Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts: 12 Years of Bad Luck

The Broncos will have to erase a dozen years of ineptitude to beat the Colts on Sunday.

When the Denver Broncos host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, it will be the first time those two teams have played a game against each other not involving Peyton Manning since Oct. 3, 1993.

They wouldn't play each other again until the winter of the 2001-02 season, a nine-year hiatus in which Manning lit the SEC on fire, becoming the Colts' first overall pick in 1998. Also in that stretch, the Broncos began and ended a run of dominance, bookended by the end of John Elway's career and the start of Brian Griese's.

Beginning in the 2003-04 campaign and carrying all the way over to the present, the Colts have unleashed absolute devastation against the Broncos. Not just wins either; these were soul-emptying defeats equivalent to the ones the New England Patriots have visited upon them in the Brady-Belichick era.

Here's just a few of the most notable games from this past decade and change:

Jan. 4, 2004: The Broncos ride a 10-6 record into a Wild Card date with Peyton Manning at the RCA Dome, who had yet to win a playoff game at that point. Manning explodes for 377 yards and five touchdowns, including a 46-yarder to Marvin Harrison in which he goes to the turf, is not touched, and runs to the end zone without a single Bronco laying a finger on him. Denver does not score a touchdown until halfway through the fourth quarter. 41-10, Colts.

Jan. 9, 2005: A year later, the Broncos and the Colts take identical records from the year before into another Wild Card showdown in Indy. The Colts use the Broncos in the first half and lead 35-3. Manning tosses four touchdowns and runs for one more as the Colts bury the Broncos, 49-24.

Oct. 29, 2006: The Colts fly to Denver with a 7-0 record to play the 5-1 Broncos. It's a back-and-forth affair as the Broncos keep up with Reggie Wayne's three scores by giving the ball to Mike Bell and letting Jake Plummer air it out to Javon Walker. The game is tied 31-31 in the fourth quarter. Manning walks the Colts down the field in under two minutes and Adam Vinatieri nails a 37-yard field goal to win, 34-31. The Colts go on to win the Super Bowl and the Broncos miss the playoffs. 

Sep. 26, 2010: Manning plays his final game against Denver. Kyle Orton keeps the game close until four minutes left in the fourth, when Manning lofts a beautiful 23-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie, putting the game on ice. Colts win, 27-13.

Oct. 23, 2013: Manning returns to Indianapolis as a Bronco. Andrew Luck, the man the Colts draft to replace Manning, passes for three touchdowns and runs for another as Indy races to a 33-14 lead in the third quarter. Manning storms back and brings Denver within six points, but another Vinatieri field goal puts it out of reach, 39-33.

Jan. 11, 2015: The Broncos earn a first-round bye with a 12-4 record, but the Colts catch up to them in the Divisional Round. An injured Manning leads the Broncos down the field to score on their first series, but the Colts outscore Denver 24-6 the rest of the way behind two Luck touchdowns. Broncos go home, Colts advance, 24-13.

Nov. 8, 2015: Denver is 7-0 and looking to make it an even eight in Indy. Luck has other plans as the Colts race to a 17-0 lead. Manning gathers himself and throws two touchdowns in the second half, but the Colts kick a field goal and wind the clock down to win, 27-24. Luck lacerates his kidney and misses the rest of the season while the Broncos go on to win Super Bowl 50.

As the past 12 years have illustrated, the Broncos are snake-bitten whenever a blue horseshoe is near. It didn't end when the Broncos nabbed Manning in 2012; the Colts just reloaded and Luck continued the tradition of dicing through Denver's defense.

There is both a logical and supernatural answer to this bizarre phenomenon. If you wanted to go down a more earthly route, you might point out that Denver's secondary has never quite been up to the task of handling the Colts receivers, who have included Hall-of-Famers and Pro-Bowlers alike. But this only takes you until about 2014, when the Broncos start piecing together the NFL's best secondary to realize that there might be more to it.

In the 2014 playoff game, Denver's defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, makes the puzzling decision to assign lanky corner Aqib Talib to cover Indy's speedy T.Y. Hilton. Meanwhile, the shorter and quicker Chris Harris, Jr. is stuck against the taller Hakeem Nicks. Hilton gets loose for 72 yards and Nicks catches a touchdown. Del Rio disappears into the night, finally resurfacing when he is hired head coach of the Oakland Raiders just three days later. It's suspicious at best.

More trickery. In the game last November, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports hours before the game that Hilton will not play. Hilton mysteriously appears late in the first quarter to reel in a 28-yard gain that would set up a Colts touchdown. Later, Hilton breaks off a 30-yard gain, again setting up the offense deep in Denver territory. It's the difference in the game.

Weird things just tend to happen when the Broncos and Colts square off against one another; Marvin Harrison isn't touched when he goes to the ground, seemingly-competent defensive coordinators make uncharacteristic personnel blunders, and presumably-injured players materialize out of thin air.

The Colts have hung a dark cloud over the Broncos since the retirement of John Elway. As you will recall, Elway spurned the Baltimore Colts in 1983, leveraging a potential baseball career until the owner Robert Irsay finally relented and dealt the best quarterback prospect of all time to the Broncos. In March of 1984, the Baltimore Colts packed up their things and headed west for Indiana under the cover of darkness, never to return.

Of course, the new reincarnation of professional football in Baltimore has also had its way with the Broncos. No one forgets a certain play in January of 2013 involving a young safety by the name of Rahim Moore. The question remains: how do you reverse this curse? (And yes, let's acknowledge that it is, in fact, a curse.)

To perform such a reversal, it would take a true leader; a leader so cool, so calm, and so composed that he could cut out the noise of the last dozen years and go get the job done regardless of whether or not history is stacked against him.

That's right, it's the quarterback. The Broncos need a big game out of Trevor Siemian, their poised frontman.

Toss aside everything else from the last 12 years against the Colts and you'll find that the common denominator in those losses were poor defense (certainly corrected) and woefully inadequate quarterback play, especially compared to the Colts' signal callers.

Jake Plummer could never hang with Manning, Jay Cutler didn't have the moxie, Kyle Orton stacked up yards but few touchdowns, and Manning was never quite himself when he was face-to-face with his replacement. Siemian must do better.

And it's a little bit relative, as well. A good game from isn't the same thing as a good game from Luck. Each guy has a drastically different responsibility as it relates to his own team.

If Luck doesn't throw for around 300 yards and multiple touchdowns, the Colts are typically dead in the water because of the ineffective running game and abominable defense they've haphazardly constructed around him.

On the other hand, a successful game for Siemian means taking care of the ball, hovering around 200 yards, and getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers.

If he can do that, he would already be head-and-shoulders above the other Broncos quarterbacks who, for the most part, lost their touch against the Colts.

How do the Broncos erase the lopsidedness of their rivalry with the Colts over the last 12 years? It going to come down to 13.

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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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