And so it is.
After 18 weeks - 12 wins and 4 losses later - the Denver Broncos know their first enemy for the divisional round of the playoffs.
And it's the same one the Broncos faced in Week 1 - Peyton Manning's former team.
At least that's how it's going to be billed all week in the sports media.
Manning v. Luck.
Manning v. the team that kicked out a future HOF quarterback in favor of the up-and-coming star.
Manning v. the Indianapolis Colts.
But that is most assuredly the wrong storyline.
The Broncos O-Line v. the Colts defense.
The Broncos defense v. Luck.
That's going to be the story of this game.
Week 1 was a different Colts team.
Luck threw for two touchdowns and ran for one, but he also threw two picks and had 18 incomplete passes.
Since that game, Luck threw another 38 regular season TD passes and ran two more into the end zone. He had a total of 16 interceptions all season.
In the Colts' win over the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday, Luck was 31 of 44 with no INTs. And though he had just one touchdown, it was a doozy - a 36-yard pass to Donte Moncrief while being tackled.
It was a sober reminder that this third-year QB can be a dangerous quarterback with quick strikes to his receivers, who had a good showing on Sunday -T.Y. Hilton put up 103 yards and Hakeem Nicks counted a 45-yard pass play among his 59 receiving yards. Running back Dan Herron added another 85 receiving yards to his 56 on the ground.
But the physical Bengals also kept the Colts to scoring mostly field goals. And the Colts offensive line has allowed 29 sacks on the season.
These are important because Week 1 was also a different Broncos team.
The defense had a decent day for the most part on Sept. 7 but was still getting conditioned and figuring out how to play well all four quarters (something that took much of the season to figure out). The Broncos were up early in that first game but Luck led an impressive comeback as the Colts put up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and came close to possibly tying the game with a third. Thankfully, rookie cornerback Bradley Roby was up to the task for 4th and 6.
While Manning's stats looked pretty good on paper - 22/36 for 269 yards and 3 TDs - the offense as a whole wasn't clicking. Wes Welker was serving a three-game suspension so Demaryius Thomas played slot - a position he clearly wasn't comfortable with. Emmanuel Sanders had a nice debut with 77 yards but no scores, while Julius Thomas had a big day, scoring all three of the Broncos' touchdowns. Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson led the running attack with just 102 yards overall.
The Broncos' O-Line stood tough in that Sunday night opener, allowing only one sack and giving relatively good overall pass protection for Manning. The run blocking was far from stellar, as we all remember.
That has since changed as the O-Line reshuffled its players and improved its run blocking immensely but has also seemingly made Manning more nervous in the pocket and contributed in part to some very poor throwing decisions. But this O-Line has also only given up 17 sacks this season.
So while fans and the mainstream media are going to make this game into a comparison of Manning and Luck - no doubt focusing on Manning's declined efficiency versus Luck's consistency over the second half of the season - the Broncos aren't worried about their leader at all.
"I think Peyton's been doing fine," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas about how his quarterback will handle the media hype as he faces his former team. "I don't know if it's about hype; I know it's just another playoff game."
Thomas also noted that the hype was there for the Sunday Night Football opener and Manning handled it like the pro he is.
"We had them the first game of the season, and he was fine," Thomas said, noting that this game is important for different reasons. "It's a playoff game so it's a little bit different because if you lose, you're done and if you win, you keep going. I can't really talk for Peyton, but I think he's fine."
Let's hope so, because the Broncos will need all the offensive weapons they can get against the Colts' D.
"They have playmakers all over the field," Thomas said, pointing out how tough it was for the Bengals to score in the Wild Card game yesterday. "It's a lot of blitzes that they disguise well, and I think we have to pick that up well and be able to convert on negative third downs to move the ball and try to put some points up. They try to get to the quarterback to interrupt the whole game and if they can do that, they can do stuff."
Enter the Broncos Offensive Line. While this unit has struggled big time at certain points this season, it has also weathered a lot of changes and injuries and basically kept its QB safe. Run protection improved with the reshuffle but pass protection has been a little sketchy. This line is going to need to be firing on all cylinders - and maybe a few extra ones - to help the offense in these playoffs and make sure Anderson has the kind of 100-yard games he's had several of recently.
But ultimately, it's going to come down to the Broncos defense, which is exactly what the Broncos' offseason acquisitions were designed to be - playmakers in the big games.
And the Broncos are going to need that against Luck and his offense.
"He's one of those guys that you have to play a 60-minute game against," said DeMarcus Ware, who contributed 1.5 sacks on Luck in the first game. "He has really good pocket awareness. He's always one of those guys, just Peyton, where he hits the open guy the majority of the time. He plays a fundamentally sound game. He's one of those quarterbacks you don't want to go against, but you have to make sure you get pressure on him and make him one-dimensional."
Pressure. Are you listening Jack Del Rio? While you're looking at head coaching jobs elsewhere, you better be coaching for four quarters this game if you expect your guys to play hard for all four. Ware and Von Miller need to be unleashed on Indy's quarterback.
When Luck is under pressure, he completes just 47.5 percent of his passes, compared to nearly 69 percent when not under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
"It's still the same quarterback," Ware noted. "[The Colts] prepared really well this whole season. That lets you know that they're a really good opponent and someone we have to prepare for."
Luckily the bye week should be a big boost for getting some key players back on defense in Brandon Marshall and T.J. Ward plus adding some extra healing time for several playmakers on offense - Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson, Julius Thomas plus D.T. and Manning, to name a few.
Chris Harris Jr. who has played lights this season after tearing his ACL a year ago, says he feels the best he's felt, and definitely better than he did the first game of the season.
That is great news for the Broncos, not so good for the Colts.
"I feel great today. We had a nice little practice today, just really getting our legs back, and I felt great. This is the best I've felt all season," the cornerback said Monday, pointing out he was in and out of the first contest against Indy. "So now this time, I'll be in. Shoot, I'm not coming out."
D.T. also thought the week off was good for everyone.
"It was real big," Thomas said of the extra week. "A couple guys on the team were banged up. Some guys needed some rest with the injuries they had. It was big to get this week out of the way with some rest and now get back to business."
And getting down to business is going to be like playing a game of chess, Ware says.
"I think you've got to go back and see what you did well [in the first regular season game]. You've also got to see how and where you didn't play well and make sure those things are corrected before the game," Ware said of this week's preparation. "You know they're going to go in and say, ‘Hey, they didn't do this well' or ‘This is where we can attack them,' so it's like a chess match. You've got to make sure you have your Kings and all the other guys in the right spot to make sure you play the game."
But no matter how much Broncos look back to the first game, this one is going to be a lot different.
It's not Manning v. Luck or Manning v. the Colts.
If anything, it's the Broncos v. execution.
"A new game, a different team - they are the same people, coordinators and coach, but they have new players playing," Thomas pointed out. "It's playoffs and it's win or go home. They are going to come in and play hard, and we have to do the same thing and try to keep going."
Harris Jr. sees a big difference in how much Luck throws the ball, especially to his running back, Herron, which means Harris and his teammates are going to have to be ready for it.
"We've got that chemistry now and at that time, that was kind of our first time learning how to play with each other, and all new guys," Harris Jr. said. "So now, we're playing them and we're full strength. ...it'll be another good game."
And so it will be.