Peyton Manning had a neck fusion surgery on Thursday, according to multiple sources. What I wrote below was written on Wednesday night. Manning having a neck fusion surgery basically guarantees he isn't playing this year, and this news has to put the rest of his career in serious question.
Before we get to the award-winning preview and John Clayton bashing, I have to write a little bit about Peyton Manning. I think a lot has been missed about the likelihood of Peyton Manning being effective for the Colts this season.
In May, Manning had a second neck surgery. In July, Manning agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract extension. At the time, I wondered why the Colts would give $90 million to a guy who might never play again.
Now, Manning has been ruled out for the first game of the season. I think I understand the Colts wanting to reward a 35-year-old quarterback they felt made their franchise relevant and thought had a few really good years remaining.
He still might, it's just really difficult to believe his health will improve. My neck injury knowledge mostly comes from wrestling, the home of a wealth of medical knowledge begun by Gorilla Monsoon.
When a wrestler gets injured with a neck problem and requires intensive surgery, he is usually out for a year, unless he is Kurt Angle (his post-surgery career hasn't been an issue or pain free). To deal with the pain even after the surgery, painkillers appear to be the best way to function and the mobility of the wrestlers who had surgery is noticeably different.
Edge had to retire because he wasn't medically cleared—the neck fusion surgery he had could have eventually ruptured and led to paralysis. His symptoms included numbness and uncontrollable trembling in his arms and hands. The WWE reported Edge was diagoned with stenosis of the spine, a narrowing of the spinal cord due to punishment he continued to received. My guess is that Manning would receive some punishment on the field.
The surgeries Manning had aren't relieving the pain and to think he will be fine for Week 2 is way off. Why will one week be the difference for a guy who fought through pain for over 200 games in a row?
He is much closer to another surgery than he is to playing again—if he already hasn't had another one (according to an Indianapolis radio host). Are the NFL and the Colts organization willing to allow one of their biggest stars to go on the field with a serious neck issue?
Lee Roy Selmon just died and Dave Duerson committed suicide, so it's not like the NFL showed great success in protecting well-known players in the past. A Manning return soon would mean that the WWE has more concern for their athletes' safety than the NFL has (not to mention helmet and mouthpiece issues to help reduce brain trauma).
I love the NFL and love writing about it and watching the games. As a Bills fan, I saw the Kevin Everett incident a few years ago and nothing I have seen as a football fan has been scarier. Unless he is 100 percent, which may be impossible with the severity of the injury, I fear Manning being out there.
Just like Sidney Crosby, even the greatest of athletes need to understand the huge risk involved. It's not just a knee injury or joint pain in older age, it's their well-being that could be harmed.
Now to the NFL preview. The NFL is a league of change and every year between five and six new teams make the playoffs. Last year the new teams were the Falcons, Chiefs, Seahawks, Bears and Steelers. This year is a bit different, because the junk of the NFL still feels like junk and the playoff teams seem like they got richer. The new collective bargaining agreement makes it seem like there will be less turnover than usual, except that the talent has turned over just as much as usual.
In order to be on the safe side, it is logical to predict seven teams from 2010 that made the playoffs to return in 2011. A case can be made for all of the teams to return to the playoffs.
New England and New York both sought to grow their rosters and bring in ever more talent, which they did, even if the Jets didn't get the corner they desired.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore are well-run franchises with the benefit of playing the NFC West this year.
Indianapolis has made the playoffs nine years in a row.
Kansas City plays in a division that has two messes and a franchise looking to leave their home the first chance they get.
Philadelphia made their best attempt to become the Yankees of football during the offseason.
Green Bay is the champ and will have the dozen or more players that were injured last year returning healthy.
Chicago once again will have an impactful defense and a quarterback that has room to develop.
Seattle is in the NFC West.
New Orleans and Atlanta are really talented teams with tons of offensive firepower.
To look above and pick five teams that will not make the playoffs from that list is very tricky. My best guess is to pinpoint the seven teams most vulnerable to miss in 2011.
Atlanta hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive years in their franchise history. I like the Falcons, but the Packers really exposed their defense. Relying on Michael Turner as a feature back becomes more and more sketchy coming off a 300-plus carry season and approaching 30.
Tarvaris Jackson is their starting QB, and they were 7-9 last year. A dynasty they are not. Seattle's fans and stadium are awesome though.
Writing a nice thing about Chicago up above was difficult, since I don't see them having the same type of season this year. Chicago felt like a smoke-and-mirrors type team last year and Jay Cutler may get knocked out early with a very bad offensive line in front of him.
With Peyton last year, they barely made the playoffs and needed Jacksonville to fall apart at the end of the season. Without Peyton and with the Super Bowl in Indy, this isn't going to end well.
5. Kansas City
I actually think KC is still the best team in their division, but it's tough to believe that a team that jumped so high in one year isn't ready for a bit of a comedown. The question now is whether 8-8 or 9-7 will win the AFC West.
It's really tough to figure out which AFC East team will not make it, either New England or the Jets. One of them is going to blow up this year. The old saying, "Too many bad apples spoils the whole bunch," will come true as both teams signed destructive players to their rosters. I'm not sure if the Jets or Patriots will be more affected. I'm just picking the team with the better QB and less crazy receivers.
I think Baltimore has a very good shot at making the playoffs, because their schedule is really easy. However, I have to worry about their offense. No Todd Heap. Lee Evans is seen as a savior. Will Joe Flacco be able score enough points to cover for their good defense with an average secondary? I lean towards Pittsburgh; I think they have more weapons and the defenses are similar.
If five teams are going to miss the playoffs, five new teams are going to make the playoffs. Almost every year, two teams that were dumpster-diving the year before make the playoffs (six wins or less). I will guess that those five teams will come from the seven below.
1. St. Louis
My prediction of them winning the NFC West fell one game short last year, but they now seem to be the darling pick, especially since they acquired the quarterback who appears to be the best.
Somebody has to win the NFC West. The Cardinals have zero running game, which won't help an inexperienced QB, but their QB play was so horrendous last year that Kevin Kolb has to equal a few extra wins.
The Cowboys were a mess from the beginning last year, from an owner more focused on the Super Bowl than his team making it, to a head coach that lost respect by the week. Their main questions are if Tony Romo is a winner and if their depth issues on the offensive line and the secondary won't demolish them.
4. San Diego
Somebody has to win the AFC West. It's tough to imagine a top two offensive and defensive team not making the playoffs again. It's also tough to fathom how a team with such an easy schedule could finish 9-7. With Norv Turner and an owner who wants to move to L.A. quickly, the Chargers have many obstacles to overcome (besides the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders).
With Peyton Manning injured and Indy in an unfamiliar situation, the AFC South is up for grabs and most people are gravitating towards Houston. I've done that one too many times and think Tennessee is primed to surprise. With Vince Young gone and Jeff Fisher no longer at the helm, they should have a fresh attitude and some experience in Matt Hasselbeck. He did, after all, lead a 7-9 team to beat the Saints in the playoffs.
6. Tampa Bay
The idea that few people are talking about them is surprising. Of course, they could have a fallback (just like the Chiefs) and they are far from big spenders, but this team is young and fast, good defensively and has a young, developing, star QB. Plus, they went 10-6 last year.
It will be really difficult for Cleveland to unseat Baltimore and Pittsburgh. I think the scheduling gods have given them the opportunity to do so. This is seriously the schedule for Cleveland for their first 11 games:
@ Indy (most likely without Manning)
They could be 8-3 or 9-2 after this. Of course, they play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in four of the last five games, but this really does set up as an opportunity to load up early. I won't predict the Browns to win the AFC North like I did two years ago (oh boy, did I hear about that mistake! Not so much for the awful prediction, but because it's the AFC North—bastion of tradition), but I will say they have a good shot at a winning record.
I think Detroit is interesting, but a bit scary considering the unknowns about Matthew Stafford remaining healthy through a season. The Giants are a good team that might be a MASH unit by October and Houston will once again tease and disappoint.
Just know that for all the talk about super teams and free-agency spending, the most successful teams will either be the best managed in terms of ownership or have one of the best QBs (see Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New York, Indy and New England).
My best guess at the playoff predictions, which will mean absolutely nothing because so few people go back and actually review these, are below. I did pick the Chiefs last year, so at least I have a sliver of credibility.
AFC East - New England
AFC South - Tennessee
AFC North - Pittsburgh
AFC West - Kansas City
AFC Wild Cards - Cleveland, New York Jets
NFC East - Dallas
NFC South - New Orleans
NFC North - Green Bay
NFC West - Arizona
NFC Wild Cards - Philadelphia, Tampa Bay