The Dubious Future of the Indianapolis Colts

Brendan O'HareContributor ISeptember 5, 2011

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Indianapolis Colts injured quarterback Peyton Manning looks on from the sideline during the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have announced that Peyton Manning will not practice this week, and will likely be listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. According to football writer Aaron Schatz, this is like, really, really bad. Although the Colts have yet to officially announce Manning as "doubtful," it seems eminent.

Manning has done almost nothing this entire shortened preseason, and neck injuries are not easily ameliorated. It all sets up a highly horrifying scenario for Colts fans, where Kerry Collins may be forced to start the season opener and not fumble snaps at too high a rate.

A team like the Colts, one who has consistently been at the top of the NFL class for about the past decade, should not have too much trouble in the absence of their quarterback. They won't be quite a dominant force, but they also should not spontaneously combust—as they did during the preseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to go 3-1 at the beginning of last season when Ben Roethlisberger was suspended, and they did it against a cavalcade of opponents that had a combined record of 41-23. The 2008 New England Patriots went 10-6 despite having Matt Cassel instead of Tom Brady as a quarterback. If you are truly an elite NFL team, the loss of a quarterback should not be ultimately all that debilitating.

The problem is that the Indianapolis Colts have become too reliant on Peyton Manning's almost supernatural ability. They have built the team around him, but not the way say, the Forbidden City was built. The Colts are a team that is made better solely by the fact that Peyton Manning plays quarterback. He makes mediocre receivers into respected members of the NFL, and his pocket presence overshadow leaks in the offensive line. If you take Manning out of the equation, the Colts become an NFL team that doesn't really impress. They have built the team to the extent that Peyton can make everyone better. Initially, a player is only good as Peyton needs them to be, and then their overall rating skyrockets.

The Colts receiving core is made up of aging, yet still good receivers (Reggie Wayne, a year or two from entering the twilight of his career), overrated recipients of external greatness (Pierre Garcon) and those who can't stay on the field (Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez). They have yet to enter a world where Peyton Manning is not throwing them the ball, and have harshly released this during the preseason. No one in the Colts organization is ready for a future without Manning, even if it is only for a week.

You can take this article as a vast overreaction to an injury that may not even sideline Manning this season. But realize this: The Colts are not ready for a future that doesn't involve Peyton Manning. Look at their first-round draft choices since 2005: 

2005 Marlin Jackson CB Michigan
2006 Joseph Addai RB Louisiana State
2007 Anthony Gonzalez WR Ohio State
2008 No Pick    
2009 Donald Brown RB Connecticut
2010 Jerry Hughes DE Texas Christian
2011 Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College

That is an overwhelming catalog of anonymity and mediocrity. Even though the Colts have a perception as a team that "drafts well" and is "smart," their recent draft selections have been a compilation of ignominy and ineptitude. They are consistently bailed out by the fact that Manning is just good enough to ensure that the rest of the team doesn't screw anything up.

The Colts are an old team built for the now, and that usually never works out. If they were to suddenly lose the biggest cog in their machine for an extended period of time, the whole operation would collapse upon itself, just the way it has this preseason. Preseason is not really the best indicator for predicting the future, but you have to take something from the fact that the Colts have been an utter mess offensively, even with the arrival of Kerry Collins.

A Colts future without Peyton Manning will mirror the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, who were dismantled sans LeBron James. If the Colts have to play Week 1 without Manning, it will be a good indicator of the organization's future.

And it may not be all that bright.

Brendan O’Hare runs the sports/pop culture blogging conglomerate PineRiders, which has been linked to by Deadspin, EDSBS, Puck Daddy, and With Leather. If you want to be in Brendan’s next mailbag, contact him Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOHarePR.