Peyton Manning is going home, and Indianapolis Colts fans are expected to embrace him. Until kickoff, that is.
Manning will lead the undefeated Denver Broncos on his first visit to Indianapolis since his tearful farewell in March 2012. Sunday's game has been hyped 24/7, helped along by Denver coach John Fox criticizing Colts owner Jim Irsay for sounding ungrateful this week for all Manning did for his team and city in 13 seasons, including winning a Super Bowl in 2007 — comments that were virtually identical to what he had been saying for months.
There has been curiosity over how long and exactly what the Colts will do to honor Manning during pregame festivities in the Lucas Oil Stadium many credit him for getting the funding to build. No quarterback since 1950 has produced more double-digit winning streaks than Manning, who did it officially four times with the Colts and has Denver on a 17-game winning streak which is tied for the fourth longest in NFL history.
Manning's Broncos are on pace to shatter the NFL's single-season scoring record and, fair or not, many will watch on Sunday to see whether Colts quarterback Andrew Luck can live up to the standards Manning established.
Everybody knows about Manning's late-game heroics. But Luck has been every bit as good since coming into the league last season. His seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2012 set a rookie record and were tied for the most by any quarterback since 1970. Luck has produced two more fourth-quarter rallies this season, and this time he's getting some help from the defense, which has allowed just 13 points in the fourth quarter of the first six games.
If Manning wins, he will join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to beat all 32 teams. "I don't play there anymore, but I've continued to communicate and I've enjoyed those times when I see someone from Indiana in a hotel or an '18' Colts jersey out here at practice," Manning said. "There's always a connection there. I think to have to deliver a message means I've been gone and I don't think I really have."
The league's only other undefeated team, the Kansas City Chiefs, welcome the slumping Houston Texans, who have lost four straight. The Chiefs are a takeaway machine with 18, while Houston is very charitable with 15 turnovers.
But the Chiefs don't want to hear anything about being 6-0. "If you allow that to happen, there's where you get into problems," said coach Andy Reid, the man most responsible for the winning after joining the Chiefs this season following 14 generally successful seasons in Philadelphia. "Personally, I don't worry about all that, and I haven't seen any of our guys worry about all that."
There's plenty to worry about in Houston, where Case Keenum gets his first NFL start at quarterback for the injured Matt Schaub. "I've been around a few teams that have gotten in a funk, turned the ball over and made mistakes. This has been very, very difficult," coach Gary Kubiak said. "You don't stay the same. If it continues, you've got to continue to search for something each week. That's what we're trying to do this week by changing things up and trying to get it to go away."
Week 7 got underway on Thursday when Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes and Marshawn Lynch rushed for 91 yards as Seattle beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-22. The Seahawks intercepted two of Carson Palmer's passes, converting both into touchdowns, and sacked him seven times. Palmer has thrown 11 interceptions in the past five games and 13 this season, second only to Eli Manning's 15.
On Sunday, Dallas is at Philadelphia; Cleveland at Green Bay; Baltimore at Pittsburgh; Cincinnati at Detroit; San Francisco at Tennessee; Chicago at Washington; New England at the New York Jets; Buffalo at Miami; San Diego at Jacksonville; Tampa Bay at Atlanta; and St. Louis at Carolina.
Minnesota is at the New York Giants on Monday.