Manning, Colts won’t slow down

It might not be a unanimous vote, and a few other players certainly are worthy of consideration, but there is no doubt Peyton Manning is the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this season.

Drew Brees and Philip Rivers also are playing the quarterback position at the highest level, and running back Chris Johnson is in the chase.

Manning simply is head and shoulders above the rest. His numbers back up his case, but Indianapolis’ record (14-0) says it best.

He won at Miami despite the Dolphins controlling the clock for 45 minutes. He came back to beat New England after Tom Brady and Bill Belichick seemed to have him buried. Manning has met every challenge.

The Colts carry a 23-game regular-season winning streak into Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. All the questions about either resting key players or pursuing perfection must be asked, but the answer appears obvious.

Indianapolis will have a bye week in the playoffs to relax. Sitting Manning and other starters is risking too much. In the past, when coach Tony Dungy called the shots, the Colts tried that plan and repeatedly lost their edge in the playoffs.

Manning needs to stay sharp. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and the offensive line need to stay sharp. Timing is everything to the Indianapolis offense. If the Colts take two or three weeks off, they could be sitting ducks for the San Diego Chargers.

Losing a game could help Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who were obsessed with going undefeated. But the Colts have been here before, and they can handle it.

Manning has attempted 532 passes this season. He has thrown for 33 touchdowns — tied with Brees for the league lead — and been sacked only 10 times. Amazing numbers.

The Colts have covered five consecutive games, and I look for them to extend that streak to six as 5-point favorites over the Jets.

Expect coach Jim Caldwell, who has learned from Dungy’s mistakes, to play Manning and others extensively.

If that happens, it’s hard to imagine Manning will lose a showdown with Jets rookie Mark Sanchez, who has 12 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. So the pick here is the Colts.

Of course, my picks were a bad joke last week. I was embarrassed to be on lame-duck coach Jim Zorn and the Washington Redskins, who unveiled the worst fake field-goal attempt in history. Zorn should have been fired at halftime.

Four more plays for Week 16 (Home team in CAPS):

BROWNS (-3) over Raiders: Cleveland’s lack of a quarterback is not a major issue with Jerome Harrison running and Josh Cribbs returning kicks. The Raiders’ poor quarterback play is an issue. The Browns can run and stop the run, and that should be a winning formula in cold weather.

DOLPHINS (-3) over Texans: Chad Henne is developing into a promising quarterback for Miami, which is 4-2 against the spread at home. Houston was totally uninspired at St. Louis last week, and a similar effort will get the Texans toasted.

Broncos (+7) over EAGLES: After an inexcusable loss to Oakland, there is desperation in Denver. The Broncos hung tough at Indianapolis two weeks ago. Brian Dawkins and the defense will keep Denver in this game, one it needs to win with its AFC wild-card hopes fading.

Vikings (-7) over BEARS: All the bickering in Minnesota between quarterback Brett Favre and coach Brad Childress could be a positive. The Vikings got a wake-up call in Carolina. Favre has played poorly in the cold in his old age, so Adrian Peterson should get more carries. Jay Cutler and the Bears have been terrible. Cutler’s interception count is at 25. Chicago has failed to cover in seven straight games.

Last week: 0-4-1 against the spread

Season: 33-39-3

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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