ANDERSON — It's Denver week for the Indianapolis Colts.


And that means talk will surely turn to the quarterbacks — Broncos great Peyton Manning and the man who replaced him in the Circle City, Andrew Luck.


Colts owner Jim Irsay threw himself back into the middle of the fray with an afternoon news conference Tuesday in Indianapolis. But this time he avoided talk of Manning's "Star Wars numbers" while with the Colts and kept the chatter about the accumulation of championship rings to a minimum.

In its place was a heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity to employ both starting quarterbacks.

"I'd like to think the horseshoe's lucky," Irsay said, referring to his team's iconic logo. "It has been, at least in terms of quarterbacks, for us lately."

Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game will be the third meeting between Luck and Manning since the former was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 and the latter signed as a free agent in Denver after being released from the only NFL franchise he'd known since 1998.

They split the previous two, with Luck winning at home in 2013 and Manning getting even during the 2014 regular season opener in Colorado.

The decision to part with the face of the franchise three seasons ago was not an easy one for Irsay. But it was a calculated risk.

Manning was coming off his third neck surgery and waiting for a nerve in his neck and shoulder to regenerate. Reports have since emerged that the quarterback was struggling to throw the football even 20 yards at that time. And there was no guarantee he'd return at a level anywhere near his former glory.

But Manning being Manning, he came back even better.

He led the league with a 68.6 completion percentage and threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns in his first season as a Bronco in 2012. Last season, he set single-season records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns while leading Denver to the Super Bowl.

This year, he has 4,727 yards and 39 scores as the Broncos earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a 12-4 record.

"Peyton is still playing obviously at such a high level," Irsay said. "I thought that he would, and it was great that he would go to a team and get surrounded with great players like they've surrounded him with."

Luck meanwhile has exceeded even his owner's expectations.

The 25-year-old has a 33-15 career regular season record, and he's 2-2 in the playoffs after last week's 26-10 drubbing of Cincinnati.

The day after Luck was drafted, during his introductory news conference at Lucas Oil Stadium, Irsay preached patience. He reminded the assembled media it had taken the Colts six years to win their first playoff game with Manning and that the process essentially was starting over.

Luck had his own timetable.

He made the playoffs in his rookie season as a wild card and has won back-to-back AFC South championships since. Moments such as last week's 36-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief tease the imagination.

On that play, Luck scrambled away from a blitzing safety and threw the ball accurately more than 40 yards in the air while a 280-pound defensive end grabbed hold of his plant leg and tripped him forward toward the turf.

"His magic, when you watched him in college, when the play breaks down, in that half a second, he does things that are so innate and so unusual," Irsay said. "That's when the magic happens. He just decides in a split second, and he has the athletic and the physical skills to do that with his arm strength, with his feet. So, really, the sky is the limit."

The owner said Luck is so tough and athletic he could probably be a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end in the NFL.

The immediate challenge is for the Colts to play their best game of the season, find a way to knock off Manning and the Broncos and advance to the AFC Championship Game.

The long-term challenge is to continue surrounding Luck with the talent necessary for him to reach his full potential.

"I really think the best is yet to come with him," Irsay said. "It's exciting to watch because he's a guy who you know, when all of a sudden that magic moment comes, when everything breaks down, he makes a decision and makes a play that's just incredible. That is what you've seen from him through the years. So it's just exciting to stay tuned and see what else he's going to produce as he goes forward."

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THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.