The last time he faced his former team, Peyton Manning’s emotions and the Indianapolis Colts both got the best of him.
Manning shouldn’t be nearly as drained or distracted when the Colts visit the Denver Broncos on Sunday in the NFL’s opening round.
Colts owner Jim Irsay isn’t getting under his skin with talk about how disappointed he was to win just one Super Bowl with Manning. And the five-time MVP doesn’t have to trouble himself with a pregame tribute or Robert Mathis, for that matter. Mathis, the league sacks leader last year with 19 1-2, including two of Manning in the 39-33 win last October, was suspended for the first four games for violating the league doping policy.
“Well, it was different last year going back to Indianapolis,” Manning said coolly.
But his Broncos are dealing with drama, too. Receiver Wes Welker and Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater, who combined to score 210 points last season, are serving four-game banishments.
Manning still has enough weapons, but the Colts have been on the rise ever since Manning was replaced there by Andrew Luck.
“To be honest, even since day one here, it hasn’t been an issue. I never came in saying, ‘Oh, I have to replace a legend, one of the greatest of all time,“’ Luck said. “Professional sports people, they come and they go. Someone’s going to replace me eventually, hopefully later rather than sooner.”
Broncos vs. Colts is the only weekend matchup of 2013 division winners, but the schedule has been juiced up with division rivalries.
New England is at Miami in a very early AFC East showdown, while the entire AFC North faces off, with Cincinnati at Baltimore and Cleveland at Pittsburgh. The NFC South has the same setup, with New Orleans at Atlanta and Carolina at Tampa Bay.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to have another growing step,” Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of visiting Baltimore, where Cincinnati has dropped its past three games.
“We’ve had this little step here or that little step there. But we haven’t won in Baltimore, and we can get that milestone out of the way.”
Tom Brady remembers New England’s trip to Miami last December, although he’d prefer to forget it: A 24-20 defeat.
He’s ready to change the outcome.
“We put a lot of work in over the course of the summer to put ourselves in a position to capitalize on this game,” Brady said. “There’s not much more you could ask for than to have such a great opportunity.”
Miami’s revamped offensive line, coming off the bullying scandal, will be a focal point.
With the New Orleans Saints coming to town, the Atlanta Falcons have a chance to show 2013, their first losing season since 2007, was a fluke. They’ll have to come up with a running game, better blocking, and certainly a stingier defence, against their archrivals.
It’s a tough assignment, particularly trying to slow the Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham combination.
“We want to get that sour taste out of our mouths from last season,” Falcons safety William Moore said.
There’s a school of thought that the Carolina Panthers are headed downward after a surprise division title, and Tampa Bay under new coach Lovie Smith are ascending. This opener could reveal plenty, and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is on the mend from a rib injury.
The season kicked off on Thursday when defending champion Seattle ran around, over and through Green Bay, 36-16. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns, Russell Wilson threw a pair of touchdown passes, and the Seahawks kept Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to only 189 yards.
Also on Sunday, it’s San Francisco at Dallas; Jacksonville at Philadelphia; Buffalo at Chicago; Washington at Houston; Minnesota at St. Louis; Tennessee at Kansas City; and Oakland at the New York Jets. The Monday doubleheader has the New York Giants at Detroit, followed by San Diego at Arizona.