|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|The play of Kerry Collins (pictured) will determine how long the Colts can last without Peyton Manning.|
After Monday's report that Peyton Manning is likely doubtful for Week 1, there's plenty of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback as he rehabs from neck surgery and how much time he will miss. Both Manning's consecutive games started streak (227) and Indianapolis' postseason streak (nine years) are in jeopardy. How many games can Manning miss before the Colts' playoff hopes become unrealistic?
Four is the limitI don't believe the Colts are in for a complete shutdown if Manning can't play. The team still has talent on the perimeter and, if they can build leads, a defense that can play from ahead. It'll be a matter of treading water. Indy will be in great shape if it can go 2-2 through the first four weeks -- at Houston, vs. Cleveland, vs. Pittsburgh, at Tampa Bay. But whenever Manning returns, there will have to be re-acclimation, as was proven when he missed the preseason in 2008. So it's important he gets his feet wet before what could be critical games in Week 7 at New Orleans and Week 9 vs. Atlanta. A tough start, compounded with losses in those ones, could spell doom for Indy.
Remember Roethlisberger?Weren't we asking the same question about Ben Roethlisberger and the Super-Bowl bound Steelers this time last season? Granted, the Steelers' defense is far more reliable than the Colts' unit but it's not time to panic.
I'll put the number of games Manning could miss at six. I think 4-2 would be the benchmark. Anything worse without Manning could be dicey because the team would look at Manning as the life raft instead of a part of an overall good team. That's never good.
Colts headed for 6-10Hear me now, believe me later: The Colts will finish 6-10 and Bill Polian will be to blame. It's his fault for not developing a capable backup to Manning over the past decade. Spare me the excuses that no free agent QB was interested in wearing a headset while watching Manning take every snap season after season. The Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Eagles and other perennial contenders have managed to cultivate a halfway decent second-string QB. At this point, the Colts will be forced to lean on the less-than-dynamic duo of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to pick up the slack on offense. It's safe to assume they're not up to the task.
Ordinary outfit at bestThe margin between the Colts and other teams was already closing. Manning was already coming off a season in which he threw too many picks. The offensive line already had concerns.
Sans Manning, the Colts are an ordinary outfit at best. He covers up many holes and makes others around him better. Kerry Collins is a major upgrade over Curtis Painter, but it's nothing close to the same offense minus Manning.
Losing Manning for September could doom the Colts, especially if the Texans get off to a hot start. Even when Manning comes back, he's going to need time to work back into form. It's not just flipping a switch. It doesn't work like that, even for him.
All eyes on CollinsThe Colts cannot withstand being without Manning beyond four games. They're not talented enough to overcome the loss of their top player for longer because he single-handedly raises the level of play of the supporting cast. While Collins gives them an experienced signal-caller, his lack of familiarity with the nuances of their system is very limiting. How well Collins assimilates could bolster the Colts' chances without Manning.
Not built to win without ManningThe Steelers didn't have Roethlisberger for four weeks and still went to the Super Bowl last season. The difference is Pittsburgh relied on a dominating defense and power run game to get through the tough times. The Colts ranked 25th against the run in 2010 and had the 29th run offense. Indianapolis isn't built to play without Manning. He practically runs the practices like an offensive coordinator. While every team hopes the backup can go .500 when he's in for the starter, I could see the Colts at 1-4 if Manning misses five weeks. The good news, there's just one division game on the docket in the first five weeks.