This is a little strange.
Peyton Manning is coming to Foxborough Sunday in Broncos orange, not Colts blue, but that’s not what is so odd. He arrives to play the Patriots not with guys named Wayne, Harrison, and Addai, but Thomas, Tamme, and … well, Stokley, but his personnel has always been fluid anyway. And while Manning still comes in as the enemy in Brady-Manning XIII, he is not the hated figure he once was in these parts.
Part of that is a humble appreciation for his Hall of Fame career, and part is the fact that he finally won a Super Bowl, so that little item can’t deliciously be held over his head any longer. Mostly, it’s wondering whether he can indeed return to being an elite quarterback, something that was certainly in question Week 2 against Atlanta when he threw three picks and looked much more Rex Grossman than Peyton Manning.
Since then, a completely different story in advance of Sunday’s showdown against the Broncos. Same can be said about the attitude toward him.
This week’s picks
Globe staff: Four of five pick the Patriots (New England by 6½).
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 30, Broncos 27. “The 13th time’s a charm. Tom Brady (8-4 versus Peyton Manning) has a tougher time with this Denver team than he did with Tim Tebow’s Broncos last January (now, how hard would that be?), but America will be all the better for it. A superb late-afternoon game Sunday, a battle to the end in Foxborough, and I say Manning’s going to have the ball in his hands sometime in the last five minutes with a chance to win.”
ESPN.com staff: Ten out of 12 pick the Patriots.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports.com: Patriots 30, Broncos 27. “Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Could this be the last time? These two Canton-bound quarterbacks could put on a show here. The Broncos seemed to right things last week against the Raiders, while the Patriots did so against the Bills. Being at home, I think Brady gets the best of Manning again. But it’s close.”
CBS Sports.com staff: Seven out of eight pick the Broncos against the spread
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 38, Broncos 34. “Denver’s concern will be what Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker can do over the middle. The player to watch then is former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Look for the Patriots to take advantage of the attention inside to have Brady hit Lloyd for big gains outside. Brady has owned this rivalry, and new uniforms won’t change that trend.”
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 28, Broncos 24. “Normalcy returns for Peyton Manning, sort of. He has played in New England nine times during his career. And it could be the moment that finally makes him feel like everything is back to normal. In this case, of course, ‘normal’ includes losing to the Patriots, again.”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 30, Broncos 28. “I’m sold on Peyton Manning being all the way back to his pre-neck surgery form, but I’m less sold on the Broncos’ defense being able to stop Tom Brady.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 38, Broncos 34. “The Game of the Week cabinet gave a cursory glance at Eagles-Steelers and Chargers-Saints this week but ultimately was drawn as if by hypnosis to the holy altar of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. I don’t wanna say this’ll be a shootout, but the score is already 24-21 and kickoff is still two days away. Brady affirmed his magic last week in engineering a 45-point second half that made Buffalo’s defense collapse like a US Ryder Cup team, while Manning has middle-fingered his critics (though not literally; he’s Peyton!) with vintage 300-yard games back to back. Always like Brady at home, always, but bet Mr. Manning finds a way to keep it close and make it thrilling deep into the fourth.”
USA Today staff: Five out of seven pick the Patriots.
Yahoo! sports staff: Patriots across the board.
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 28, Broncos 24. “There’s an obvious story line that you’ll hear about all week in this one. Of course, when we’re talking Broncos-Patriots, you’ve got to talk about … the fact that Patriots second-year offensive tackle Nate Solder grew up a Broncos fan in Buena Vista, Colo.!!! Oh, you thought I was headed somewhere else? Brady and Manning? Boring. This one is all about Solder going against the team he rooted for as a kid. That’s story line 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Take your Brady-Manning overanalysis elsewhere, give me Nate Solder’s third career game against his childhood team! And give me Solder improving to 3-0 against said team.”
It says here: Patriots 42, Broncos 31. For the simple fact that you don’t need to see 28-24, 30-27, or 38-34 again.