Peyton Manning has been ruled out for Week 1; for the last 208 regular season games, he’s been the man starting under center for the Indianapolis Colts in every game since the start of the 1998 season. In fact, the last quarterback to start a game for the Colts other than Manning is Jim Harbaugh, the man who will begin his NFL head coaching career on Sunday when his 49ers face the Seahawks and whose last NFL pass came 10 years ago. If Manning was only a candidate to miss Week 1, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but word is that Manning will be out “for a while,” whatever that means. There’s even speculation he could miss the entire season. If that happens, are the Colts doomed?
His replacement is one Kerry Collins, a QB that retired this offseason after playing in 195 games in his career. As the Titans’ starting QB last year, Collins amassed a 2-5 record while completing just 57.6 percent of his passes. That’s not going to cut it in Indianapolis. However, from a fantasy perspective, it’s not Armageddon for pieces of the Indianapolis fantasy offense to have Collins back there. After taking over the starting job for good in Week 12 of last season, Collins averaged 237 yards per game while throwing nine touchdowns and just five interceptions. One huge caveat: his two best games in that stretch, which featured a 71.8% completion rate, five TDs and no INTs, came against the Colts. That must be awkward.
It’s clear the Colts offense is going to be worse without the field general taking snaps, and if you can get a good deal for your Colts, I would take it. However, don’t think all your Colts suddenly have zero fantasy value — Kenny Britt’s two best performances last year came with Collins under center. That being said, in real NFL terms I don’t see how this is a playoff team. The running game is subpar, the defense is terrible and now the only irreplaceable player on the team is out. Are the Colts doomed? In a word, yes. Is your fantasy team doomed? Hardly.
New York (WC)
I want to believe in the Bills, but with a terrible O-line, one receiving threat and not much on defense, I just can’t do it. Miami may be better than people realize — I still have some modicum of faith in Chad Henne. The Jets don’t quite have enough to topple the Patriots, who haven’t showed one ounce of slowing down.
Cincinnati is an absolute mess and should challenge for the No. 1 pick. There’s not a whole lot wrong with the Ravens, but I think the Browns are posed to make a run. Pittsburgh looks like the clear Super Bowl favorite to me, and Big Ben may take another step forward this year. I’ll take the Steeler defense, receivers and QB over those of the Ravens, which makes them an easy pick.
When you cut your semi-successful QB in order to start the other, other McCown, you’re asking to be ranked dead last in all pre-season predictions. The Colts are due to collapse with Manning out who knows how long (see above). Tennessee should be better than people realize with a competent quarterback, an emerging TE and one of the best RBs in the game. With Wade Phillips running the defense, this division is now Houston’s.
The Chiefs are due to go first-to-worst with a ridiculously hard schedule and Todd Haley mis-managing the team. Denver is a little better than last year’s record suggests, and Von Miller should make an instant impact. Oakland is closer to the playoffs than you would expect, though the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha is a killer. San Diego is a virtual lock to win this division and return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
The Giants are already crippled beyond belief and will have trouble stopping anyone on defense. If the offensive line doesn’t gel in a hurry, this is going to get really ugly. Washington doesn’t have much at QB, but they’ll do enough to keep them from having a chance at 2012’s top prospects. Dallas has an elite offense and a mediocre defense, but a full season from Romo would mean a playoff berth. The Eagles will start slow but look like Super Bowl favorites by December.
The Bears are ready to plummet after outperforming their talent last year. The offensive line is in transition and there isn’t much to speak of at WR or TE. Defense wins championships, but offense wins games. If the Vikings’ offensive line was better, I could get behind them as a potential playoff team. The Lions are the pick du jour for the all-hype team, but I’m not quite certain they have enough to break through. That leaves the Packers as the clear class of this division.
In a weaker division, the Panthers might be able to make a little noise, but I can’t see them winning more than six games here. The Buccaneers are due for a little regression, at least until the young defense takes a big step forward together; I think that’s coming next year. The Falcons look like one of the league’s elite teams, but I worry about their running game if Turner wears down. The Saints upgraded on both sides of the ball and look like a championship team.
The Seahawks are the leaders for the No. 1 pick in my mind, as poor QB and OL play should doom them all season. The 49ers aren’t going to make any big waves with Alex Smith at QB (cue, David Garrard), and the loss of Aubrayo Franklin really hurts. Arizona should challenge for a playoff bid in a weak division, and since we have no idea how good Kevin Kolb is, this could go either way. St. Louis added a great offensive mind to a great young QB and a head coach that works wonders on defense. Watch out, NFC — this is the biggest Super Bowl sleeper of them all.
AFC Championship: Steelers over Chargers
NFC Championship: Falcons over Saints
Super Bowl: Falcons over Steelers
This would be a surprising outcome to the Super Bowl, but the best team doesn’t always win the title (see last year’s Packers for an example). The Falcons are hungry after being embarrassed in last year’s playoffs, and when they sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team, they’ll have the “No one believes in us” factor. Atlanta fits the pattern of Super Bowl winners in recent years, so I’m going with them to upset teams with better records en route to a Super Bowl win.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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