As the NFL playoffs pick up steam, Indianapolis Colts fans face a simmering question: Do they want Peyton Manning to win it all?
My first guess is yes. Manning has generated so much goodwill and triggers so many warm memories, Colts fans will expect to feel satisfaction if their old “friend” hoists that Lombardi Trophy.
Will a Manning win feel good in the long run? That's more complicated.
If Manning wins a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, it means Colts fans must share him with another fan base for eternity.
If he doesn't win a title in his final years, then the Broncos' portion of Manning's career becomes the epilogue, similar to Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs. No one thinks of the Chiefs when they think of Montana, just as no one thinks of the Jets or Vikings when they think of Brett Favre.
If Manning wins a couple titles, will he ultimately be remembered as a Bronco? Sounds crazy, I know. But not out of the realm of possibility.
I like Denver's chances to reach the Super Bowl. The Broncos have won 11 straight games, so they have the requisite hot streak. They played the Ravens this week, a team Manning has beaten nine straight times, including en route to his only Super Bowls in 2006 and 2009. He beat them last month in Baltimore.
Manning has the offense humming. Broncos coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy were astute enough to mold the offense to Manning rather than the other way around. They brought in wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Jacob Tamme, former Colts who helped build the offense in Manning style.
The results are a Most Valuable Player-caliber season. Not only has Manning returned to form after a year away, he's posted one of the best statistical seasons of his 15-year career.
His 4,659 yards passing ranks second to his 4,700 in 2010. His 105.8 passer rating ranks second to his phenomenal 121.1 in 2004. His 37 touchdowns are second to his 49 in 2004 and his 11 interceptions are only two off his career-low nine in 2006. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes, second to 68.8 in 2010.
Manning had nine games with at least three touchdown passes and only two games with more than one interception (a three-pick loss to Atlanta in Week 2 and a two-pick win over Cincinnati in Week 9).
To say Manning still has it is the understatement of the season.
Now Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis awaits. Much will be made of their rivalry before the 4:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff in Denver. We'll hear about the “chess match” between the offensive mind of Manning and the defensive mind of Lewis.
History shows that Manning has Lewis and the Ravens in perpetual checkmate.
Denver's defense won't allow Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to ramble for huge chunks the way they did against the Colts. They'll limit quarterback Joe Flacco's time in the pocket. They'll find a way to keep Anquan Boldin in check.
Andrew Luck couldn't lead the Colts into the end zone last Sunday, settling for field goals. That's a rookie in his first playoff game. Manning will find the end zone, probably three or four times.
I expect the Patriots to beat the Texans, setting up an AFC Championship game stage for Manning and his longtime nemesis Tom Brady.
The Patriots beat the Broncos 31-21 on Oct. 7, the last time Denver lost a game. Hard to blame that loss on Manning, since he was 31 of 44 for 337 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Keep in mind, that was early enough in the season that Manning's offense hadn't hit its stride yet. In this season of rebirth for Manning, would anything make more sense than beating Tom Brady's Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl?
The next two weeks will be easy ones for Colts fans. You have to pull for Manning to beat the Ravens and the Patriots.
If the Broncos make the Super Bowl, it'll likely be easy to cheer for Manning then, too. I just don't see an NFC team among the Packers, 49ers, Seahawks and Falcons that could cause Colts fans to root against Manning.
If Manning wins and holds that trophy aloft and goes on to another clever pizza or car commercial with a Super Bowl champion theme, it'll be hard not to smile.
But, Manning would truly belong to both Colts and Broncos fans then. Sharing will be bittersweet.