Denver Broncos: Mike Munchak

Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is the stone in a shoe headed for the Hall of Fame. It is the one thing that doesn't quite fit in a historical body of work.

But in a world where the banter that was once simply shared around the water cooler is now a real-time Twitter-verse, the question of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and a thermometer has consistently been raised. Especially in the wake of four neck surgeries, a missed season in 2011 and a double-overtime loss last January to the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning says cold weather has no effect on his play.
"I don't even think we think about all that," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "You hear people talking about Peyton and cold weather, but what he's done in this league isn't a question to anybody who has been around him. When things happen, everybody is always looking for reasons. Usually if you don't win, your team just wasn't good enough, that's the bottom line. The whole team wasn't good enough when we lost in the AFC Championship here [in 2005] and it didn't matter what the temperature was."

Yet, according to research done by ESPN's Stats & Information Group, Manning is 3-7 in the regular season and postseason combined in games where the game-time temperature was 32 degrees or colder. Considering Manning has played 256 regular-season and postseason games combined, that is just 3.9 percent of his career games.

And in those 10 games, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes to go with 12 interceptions and his completion percentage is 59.4 percent, well below his career average of 65.4. His 214.1 passing yards per games in those 10 outings are also well below his average of 269.5 yards per game over his career.

For the Broncos, Manning's overall sample size is 28 regular-season games and the playoff loss to the Ravens. He is 23-6 as a starter for Denver in those games with 80 touchdowns and has averaged more than 300 yards per game. They are staggering totals, but the scoreboard on a frigid day in January said the Broncos let home-field advantage slip away and the Broncos' loss in frigid Foxborough, Mass., last month was, for some, confirmation the phrase cold shoulder means something else entirely for Manning.

Asked Wednesday if he thinks he's a different player in cold weather, Manning simply said, "I don't."

Asked why he believed he wasn't a different quarterback in cold weather, he added only, "That's not how I feel, so … did I miss the question?"

"Those are people who have a lot of time on their hands that go back and figure those things out," said Titans head coach Mike Munchak, who has faced Manning 19 times as a Titans assistant or head coach. "He's a great football player, I don't think we'll be caught up worrying about that just because it's a certain amount of degrees he may not play well … He's special to watch and we know first-hand from seeing this offense what he can do on a football field, no matter what the weather is."

It all comes to light because Manning himself has said the grip in his right (throwing) hand was affected by his neck surgeries. The narrative from some has been, over the course of Manning's career, that he struggled in cold weather before because his team played its home games in a dome when he was in Indianapolis.

Now that he plays for the Broncos, a team that routinely practices outside in almost any weather, because to practice inside they currently have to load up buses and go to a nearby recreation center, the narrative is the cold-weather play is the product of his surgery.

It has gotten lost at times that Manning did finish last January's playoff game with 290 yards passing to go with three touchdowns with those two interceptions, the second of which ended the Broncos' last drive. And against the Patriots last month, Manning led a late drive to tie the game at 31-31 in regulation. The Patriots kicked the winning field goal in overtime only after a punt hit Tony Carter in the leg, giving the Patriots the field position they needed for the victory.

Manning's throws, particularly scoring tosses to tight end Jacob Tamme and a sideline route to Demaryius Thomas, were as good as a quarterback can make "in any weather, any time, any where," as Bailey put it.

"In the New England game, I was impressed how our guys dealt with it," Fox said. "Did it end up right? No. We lost a turnover battle and that had more to do with it than weather."

The Broncos, at 10-2, are poised to have home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs if they simply hold serve over the final four weeks of the regular season against four teams that do not have a winning record among them. But the temperature at kickoff Sunday for the Broncos' game against the Titans is slated to be about 15 degrees and dropping as the game wears on.

And the temperature at kickoff for the home game that follows just days later could be that cold, or a playoff game in Denver could be that cold. The Super Bowl could be that cold with the Giants' and Jets' open-air home field in East Rutherford, N.J., as that's the site of the league's title game.

Manning has made one visible concession to cold or inclement weather in his post-surgery career. He now wears a fitted glove on his throwing hand in the rain, cold and snow. He wore gloves on both hands in New England when he threw for 150 yards and wore a glove on his throwing hand this past weekend in Kansas City when he finished with 403 yards and five touchdowns.

"It's just part of the adjustment I've kind of had to make," Manning said. "I've said that I've had to make a lot of changes at this point in my career. I'm kind of coming off an injury and different team. It's just been part of the adjustment … and still working through it kind of each time that I wear it."

Manning said he experimented with other gloves previously in his career, including during his time with the Colts, but that he "never just quite found a pair that I liked," until his current set.

In the end, the cold may always be a topic as long as Manning plays, or at least as long he loses more than he wins when the temperature drops. But Fox said in the two most recent cases a defensive breakdown on a Ravens prayer late in regulation and a bouncing punt against the Patriots were at the root of the losses.

"I don't think where you're located that you every really get used to really cold weather," Fox said. "I don't think you grow thicker skin because you live in it. I don't think it's a physiological thing, I think a lot of it is mental, just dealing with the elements. That could be a torrential downpour, it could be a snowstorm … And if we won those games we wouldn't be talking about the weather right now."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider