Extra Points: Luck is ahead of a pretty impressive curve

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(SportsNetwork.com) - As the 2012 NFL Draft approached plenty of observers called Andrew Luck the best pure quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.

It was a nice little narrative because the Indianapolis Colts just happened to have the No. 1 overall selection for the first time since 1998 when they selected Manning with the top overall spot.

Over the ensuing 13 years in Indy, Manning amassed a gaudy 141-67 regular- season record as a starter, passing for 54,828 yards with 399 touchdowns and a 94.9 passer rating as well as guiding the Colts to the playoffs 11 times, including a victory in Super Bowl XLI.

A neck injury that ultimately required four different surgical procedures sidelined Manning for the entire 2011 season which is the major reason Indianapolis fell off the cliff and was in a position to bridge a generation of greatness at the game's most important position with another one.

Manning was eventually released by the Colts in March of 2012 and the divorce was hardly acrimonious. He was attempting to recover from the four 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)" Colts owner Jim Irsay recalled during an interview with USA TODAY Sports. "'You have to you're crazy if you don't.'"

The Colts did draft Luck with the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford after moving on from Manning, who subsequently signed with the Denver Broncos.

Whether the still emerging Luck, and perhaps more importantly his teammates, have progressed enough to take down the veteran Manning and the supremely talented 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," Irsay said of squaring off with the former face of his franchise. "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."

Luck is not only bigger and stronger than Manning ever was, he's far more athletic with elite arm talent, a signal caller with the body of a tight end, the fastball of Roger Clemens, impressive 4.65 speed, and a high-football IQ.

Luck showed off all of his immense talents during a 36-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief in the Colts' 26-10 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend.

With the pocket collapsing the third-year star raced forward as Cincinnati's best pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap, closed in. He shed that tackle easily with eyes firmly focused downfield as other defenders swarmed in before finally firing a perfectly placed pass to Moncrief over two defenders, all while falling down.

"(Luck) can make all the throws, and also he can make all the throws on the run," Broncos Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris said. "So that sets him apart from a lot of quarterbacks, and we know we're going to have to cover a little bit longer."

"I think he's getting better and better," Denver star linebacker Von Miller added. "The concern with him is that he passes, runs, extends plays. He's the heart of their offense. He's the heart of their organization."

Manning did so much for the Colts that it's almost surreal to realize Luck is far ahead of the pace the future Hall of Famer set during his first three seasons in the Hoosier State.

Manning, a 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 with the drubbing of the banged-up Bengals.

Manning didn't get his second playoff victory until 2003, his sixth NFL campaign.

"What (Luck's) accomplished may be better than any quarterback has ever accomplished early in a career," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's been as advertised."

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 and is already knocking on the door of the "elite club" headlined by talents like Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Any he may kick in that door on Sunday in Manning-Luck III, the rubber match. Manning and Julius Thomas connected for three touchdowns during a 31-24 Broncos win during Kickoff Weekend this season, avenging a Week 7 39-33 loss to Luck and the Colts 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."

Generally you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.

For Luck, that's something his eventual successor needs to think about.