Indianapolis Colts Are the New Team To Beat Thanks to No. 18

Cole MarchettiContributor IDecember 16, 2008

New year, new season, same Peyton Manning. After a 3-4 start, a near non-existent running game, and a decimated front five, Manning has put his Colts back in to the position they know best, on pace for the playoffs.

The Colts have reeled off a seven-game win streak, and during that streak, Manning has completed 68 percent of his passes, amassed a QB rating of 100.9, and has thrown 13 touchdown passes to a mere three interceptions.

Not to mention the streak started with wins at home with New England, at Pittsburgh, and at San Diego. All of this with a running game that just recently moved up from its ranking of 32nd in the league to 31st.

Although he has not put up his routine monster numbers we are all used to, Manning has been having one of his strongest seasons to date. His center, Jeff Saturday, whom he has taken snaps from in 51 consecutive games prior to this season, has missed four games due to injury.

Starting guard Ryan Lilja missed the first 10 games before being placed on Injured Reserve, and the rest of the line has seen 18 starts by rookie lineman due to injuries to other starters.

While the offensive line has found it near impossible to open up lanes for Addai and Rhodes, they have pushed when it counts, in the red zone. All 11 of the Colts' rushing scores have come from inside the 20. They have also made it their main priority to protect their most prized asset as Manning has been sacked only four times during the seven game win streak.

During the Colts' 3-4 start, he was taken to the ground nine times. Manning has taken advantage of the improved protection, completing over 70 percent of his passes in the last four games.

Don't look now, but the Colts are a game away from clinching a Wild Card spot and are looking as dangerous as ever. The Colts have quickly changed their persona from severe disappointment to the team no one wants to see. There's no reason the Colt's offense will not produce points in the postseason.

The re-emergence of Dallas Clark against the Lions shows that Manning finally has his entire arsenal clicking on all cylinders. The one problem that has plagued Manning and the Colts all season, the deep ball, is a small issue when Manning continues to carve apart defenses without it.

What are defenses going to do when Manning can look to Wayne, Harrison, Gonzalez, Clark, and Addai or Rhodes out of the backfield? Not too often is he not going to find the open man.

During their Super Bowl run in the 2006 postseason, the defense took the criticism over their inability to stop the run personally and held some of the leagues best rushers to near nothing, do not make the mistake of thinking Manning and his offense do not have that same passion, they are not used to being criticized and do not like it.

Manning has overcome injuries to his receiving core, his backfield, his offensive line, and even his own two surgeries that kept him from taking a snap until the first regular season game.

There are not too many truly great cerebral quarterbacks left in this league, but I think it is safe to say without Manning the Colts would be looking at one of their worst seasons in years. He has put the team on his back, ignited the flame, and now the Colts are getting hot at exactly the right time and are only getting hotter.