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The real storyline is not Manning vs. Luck

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --There's the storyline that most observers will discuss in the coming days. And there are the storylines that will define the Broncos' divisional-round duel with the Indianapolis Colts.

They are not one and the same.

Of course, the chatter is about Peyton Manning facing his old team, led by Andrew Luck, whose availability at the top of the 2012 NFL Draft helped lead to the release of Manning, which led Manning to Denver and a record-breaking phase of his brilliant career.

"As fans, we love storylines," Luck said. "It seems to be the nature (of) the sport culture today, so be it."

But Manning doesn't face Luck. He faces the Colts' defense, which is the league's second-best on third downs. Luck won't duel with Manning; he'll tangle with Denver's defense, which is the league's second-best in yardage per play allowed.

"I think there is a level of intrigue, certainly, for people on the outside," said tight end Jacob Tamme. "I think when you're in here (team headquarters) and you're going through these meetings and you're preparing for the football game, it actually makes it a little easier.

"You don't really sit around and think and talk about the things that you guys (the media) sit around and think and talk about."

At one time, the Manning-against-his-old team storyline mattered -- in October 2013, when he led the Broncos into Indianapolis for a Sunday Night Football showdown that the Colts won, 39-33. The teams met in Denver in Week 1 of the following season, and as they meet again now, it is understandable if Manning wonders why there is so much fuss about this angle.

"We've kind of covered that, right?" Manning said. "I've been here with Denver three years. It's the third time we've played them. Obviously, last year, when we want back (to Indianapolis) to play, I understand that was kind of a unique story. But we played them in this regular season."

Eighteen weeks separate that 31-24 Broncos win from now. Both teams evolved. Indianapolis adjusted to life without injured pass rusher Robert Mathis, shuffled its offensive line and found a new running back, Daniel "Boom" Herron. Denver adjusted to a slew of new defensive starters -- and shuffled its offensive line and found a new starting running back from within its depth chart, C.J. Anderson.

"A lot has changed; we've changed, they've changed. You have some injuries; you have different things teams are doing. You're having to get to know a team all over again so we are trying to do that still," Manning said. "I feel like we are off to a good start in getting to know them but still have the rest of the week to try to prepare for them."

The distance between games doesn't mean the Broncos and Manning won't study the Week 1 film. But they will analyze the Colts' recent work against the Bengals, Titans and Cowboys with at least as much scrutiny. And it just serves as another example of how the past -- both recent and distant -- has less of an impact on the game than some believe.

However …

"Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye. Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes."

That ancient Russian proverb cited by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his foreword to The Gulag Archipelago applies here.

Manning will forever have a part of his legacy in Indianapolis -- just as a portion is in Tennessee, where he starred in college, and his home city, New Orleans. His PeyBack Foundation helps maintain the strength of those personal ties to those places.

"I've always given back to the other areas I've lived in," Manning said. "I've had four communities that have had a big impact on me, so I've tried to give back to those four communities."

See the best moments captured in the Broncos' win over the Colts on Sunday night.

Loyalty to the places that made you into the person you are isn't exclusive. You can love multiple cities, and respect how each stop on your life's path -- and the people you met along the way -- proved crucial in your development.

"I don't think he looks at it as, 'That's Luck, (Colts owner Jim) Irsay, and all the history I had over there, that's all in the past.' He knows that's what gave him his name," Anderson saind.

"But that's all done. He's just going out there and trying to win a football game."

And in that realm, the Colts are just another obstacle standing between the Broncos and their second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance. There is no room for sentiment Sunday, despite the backstory.

"The team color could be pink, purple, gray, black -- as long as it isn't orange and blue, he's going to attack it the way he's attacked every other team in the league," Anderson said.

Indianapolis will always be a part of Manning, with a profound bond between the two. In the annals of NFL history, a connection will always exist between him and his Colts successor. That's just the way these things work.

But the Broncos are Manning's team now. He bleeds navy blue and orange. And when he sees royal blue and white, he sees an improving defense that will try to defuse a Broncos offense that adapted and accounted for more points per game in its final six games (29.2) than its first 10 (28.4).

That's a relevant storyline.

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