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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Power Rankings: Colts No. 16 but Manning still No. 1

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Updated Dec. 7

What is wrong with Peyton Manning?

If I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me that -- most of the time not in that same nice way -- I'd be a happy man doing my Christmas shopping this year.

Yes, I still think Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL. So, naturally, I get plenty of anti-Manning venom when things don't go well for him. As if I have something to do with the way he plays.

Look, I won't sugarcoat it: Manning is playing bad. For him, it's really bad. Whenever your name is mentioned next to Aaron Brooks in terms of passing, you know it's bad.

Manning has thrown at least three interceptions in each of the past three games. The last time somebody did that was Brooks in 2001. Brett Favre and Jim Kelly also did it, so he is in Hall company at least, but this is Manning's worst three-game stretch.

Brooks was known as a scatter-armed quarterback. Manning is known for his accuracy. So what has gone wrong?

He's pressing way too much. The Colts have always been about Manning. He has covered up ills over the years, such as so-so offensive line play, with his ability to get the ball out on time and move around some in the pocket, a subtle slide here, another there.

When he did that, he had security blankets to make it work. He had Joseph Addai, an adept receiver out of the backfield and a terrific blocker picking up blitzes. He had tight end Dallas Clark, arguably the best pass-catching tight end in football.

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In this three-game span, he's had neither. Clark has missed the past six games. He's also without Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie, two of his top-four receivers. He's throwing to guys off the practice squad.

There's a play from the Colts loss to the Patriots that best exemplifies how this has changed for Manning. Flushed out of the pocket on a play, he saw Jacob Tamme, Clark's replacement, in the back of the end zone. Manning threw a pass that was a little high, but Tamme didn't time his jump right and the ball went off his hands for an incomplete pass. Clark catches it for a touchdown.

That's the difference for Manning. He just seems to be trying to do too much to make up for what's missing. When he starts talking about decision-making, you know something is wrong. He has had five interceptions returned for touchdowns the past three games.

How does that happen?

The Colts can't run. They can't protect him. And the weapons are fewer. That adds up to problems that even Manning can't overcome. That's why the 6-6 Colts, who trail the Jaguars in the AFC South, are No. 16 in our CBS Sports.com Power Rankings this week and might be in elimination mode with four weeks to go.

It's funny to see when Manning struggles how the vultures circle. It's like some out there get a thrill out of seeing him play poorly.

Why is that? Is it too much exposure? Is it the name? Is it the way he plays? I know a lot of fans -- and media members -- are getting a real kick out of seeing Manning struggle.

But don't believe all this talk that this is the start of the end for him. He's got plenty of good football left in that right arm. Even with Tom Brady playing the way he is now, I'd take Manning. Sorry, Patriots fans.

Manning just needs some help. Covering up for problems has been his way during his career. This time it might be too big a task, even for him.

RANK TEAM MOVE (LW)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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