a great game and having these two great quarterbacks go against each other at this point in their careers is really exciting."
Manning, the five-time NFL MVP, won 26 regular-season games during his first three NFL seasons with the Colts, throwing for 12,287 yards with two playoff starts, both losses. By comparison Luck has already won 33 in the regular season, tossed for 12,957 yards and won his second playoff game last week, a 26-10 drubbing of the banged-up Cincinnati Bengals.
Manning didn't get his second playoff victory until 2003, his sixth NFL campaign.
Manning, of course, was released by the Colts in March of 2012 and the divorce was hardly acrimonious. He was attempting to recover from four different surgical procedures on his neck, and Indianapolis was focused on its future and Luck.
"(Manning) said, 'You've got to take Andrew (Luck),' (in the 2012 draft)" Irsay recalled during an interview with USA TODAY Sports. "'You have to. You're crazy if you don't.'"
The Colts proved they weren't crazy and did draft Luck with the No. 1 overall pick after moving on from Manning, who subsequently signed with the Broncos after recording a 141-67 regular-season record for Indianapolis, passing for 54,828 yards with 399 touchdowns and a 94.9 passer rating as well as guiding Indy to the playoffs 11 times, including a victory in Super Bowl XLI.
Manning hasn't slowed down a bit in the Rockies, leading the Broncos to three straight AFC West crowns and a conference championship last season while earning his record fifth MVP award.
"To be honest, even since Day 1 here, it hasn't been an issue," Luck said of the comparisons between he and Manning. "I never came in saying, 'Oh, I have to replace a legend, one of the greatest of all-time.' Professional sports people, they come and they go. Someone's going to replace me eventually, hopefully later rather than sooner."
At this rate, it's going to be a lot later because Luck has quickly developed into one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. He picked apart Cincinnati's secondary last weekend, while the Colts' defense did the rest in shutting down the banged-up Bengals.
The Colts never trailed in this AFC wild-card mismatch as Luck finished with 376 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Adam Vinatieri made all four of his field goal tries, Daniel Herron gained 141 yards from scrimmage and ran for a touchdown, and T.Y. Hilton caught six passes for 103 yards for the AFC South champions.
"We played great team football and we're moving on to the next round," said Luck. "We've got a tall order playing Denver at Denver but we're excited about that and up for the challenge."
Tall order is a bit of an understatement. The second-seeded Broncos finished the regular season 8-0 at home, outscoring opponents 283-166 in those games. Over the past two seasons, including the playoffs, Denver has won 17 of its past 18 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We're excited and glad to be playing at home," said Manning. "We know our crowd will be into it and be a big factor."
Playing in Denver is obviously important for the Broncos but getting the extra week to prepare may have been more critical. Denver entered Week 17 of the regular season by listing over 20 players on its injury report and the 38- year-old Manning looked hobbled himself.
The veteran sat out all of last week's practices but returned Monday.
"It was much needed," safety Rahim Moore said of the Broncos' rest. "I needed it, our team needed it, especially guys like Peyton, who's been playing since I came out the womb."
This will be the third time Manning has faced off with Luck and the Colts. He and Julius Thomas connected for three touchdowns during a 31-24 Kickoff Weekend matchup this season, avenging a Week 7 39-33 loss in 2013.
Manning has thrown for 655 yards with six touchdowns against his former team, while Luck has piled up 598 yards and five scoring tosses in the previous two meetings.
"It's not the quarterback versus quarterback thing," Luck lamented. "We're not on the field at the same time. I have a lot of respect for (Peyton), what he does, what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense, that's what I worry about."
This will be the third meeting between the two teams in the postseason with the Colts taking the first two, a 41-10 win in the wild-card round on Jan. 4, 2004 and a 49-24 triumph in the following year, again in the wild-card-round. Of course Manning was piloting Indianapolis in both of those wins.
In the regular-season series Denver holds a 12-9 advantage.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Indy offense is obviously the team's strength and finished third in the NFL with 406.6 ypg but was No. 1 overall in passing with 305.9 of those yards coming through the air thanks to Luck, who is just the eighth QB in NFL history to toss 40 TDs in a season.
The Stanford product has 12,957 passing yards since entering the league in 2012, the most of any player in their first three seasons. Luck also has now thrown for at least 300 yards in three consecutive playoff games -- tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
"He's one of those guys that you have to play a 60-minute game against," Broncos Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware said when discussing Luck. "He has really good pocket awareness. He's always one of those guys, just like Peyton, where he hits the open guy the majority of the time. He plays a fundamentally sound game."
Luck has got a plethora of weapons starting with the speedy Hilton, who amassed a career-high 1,345 receiving yards with 1,159 of them coming after the first month. He's also excels in the playoffs as Hilton has 496 career receiving yards in four postseason contests, the second-most in NFL history over a player's first four playoff games. Meanwhile tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener each had eight TD receptions in the regular season.
What Luck doesn't have, though, is a running game and the disappointing Trent Richardson has been benched in favor of the nondescript Herron.
Defensively the Broncos were much-improved this season thanks to significant additions like Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Under Jack Del Rio's auspices, the Denver D was tops in the entire AFC, allowing only 305.2 yards per game.
Ware combined with Von Miller to give the Broncos a thunderous pass rush off both edges as Denver was one of only three NFL teams with two players amassing 10-or-more sacks.
The plan will be to make Luck and the Colts high-powered offense as one- dimensional and predictable as possible.
Manning piloted a unit that was just a tick behind Luck and Co. by averaging 402.9 ypg. The veteran, though, struggled late, throwing just three TDs versus six interceptions over Denver's final four regular-season games.
Manning also gets a lot of criticism for his perceived failures in the postseason where he is underwater at 11-12 as a starter. He does, however, have 6,589 passing yards and nine 300-yard games in his playoff career, both tops in NFL history.
"They're a great football team and obviously they've got a great, great quarterback," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's always a huge challenge and at the same time, we're going to embrace the opportunity, embrace the moment."
Denver running back C.J. Anderson led the league with 648 rushing yards and eight TDs over the final six weeks of the regular season. A good game by Anderson usually foreshadows success for the Broncos, who finished 12-0 when compiling 88 yards-or-more on the ground.
"The biggest thing is stopping the run before you can get to (Manning)," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "We have to focus on that. That's where all our attention is going to go."
The Colts defense has lacked consistency this season, especially on the pass rush where they the club has missed Robert Mathis, who sat the entire campaign, first on a suspension and then with an Achilles' injury.
Veteran linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is the leader of the group in his first season since coming over from Cleveland, pacing the AFC with 140 total tackles.
The defensive backfield is highlighted by Vontae Davis, one of football's best man-to-man coverage corners as well as veteran safety Mike Adams, who led the team with a career-high five INTs this season.
Denver is perfect at home this season and nearly perfect over the past two years. Meanwhile, Manning's passer rating in the Rockies is 117.5 versus a far more manageable 89.0 on the road.
"We realize it's a really good Denver team and we'll have our work cut out for us," said Luck. "Guys are excited and up for the challenge."
The Colts are capable of answering that challenge but to do it, they will need to win a shootout so a 350-yard, four-TD performance from Luck or something close to that is almost a necessity.
And that's just too much to ask at this point.
"We're excited and looking forward to the postseason," said Manning. "This is always an exciting time for football. This is why you work so hard all season to get this opportunity. Playoff football takes on different twists and turns. You're going to play some really good football teams."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 30, Colts 20