Peyton Will Need to Slay Demons to Reach House That Eli Built

we start getting too far ahead of ourselves and worrying about Peyton
Manning finally shedding the albatross that has been the New England
Patriots in a potential AFC Championship Game showdown, the
record-setting signal-caller knows there are other orders of business
to attend to. The Denver Broncos, fresh off of scoring an all-time
best 606 points in the regular season, first need to take care of the
red-hot San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

paper, this should be no problem, even though the future Hall of
Famer is the only active Super Bowl winning quarterback and only
remaining playoff starter with a losing playoff record at 9-11. After
all, the Chargers are only 10-7 and needed some serious luck just to
get to the postseason. But wait a minute, didn’t they beat the
Broncos at Mile High just a month ago?

yes, they did. And, isn’t this the franchise that Manning is 0-2
against lifetime in the postseason? The franchise that denied Manning
the chance at perfection in 2005? The franchise that Manning played
far and away his worst career game against in 2007? The Patriots may
be Peyton’s ultimate bugaboo, but San Diego has actually been more of
a headache for Manning in his illustrious career, so Sunday’s rubber
match with the Bolts is no sure thing.

win the championship that looked like such a slam-dunk through a
quarter of the season when the Broncos were scoring virtually every
time they had the ball, Denver will have to knock off San Diego
before hosting the winner of Indianapolis and New England. That would
presumably be New England, against whom Denver held a 24-0 halftime
lead in Week 13, only to completely come undone in the second half
before losing in overtime, 34-31. That put Manning’s head-to-head
record against Tom Brady at 4-10.

miraculously the Colts pull the shocking upset at Foxborough, Manning
will get another crack at beating the franchise he resurrected in
1998 as the first pick in the draft. The Colts ended Denver’s
unbeaten run in Week 7, 39-33, with the kid beating the grizzled vet.
Andrew Luck is the new sheriff in Indy and with a win would be one
step away from bringing the city of Indianapolis as many
championships as Peyton had in 14 seasons in just his sophomore
season. Even in this unlikely matchup, it will be yet another hurdle
for No. 18 to clear.

all this smoke clear, Manning would reach his third Super Bowl,
ironically in the home stadium of his younger brother, Eli, just as
Eli won his second championship in Peyton’s stadium two seasons ago.
Manning would likely be facing an elite defense in Seattle, Carolina
or San Francisco unless New Orleans shocks the world to set up a
rematch of sorts of Super Bowl XLIV.

let’s go back to this San Diego thing. Manning has hardly stayed
classy against San Diego in his career, even though overall he has a
winning record against the Chargers (7-6). That stat is skewed in
some sense considering he won his first three career meetings against
the Bolts, thus he has lost six of his last 10, and two of those four
recent wins came in a season sweep last year of a very mediocre
Chargers team. Over the course of his career, the Chargers have
always risen to the occasion against Manning, perhaps even more so
than the Patriots when you consider that at the very least, Peyton
can always list the epic comeback in the 2006 AFC Championship Game
as a reference for not being a total failure against New England.

2005, the Colts were 13-0 and a serious threat to become the league’s
first 16-0 team, but San Diego stopped Indy’s pursuit of history by
pressuring Manning relentlessly in a shocking 26-17 upset. Two years
later, with the Colts riding high of a Super Bowl XLI victory the
year before, Manning threw a career-worst SIX (yes, six)
interceptions in a 23-21 regular-season loss to the Bolts at the Q,
and for good measure, San Diego proved that was no fluke by going to
Indy in the playoffs and denying the Colts a return trip to the AFC
Championship Game with a 28-24 win.

year later, the Colts ended the season on a nine-game winning streak
and went to San Diego at 12-4 to face an 8-8 division-winning
Chargers team fully expected to advance to the second round of the
playoffs. Yet once again, Manning and the Colts’ offense were sub
par, and the Bolts pulled off a 23-17 overtime escape. In a 2010
regular season game, Peyton threw four picks in a 36-14 home loss to
the Chargers.

it to say, if Manning is to put a little makeup on his 9-11 playoff
record, he will have earned it this year. San Diego has always been a
pain in the neck (er, no pun intended there) for him, and the media
will beat the dead horse (sorry, I did it again) with a week of
Brady-Manning Part XV in the AFC Championship Game. Should Peyton
advance to the House That Eli Built, he will be looking to go over
.500 in his playoff career and in Super Bowls. Further more on that
note, a win over a defense the caliber of which he will likely face
will also get those off his back that said that Manning didn’t really
so much win Super Bowl XLI as Rex Grossman lost it (a point that
isn’t necessarily easy to argue).

while we’re on the subject of Broncos’ playoff wins, is it fair to
mention that since the Elway Era, the only two quarterbacks to win a
playoff game have been Jake Plummer and Tim Tebow? Surely, Peyton
Manning’s credentials far eclipse those of that duo combined, but
another San Diego hiccup will leave the Mile High fans restless.

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