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Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning, Part III

INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck will try for the second consecutive season in his three-year career to get the Indianapolis Colts out of the divisional round playoffs and into the AFC Championship Game -- something that took his predecessor six seasons to accomplish.

Indeed, next Sunday's matchup with the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning could help Luck finally distance the past from the present for the Colts.

"It's one of the all-time best against his former team," Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said after Indianapolis' 26-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "You couldn't write the storyline any better than this. You have a young quarterback in Andrew Luck who is playing phenomenal. There's a lot we can talk about with these two organizations."

Luck shied away from making it about him against Manning when Denver hosts Indianapolis at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday. But no matter how much he tries to avoid the attention with his third matchup against Manning, it will come down to whether Luck and the Colts' offense can score more points than a Broncos' offense that averages 30.1 per game.

If Luck's postseason numbers are any indication, the Colts should have an excellent chance offensively against Denver's defense. Luck has thrown for 1,438 yards in his first four playoff games, the most in NFL history.

"It's not the quarterback-versus-quarterback thing," said Luck, 1-1 in his career against the Broncos, including a seven-point loss in Week 1. "We're not on the field at the same time. I have a lot of respect for him, what he does, what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense. That's what I'll worry about."

Since reporting to training camp in July, the Colts have spent the season talking about needing to take the next step -- advancing to the Super Bowl. That ultimately involves having to beat Manning and maybe New England's Tom Brady in the playoffs at some point.

"We got it right now," Colts defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. "To get to the Super Bowl, you have to beat a Hall of Famer, a guy who won the Super Bowl, a guy who has a lot of history here in Indianapolis. What's the best way to get to the next round than to beat the guy who actually made history here?"

Luck has had his share of success against Denver, completing 56-of-73 passes for 598 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in two games. But as he found out in Week 1, Luck can't afford to make many mistakes against Denver, which finished with the third-best defense in the league this season.

What Luck did against Cincinnati on Sunday is what he needs to do against Von Miller and the rest of the Broncos' defense. Rather than force throws, Luck took what the Bengals gave him, even if it meant dumping the ball off underneath to Daniel "Boom" Herron. He completed passes to nine different players and four of them had at least 54 yards receiving, which makes it tough for any defense to key in on one particular player. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over, something he did twice to go along with getting stuffed on a fourth-down try at Denver's 1-yard line while trailing 24-7 in Week 1.

But the questions on whether the Colts are capable of beating a quarterback of Manning's caliber linger like a dark storm cloud.

They failed against Manning in Week 1. They failed against Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in Week 8. They failed against Brady in Week 11. And even though he's not in the same class as those three, they failed against Dallas' Tony Romo in Week 16.

"Hell, yeah, I'm embracing it," said Colts safety Mike Adams, who spent two seasons as Manning's teammate in Denver. "It's a challenge, especially in saying we can't play a top-tier quarterback. That's extra fire for us. It's the playoffs. Whatever happened in the regular season doesn't matter. Now we have a big challenge in front of us. I'm excited for Luck, excited period just because we have an opportunity. But we have to understand we have to step our game up because No. 18 is a different breed."

The thought of facing Manning had many of the players walking out of the locker room talking about skipping their 24-hour victory rule and going home to download video of the Broncos on Sunday night.

Manning pounced on the Colts in Week 1 by taking advantage of a lack of pass rush (1 sack) to jump on them 24-0 in the first half. The Colts tried a number of defenders, from Jackson and fellow linebacker Jerrell Freeman, to safety LaRon Landry on tight end Julius Thomas, only to end up getting beat repeatedly by him during his seven-catch, 104-yard performance that also included three touchdowns.

"You have to take this moment and embrace it," cornerback Darius Butler said. "As the road goes on, it's going to get tougher and tougher. One of the best quarterbacks ever, one of the best offenses in the league. We have to make sure we don't make mistakes because they'll make us pay."