Yesterday former Colts head coach Tony Dungy made waves with the proclamation that his former team might miss the playoffs if they don't get quarterback Peyton Manning back this season.
In response to Dungy's prediction I'll go back even further in Colts history to another former head coach -- Jim Mora -- whose famous "Playoffs!? I just hope we can win a game" rant may once again be applicable.
Clearly, the Colts are a talented team. Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark -- we're talking about three consistent Pro Bowl caliber players right off the bat, but let's be clear, Wayne and Clark are significantly more successful players based on the relationship they've forged with Manning. Freeney might be the league's best pass rusher, but with teams not needing 40+ points to keep up with the Manning-led offense, opponents can (and likely will) run the ball down his throat.
Putting it more bluntly, without Manning, the Colts are the worst team in the AFC South division.
Again, to be fair, no football team is based on just one player. Furthermore, I do believe in the talent and experience of Kerry Collins is enough to see the Colts winning a few games. But you take a look at their schedule and tell me that they're going to win enough games to be competing for the playoffs for long should Manning not make it back onto the field soon.
All of this potentially shapes up for an interesting dilemma for Bill Polian and the Colts. Should Manning not recover in time to keep Indianapolis within a realistic shot of the playoffs, what would the incentive be to hurry the futue Hall of Famer back? Especially given the extreme value a high first round pick could have in 2012, when several highly touted young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones and Ryan Tannehill (among others) could be available.
The Colts have already admitted that they have no idea when Peyton Manning will be ready to return to the field. One could extend that thinking further to: The Colts have no idea IF Peyton Manning will be ready to return to the field. Manning, after all, is 35 and nerve damage injuries are impossible to predict.
Should Manning return early in the season (and I'd like to think that all of us -- perhaps other than rival defensive coordinators -- are indeed hoping this is the case), Indianapolis could find themselves in playoff contention and picking in the 20s as they have throughout virtually all of Manning's career.
Should he not return this season, however, the Colts could be in position to pick (or trade the rights to pick) one of the top young quarterbacks coming down the pike.
Playoffs?! Are you kidding, me?! Playoffs?!