The Indianapolis Colts' huddle has been Peyton Manning-less since training camp opened this summer, an odd sight for sure, considering Manning hasn't missed a game in his career and missed just one play with a broken jaw.
That's what's so shocking not seeing No. 18 taking snaps. Manning loves to practice, loves to play. But an infected bursa sac in his left knee, which required surgery, has caused all kinds of problems and kept him on the sidelines the entire preseason.
Without Manning, the Colts would kiss any Super Bowl dreams goodbye, even if Colts coach Tony Dungy did his best this summer to make us think otherwise.
"It hasn't been a one-man team or a one-man operation," Dungy said. "If there's any message we've cut in the last seven years, it's that we've got a good system and a good team, and that good teams withstand anything."
Not losing Manning they don't. The Colts have tried to sell us on backup Jim Sorgi this summer, but we all know the Colts go as Manning goes. Their shiny new stadium, which dwarfs the dump known as the RCA Dome next to it, is the House that Peyton built.
Heck, they might be loading up the vans again and heading even further West (Los Angeles) if not for Manning.
Not a one-man team? Of course they're not but it's close. As talented as the Colts are, and they are young and deep, they can't win the AFC South without Manning -- a .500 record would be a feat without him.
Dungy said he thinks Manning will be ready early this season, maybe even on opening day. If that's not just hope, the Colts will win this division for a fifth consecutive season.
|Predicted Order of Finish|
|1. Colts||2008 standings: 12-4|
|2. Titans||2008 standings: 13-3|
|3. Texans||2008 standings: 8-8|
|4. Jaguars||2008 standings: 5-11|
"We're good," Colts safety Bob Sanders said. "Better than we've been since I've been here."
In addition to Manning staying on the field, Sanders and defensive end Dwight Freeney (foot) have to remain healthy, too. Freeney is coming off a Lisfranc foot injury, which can make for a tough recovery, but he played in the Week 3 preseason loss to the Bills.
"When you look at the talent here, provided we're all playing, this is our best team," Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "We'll be there in the end."
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, who meet the first Sunday of the season in Nashville, will fight for the second spot in the division.
They each have major questions to answer before thinking they can push the Colts. The Jaguars, who finished second last season, need to throw the ball better down the field. David Garrard was efficient last season at quarterback, but now he needs to become a better deep thrower.
The Titans need Vince Young to become more effective sitting in the pocket. His instincts have been to take off and run, but that has to change of the Titans are to push the Colts. Both Tennessee and Jacksonville are big, physical teams, but they don't get the quarterback play the Colts do.
The Texans might be better than the team that went 8-8 in 2007, but it might not show in their record. That's how good this division is from top to bottom.
There is no denying the Colts are the team everybody is chasing. Division titles aren't what this team is about, though.
"It's always Super Bowl or bust," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "Are you kidding me? That's what we play the game for. We're built for a championship-type of team. Every year, that is our goal."
The Colts have withstood the injury losses of key people in the past, players like Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. But playing without Manning is a whole different story.
Not a one-man team? Maybe Dungy's right, but Manning just might be the most indispensable player in the league.
The Colts sure don't want to find out if that's true.
Significant additions: G Mike Pollak, TE Jacob Tamme, RB Dominic Rhodes, DE Marcus Howard.
Significant subtractions: G Jake Scott, TE Ben Utecht.
Biggest offseason move: Re-signing safety Bob Sanders and tight end Dallas Clark to long-term contracts.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Manning is on the field. Will do more if they stay healthy.
Rookie to watch: Pollak. He will likely be a starter at right guard to open the season and could be there all year long.
Who will win the AFC South?
Total Votes: 21,051
Overview: As long as Manning is tossing the passes, this is one of the elite teams in the league. Manning is coming off an infection in his knee, which caused him to miss all of the preseason, but he's expected to be under center on opening day. As long as he's there, this offense will be even better than in 2007. The Colts have superstars in Manning, Sanders, Freeney and WR Reggie Wayne. The depth on the roster is quality as well. It would be shocking not to see this team in the AFC Championship Game -- if it can stay away from injury issues.
Significant subtractions: DE Bobby McCray, QB Quinn Gray, DT Marcus Stroud (traded to Buffalo).
Biggest offseason move: Signing Porter as an unrestricted free agent. The Jaguars have struggled to make plays down the field since Jimmy Smith retired. They think Porter will remedy that, but his hamstring issues have prevented him from being on the field so far.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Quarterback David Garrard doesn't prove to be a one-hit wonder.
Rookie to watch: Groves and Harvey. They need more edge rush.
Overview: They are close. If Garrard can take his game to an even higher level in his second full season as the starter, this can be a deep playoff team. He has to be more aggressive in taking chances and did not do that in the preseason. If he can do that, he could be a 28-touchdown passer. The running game will be explosive with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, while the defense should be better than a year ago. New coordinator Gregg Williams will blitz his fast squad more. If they truly believe they are a contender, it's time to win the division. Are they good enough?
Significant additions: TE Alge Crumpler, DE Jevon Kearse, G Jake Scott, WR Justin McCareins, RB Chris Johnson.
Significant subtractions: G Jacob Bell, RB Chris Brown, DE Antwan Odom, DE Travis LaBoy, DT Randy Starks.
Biggest offseason move: Bringing back Kearse. Losing Odom and LaBoy means the Titans need to get some pressure from Kearse.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Vince Young improves as a passer.
Rookie to watch: Johnson. He is a young Marshall Faulk.
RB: Joseph Addai (6th overall)
QB: Peyton Manning (7th overall)
WR: Reggie Wayne (17th overall)
TE: Dallas Clark (63rd overall)
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (21st overall)
QB: David Garrard (92nd overall)
WR: Jerry Porter (136th overall)
TE: Marcedes Lewis (245th overall)
RB: Ahman Green (112th overall)
QB: Matt Schaub (114th overall)
WR: Andre Johnson (25th overall)
TE: Owen Daniels (120th overall)
RB: LenDale White (61st overall)
QB: Vince Young (130th overall)
WR: Justin Gage (186th overall)
TE: Alge Crumpler (126th overall)
|Complete Fantasy Draft Prep|
Overview: They will once again take on the characteristic of their coach, Jeff Fisher, which is to be tough and feisty. But to get to the next level, they must have Young step up as a passer. He has to cut down on interceptions and make more plays with his arms than his legs. Having a runner like Johnson will help. He has that explosive speed to back defenses off. The defense will be good as long as Albert Haynesworth stays on the field. When he went down last season, the defense suffered. Kearse has to give them eight sacks to go with Kyle Vanden Bosch on the other side. If things fall right, which means Young improving greatly as a passer, they could push the Jaguars to third in this division.
Significant additions: RB Chris Brown, C Chris Myers, CB Jacques Reeves, T Duane Brown, CB Antwaun Molden, RB Steve Slaton.
Significant subtractions: LB Danny Clark, LB Charlie Anderson, TE Jeb Putzier.
Biggest offseason move: Hiring Alex Gibbs as assistant head coach. He's one of the best line coaches and he will help the running game with his zone-blocking system.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can go 4-2 in the division, which won't be easy.
Rookie to watch: Brown. He will open as the starting left tackle, which is a big role for a rookie. How he handles it will impact the offense greatly.
Overview: The Texans are being built the right way. They will be a tough battle each week for their opponents. It's too bad the division is so tough. The most important thing is to keep receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub on the field together. They both missed time with injuries last season, and it hurt the offense. The running game lacks a No. 1 runner, so it will be by committee. The defense has stars in end Mario Williams and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The secondary has issues, especially with Dunta Robinson out for the first month or so as he comes back from a major knee injury. I'd say they're about a year or so away from really competing for the division title.
|AFC South Training Camp Tour|
|Indianapolis||Colts: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Jacksonville||Jaguars: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Tennessee||Titans: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Houston||Texans: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|