Indianapolis at NY Giants
Game Info: 8:15 pm EDT Sun Sep 10, 2006
The Manning family will still be watching, but the venue will be a bit bigger than their childhood backyard.
In the first game in NFL history to have brothers starting at quarterback, Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning faces younger sibling Eli and the New York Giants as teams with Super Bowl aspirations meet at the Meadowlands on Sunday night in perhaps the opening weekend's marquee matchup.
Both were No. 1 draft picks, played college football in the SEC, led their teams to the playoffs in their second NFL season and grew up in a football family that included another pro quarterback, their father, Archie who played for New Orleans in the 1970s.
"I pull for him every single Sunday," said Peyton, a two-time MVP. "Obviously, this Sunday will be a very different scenario."
The brothers have their teams in line for title runs after both came up short last season. The Colts went unbeaten for 13 games, clinched home-field advantage in the AFC with four games to go, then fell to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in their first playoff game.
The Giants, meanwhile, made the playoffs for the first time in three years, but lost to Carolina in the first round.
"They've both said it's a game between two teams, and it is," Archie said. "The media is trying to make it out to be Tiger (Woods) vs. Phil (Mickelson) or something, but it's not like that."
Peyton has had six more seasons to build a resume that includes three straight AFC South titles, back-to-back MVP trophies in 2004 and 2005, and records that he is breaking almost annually.
The 25-year-old Eli has made only 23 pro starts but has shown that he's still improving, still learning and still trying to outdo his older brother.
"I'm just looking forward for the regular season and to get in there and play all four quarters where everything counts for real," Eli said. "I'm looking forward to it to just get back in the flow of things and get to play a full game."
The Manning family would prefer to downplay the meeting but the stakes are high and the loser may have to live with the legacy for not days, but years. The Giants and Colts aren't scheduled to meet again until 2010.
"I don't know how I'll feel, we've never done this before," Archie said. "But I look at it as an honor and we're going to have fun with it. Everybody's hoping for a good game and that nobody gets hurt."
Teammates and coaches of the Mannings wouldn't mind if one could offer a few secrets about the other.
"Absolutely," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We're in this to win and I'm sure they are, too. Really, Peyton's more concerned with their defense and how to block those two guys (Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora) and what we will do on offense. I'm sure they're the same way."
Peyton and Eli both said during the preseason they're more concerned with the opposing defensive ends than their own showdown. Strahan and Umenyiora are Pro Bowlers, as is Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney. And Robert Mathis, the Colts' other starting defensive end, had more tackles than Freeney, 11 1/2 sacks, 13 pressures and eight forced fumbles -- all career highs despite averaging about 20 plays per game and missing the last three contests with a sore foot.
Peyton's teammates aren't planning to give their quarterback's younger brother any special treatment.
"We can't hit ours, so we've got to hit one of them," Mathis said.
The Colts should field one of the NFL's better offenses again with receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne returning. There are some concerns, though.
Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai are expected to share the burden of replacing Edgerrin James, the franchise's career rushing leader who signed with Arizona as a free agent. Rhodes, a veteran, and Addai, the Colts' first-round pick, combined to rush for just 78 yards on 38 carries in four preseason games.
The Colts signed Adam Vinatieri, the NFL's best clutch kicker, to replace Mike Vanderjagt. Indianapolis hopes Vinatieri's addition will do three things: add a proven kicker for the playoffs, where Vanderjagt endured his greatest failures; provide better kickoffs, a concern for the Colts over the past several seasons, and eliminate the controversy the brash Vanderjagt occasionally created.
Expectations are also high for the Giants after winning the NFC East last season.
"Super Bowl. That's all I care about, Super Bowl," Giants running back Tiki Barber said.
The offense returns all 11 starters from a unit that scored the second-most points (422) in franchise history. With all its weapons, though, the offense struggled in a 23-0 playoff loss to the Panthers.
Eli, whose 24 touchdown passes last season was the most by a Giant since Fran Tarkenton threw 29 in 1967, was limited to 113 yards passing and sacked four times. Barber, who rushed for a team-record 1,860 yards, was held to a season-low 41 yards rushing.
Jeremy Shockey, whose 65 receptions earned him a third Pro Bowl berth in four years, also needs to avoid nagging injuries that have slowed him the past few seasons.
Strahan and Umenyiora apparently will have more help this year on defense.
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is healthy again, LaVar Arrington was signed to a $49 million contract to play beside Pierce, and the secondary was revamped and improved with the free-agent signings of cornerbacks Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters and safety Will Demps.
The Giants beat the Colts 44-27 in Indianapolis on Dec. 22, 2002, in the last meeting between the teams.