This team is much stronger than the one that won just two games with a combination of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins at quarterback in place of Manning in 2011, and it's a lot better than the one that won just four games with Jacoby Brissett serving as the primary starter in place of an injured Luck in 2017.
Regardless of whether tanking for Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa is the right strategy, the Colts are too good to tank.
Frank Reich is a better head coach than Chuck Pagano was, and general manager Chris Ballard has already established himself as one of the best executives in professional football. Luck was a big reason the Colts won nine of their last 10 regular-season games last year, but Reich and Ballard also put him in an ideal position to succeed.
They were also successful because the offensive line—which for much of Luck's career was a tremendous liability—became a tremendous asset, with rookie guard Quenton Nelson earning an All-Pro nod. He should be even better in his sophomore campaign, as should second-year right tackle Braden Smith. Center Ryan Kelly is also ascending, talented tight end Eric Ebron should continue to rise after a breakout debut season in Indy, top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is in his prime, and left tackle Anthony Castonzo is steady.
Don't forget that the 2017 Colts also surrendered 25.3 points per game, which was the third-worst average in the NFL. That defense lacked top-level talent and was toothless, with just 25 sacks and 20 takeaways. But this unit has an All-Pro linebacker in Darius Leonard, who should also be on the rise coming off his first full NFL offseason. Pierre Desir has emerged as a pillar at cornerback, Kenny Moore had a breakout season at that position in 2018, and safety Malik Hooker has a bright future.
The 2018 Colts defense had 38 sacks and 26 takeaways. It ranked 10th in the NFL with 21.5 points per game allowed. And now, Ballard has added four-time Pro Bowler Justin Houston to the defensive front.
Brissett will have considerably more support than he did when he lost 11 of his 15 starts in place of Luck two seasons ago, and his circumstances are personally better as well. He made his debut with the Colts that season just eight days after they acquired him from the New England Patriots. Now, he's spent the last 18 months working in Reich's system. He still has a sub-60 career completion percentage, and he might not be capable of carrying the Colts to the playoffs, but he's talented and relatively experienced, and he looked solid with a 113.5 passer rating this preseason.
In his most recent preseason action against the Cleveland Browns, the 2016 third-round pick and former backup to Tom Brady completed eight of 10 passes for 100 yards and led an impressive first-half scoring drive that culminated in a rocket touchdown throw to Ebron. Brissett also had an impressive first-down scramble on a bootleg, and he worked the pocket artfully before he hit Ebron on a fourth-down conversion.
"We've got a good football team. This is a good football team. We're young, good on both fronts, some good young skill players and a good young quarterback in Jacoby Brissett," Ballard said this weekend, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper. "We're not gonna ask Jacoby Brissett to be Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck was a unique, unique player, but Jacoby Brissett is a winning football player in this league. Jacoby Brissett is a rare, rare leader. He is. He's a rare human being, man. That locker room loves Jacoby Brissett. They love him."
Beyond that, Ballard has drafted and maneuvered free agency so well and Reich has coached so well that the Colts are one of only a few NFL teams in position to be competitive despite losing their starting quarterback.
Are they still a Super Bowl contender? Probably not. At Caesars, their championship odds plummeted from 15-1 to 30-1, while their over/under on wins dropped from 10 to 7. The Houston Texans are undoubtedly favored to win the AFC South now.
But the AFC looks to be wide-open this year, and the Colts could remain in the postseason picture throughout the fall. They open the season against a shorthanded Los Angeles Chargers squad, they have winnable games against the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders later that month, and the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very beatable beyond that.
Luck's retirement is a massive blow, but counting out the Colts right now would be a mistake. The team remains highly skilled and mentally strong. They were victorious in each of their last four games decided by fewer than five points in 2018, and that fortitude should have them prepared to battle without their lost leader in 2019.
The downside, of course, is that could cost the Colts a chance to draft Tagovailoa or Herbert, both of whom are expected to be top-10 picks. But Ballard aced the 2018 draft and was named Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America in January.
Indy will have to trust Ballard to find the team's next great franchise quarterback without a super-premium draft pick, because the Luck-less Colts definitely don't suck.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.