Patriots defense preps to slow Broncos’ Peyton Manning _lowres

Associated Press file photo by Jack Dempsey -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's decision about his future is expected this week.

An evaluation from a trusted local fitness expert and an honest conversation with John Elway should determine Peyton Manning’s football future “within the next 48 hours,” a source close to the situation said Monday.

Manning, whose status has been uncertain since the Denver Broncos’ 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the AFC Division playoffs, has been in his hometown of New Orleans in recent days working out with trainer Mackie Shilstone to get an opinion on his physicalability to return for an 18th NFL season.

Of particular importance is the condition of Manning’s neck, on which the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback had five procedures performed in 2011, causing him to miss that season and leading to his release from the Indianapolis Colts.

Manning played the final month of last season with a torn right quadriceps that severely affected his passing ability. In the Colts game, he was 26-of-46, but for only 211 yards.

“Halfway through the season, they were saying he was the MVP,” the source said. “The quad is healing.

“It’s all about the neck. Peyton’s seen all the doctors, but he wants to know what Mackie thinks.”

When Shilstone’s evaluation is done, Manning will meet with Elway, the vice-president and general manager of the Broncos, with whom Manning has played the past three seasons.

It is unclear if the meeting will be held in Denver, New Orleans or some other location.

The Broncos have asked Manning to let them know about his intentions by March 9, the day before teams must exercise their rights on veteran players, thus guaranteeing Manning’s contract.

Manning, who is due $19 million with a salary cap hit of $21.5 million if he plays in 2015, has said he doesn’t want the process “to linger.”

“If he’s able, he wants to play,” the source said. “But if there is any hesitation on the Broncos part, Peyton wants to hear it.

“I think he also wants to know that the Broncos feel like they can compete for a championship with him.”

Last month, Elway said of the situation: “The bottom line is we want him back. It’s going to come down to what Peyton wants to do.”

Manning has said he would be comfortable in new coach Gary Kubiak’s offensive schemes.

Kubiak replaced John Fox as the Broncos coach when Fox resigned the day after the loss to the Colts.

Fox is now the coach of the Chicago Bears.

While the Broncos could release Manning with only a minimal cap hit because of the structure of his contract, the source added that he assumed Manning would not be interested in playing for the Bears or any other team.

If he does return, Manning would be the league’s oldest starting quarterback at age 39, New England’s Tom Brady recently quarterbacked the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XLIX at age 38.