Could Peyton Manning Lock Up His Trip To Canton This Year?

Donna CavanaghCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 16:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts speaks to Tony Dungy, Jim Sorgi #12 and Tom Moore against the Houston Texans during the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 17, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Many people already consider Peyton Manning a surefire Hall Of Famer, and quite frankly we won’t argue with them. But we know there are still some doubters. This year, Peyton has to take on a larger leadership role than ever before in his pro career. His team is going through a major transition with a new head coach, Jim Caldwell, and a new offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen.

No matter how much successors strive for consistency with their predecessors, they are still different people with different ways of doing things. No two people, even if they have worked together in the past, perform exactly alike. How these differences translate to the team will, in our view, dictate how the Colts season goes.

If football were a normal business, these changes would be viewed as “safe” since you promoted the assistant head coach / QB coach to head coach and the wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator. Both coaches have been with the Colts for eight years. On the surface, this could look like a very smooth natural progression with little effect on the Colts.

However, let’s face facts. NFL football is anything but a “normal business.” Team composition changes from year-to-year, and the fine line that separates good and bad moves around the league each year as well.  Teams go from the cellar to the penthouse and vice versa in the blink of an eye.

The Colts could be in for a very difficult season if the Titans can maintain their stride from last season, the Texans continue to improve, and the Jaguars return to their 2007 form.

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If the Colts win their division and “make some hay” in the playoffs, we have to believe it will be in large part due to the leadership and playing ability of their quarterback. If that doesn’t push any doubter over the edge as far as Manning’s Hall Of Fame credentials, we don’t know what would.

When we look at the Colts of last season, we see two different teams. Early in the year, Manning struggled to get over his offseason knee surgery. Look at the chart below:

In the last nine games, the Colts’ offense was 92% better by our PossessionPoints.com measure than it was in the first seven games.

Was Peyton Manning’s health the only thing that caused this turn around? It is hard to say because the defense performed much the same in the last nine games as it did in the first seven. In fact, there was only a negligible one percent difference by our measure.

So, perhaps we are putting too much on the shoulders of Manning, but we will be watching the Colts this year with great interest. As we said, conditions appear right for the Colts to have a mediocre season, but in our view, the wildcard is Peyton Manning.

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