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Peyton Manning's Out For Awhile, But the Colts Will Not Be Close to the Worst Team in the League

If you hopped on the internet shortly after Chris Mortensen broke the news that Peyton Manning had a third neck procedure this morning and would be out 2-3 months, denizens of the web were unanimous: the Colts were a 3-4 win team and Indianapolis had gone from a playoff contender – they haven’t missed the postseason since 2002 – to an contender for Stanford superstar Andrew Luck.

That is incorrect.

After the Manning injury news became Very Real the minute the Colts signed Kerry Collins, we had a post about how many wins Peyton Manning meant to the Colts this season. After crunching the numbers, Jason Lisk came up with seven victories. That seems about accurate.

The knee-jerk response to Manning’s injury is understandable. It happens. For the last decade, he’s been one of the NFL’s best players. He changes more plays at the line of scrimmage than anyone in the league. He’s like having a coach on the field! He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer.

But take deep breaths, people. Here are some things people have forgotten in their rush to toss dirt on the Colts’ grave:

1) The AFC South is lousy. The Texans are teeming with talent – but still haven’t won anything. Their star running back has a hamstring issue and their secondary should be improved, but that remains to be seen. Gary Kubiak is not a good head coach (but Wade Phillips should be a good defensive coach!). Jacksonville, which dumped its QB this week, is not good at all on offense (MJD is coming off surgery) or defense and is in full rebuilding mode. The Titans are rebuilding with a new coach, a new QB (albeit an experienced once) and their star running back is coming off a lengthy holdout. The Colts have owned this division for years and know their opponents well. They should go .500 in these six games.

2) The Colts are just two seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl. They were neck-and-neck (sorry, Peyton) with the Saints in the fourth quarter in February of 2010 – just 19 months ago! They still are loaded at the offensive skill positions – Joseph Addai (who sadly has turned into a boom or bust player) is a dual threat at running back. Nobody in the division has a wide receiving group that matches Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez. (Can you imagine what Mark Sanchez could do with these weapons?) Tight end Dallas Clark, who is getting up there in age, is still one of the eight best tight ends in the league. The defense has its holes – linebacker, secondary – but ends Mathis and Freeney are arguably the best tandem in the league. There’s way too much talent on this roster for the Colts to fall to three or four wins. Too many veterans, too much experience, and too much pride.

3) The schedule is favorable. Houston-Cleveland is not a bad start. The Colts should win one of those, though 0-2 would not be a surprise. They won’t beat the Steelers, but the three games that follow – by then, either Collins should be settled at QB, or perhaps Painter is in there; who knows, maybe they sign David Garrard – should produce a win or two (Tampa, KC, Cincinnati). Going into the bye week the Colts host Jacksonville; coming out of it they host Carolina. In fact, after returning home from Tennessee Oct. 30th, they don’t leave Indianapolis until Dec 3rd for a date with the Patriots. I don’t expect Manning to return at QB for a 4-8 team, but without him, they should win a game or two late (vs. Tennessee, vs. Houston, at Jacksonville). I think 6-10 or 7-9 is realistic.

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