Big Question: Will the Colts finally dip?

June, 22, 2010
6/22/10
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Is this the year the Colts, who've won at least 12 games seven years running, finally make a dip in the standings?

The Colts' sustained regular-season success is unparalleled. They have a great talent evaluator at the top of the organization in Bill Polian. They have a four-time MVP quarterback in Peyton Manning. They have an all-time great pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney. They have a core of veterans who simply know how to win, and an expectation level everyone buys into.

[+] EnlargeJeff Saturday
Larry French/Getty ImagesJeff Saturday leads an offensive line that has many questions heading into next season.
But, critics and devil’s advocates say, at some point things are bound to start to come apart.

The offensive line, keyed by aging center Jeff Saturday, has some questions and lost long-time coach Howard Mudd, who retired. Veteran offensive coordinator Tom Moore has a reduced role and Clyde Christensen, whose stint as coordinator in Tampa Bay was disastrous, has moved up into the role.

Young players like receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey will play key roles. What if they suffer slumps instead of jumps?

Freeney is getting older and the team suffers when he’s hurt. And although the team has good alternatives in place, safety Bob Sanders has not proved he can hold together for a long stretch. If they or another key guy goes down, won’t there be a time when the next man up proves unable to sustain the level of play?

Special teams regularly have failed to help the cause. While the team is optimistic things will improve, sometimes it feels like there is an acceptance that there just won’t be a big contribution. Adam Vinatieri doesn’t have the leg he used to and is coming off a year in which he fought injuries.

Jim Caldwell did some outstanding work in his initial season as an NFL head coach, but stumbled with some key decisions in the Super Bowl.

Like every team in the league, the Colts have issues. Scenarios like these could arise and make things awfully difficult for them.

And yes, at some point later in Manning’s career, it will become harder for them to win their standard 12 games.

But that time hasn’t arrived yet.

The Colts still are the safe bet to win the AFC South. With Sanders, receiver Anthony Gonzalez and draftees like defensive end Jerry Hughes and tight end Brody Eldridge primed to help, they stand to be better than they were in 2009.

So I’ve asked the big question, and now I’m answering it: No.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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