The Colts and sucking for Luck

There’s a hesitancy to judge too harshly after Week 1. Yes, the NFL season is a meager 16 games long, making any loss a meaningful loss. But no matter how good or bad a team looked, it’s impossible to accurately forecast long-term success based on one game. Trends will emerge, new schemes will take time to settle in–especially after a locked out offseason–and the appropriate and expected rising or falling will take place.

Then there’s the Colts, and it’s nearly acceptable already to abandon all guarded optimism. They’re a mess offensively without Manning, and they’re a mess defensively with or without Manning. Colts owner Jim Irsay continues to give vague updates on Manning’s status and the likelihood of No. 18 appearing on a football field this year, with the latest a timetable of two-to-six months. You sure it wasn’t two-to-18 months, Jim?

This has prompted the slow emergence of the Suck for Luck campaign in Indianapolis, which was further fueled by Bill Polian’s presence at the Stanford/Duke game to scout Andrew Luck over the weekend. The Stanford quarterback has been compared to Manning, and dubbed a Manning brother from the neck down. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent, and only the bravest, most fearless general manager would pass on Luck, regardless of their team’s current quarterback situation.

This leads to two important questions: will the Colts suck enough to earn the first overall pick in the 2012 draft? And if so, would they actually draft Luck?

Probably not, and yes.

Over the last 10 years, the best record for the worst team in the league is 4-12 (2003 Chargers), and the worst is the infamous goose egg posted by Detroit in 2008. The average win total for the team holding the first overall pick in April over the past decade is 1.7, meaning that if the Colts win more than two games their odds of sucking enough for Luck are minimal.

With that history lesson in mind, let’s take a look at the Colts’ schedule and see if we can find at least three wins with Kerry Collins under center.

  • There’s an opportunity for a quick confidence boost next week against Cleveland, a young and improving team that’s still rebuilding this year under a new coach and a newly-installed West Coast offense.
  • Indy’s next opportunity for a win comes in Week 6 on the road against Cincinnati after losses to Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Kansas City. The Chiefs looked equally atrocious this week while hosting Buffalo, but Matt Cassel’s health will improve, and Jamaal Charles won’t be held to a rather pedestrian 56 yards on 10 carries too often.
  • Next up is a loss to Drew Brees and the Saints, followed by a divisional battle against Tennessee. We’ll count this as a win tentatively, but it’s easier to trust Matt Hasselbeck to grow into the Titans’ offense quickly than it is to do the same with Collins in Indianapolis. There’s also this dude named Chris Johnson.
  • Even if our glass continues to be half-full, there are four more realistic winning opportunities the rest of the way (two against the Jaguars, one more against Tennessee, and against Carolina).

That’s optimistically eight wins, but more likely six, which saves Polian from dealing with the migraine of having the top pick and being forced to select Luck less than a year after Manning was given a five-year, $90-million contract extension, $28 million of which is guaranteed. However, that still places the Colts’ first-round pick in the 7-10 range during a draft expected to be rich in QB talent at the top, with Matt Barkley and Landry Jones also likely declaring.

Of course there is the possibility that if modern medicine/massaging/Indian herbal tea prevails, Manning could return by late November to play what will likely be a handful of meaningless games. This would increase the opportunity to win those meaningless contests, but even if Manning’s recovery progresses smoothly without even a small setback (that’s gone well so far…), logic should prevail. The Colts shouldn’t risk a re-aggravation of Manning’s delicate injury by forcing their fragile quarterback to slug through poor conditions late in the season while playing for a sub .500 team.

This was going to be a borderline playoff team even with Manning after an offseason of little significant personnel change, and units on both sides of the ball that ranked near or well-buried in bottom half of the league in 2010 (29th in rushing offence, 25th in rushing defence, 13th in passing defence).

Accuse us and others of rapid knee reflexes if you’d like, but this isn’t about to get better quickly, no matter how many nice, optimistic words come out of Jim Caldwell’s mouth.┬áManning will turn 36 next March, and his three neck surgeries over the last 19 months have clearly raised serious questions about his ability to finish his contract and play football as he creeps towards 40. Last April there were brief rumors about the Colts possibly drafting a talented but raw quarterback (think Ryan Mallett or Colin Kaepernick) to be groomed under Manning for several years (think Aaron Rodgers backing up Brett Favre).

This April, they might not have a choice.