Peyton Manning Injury and NFL Handicapping
by Trevor Whenham - 8/25/2011
For the first time in a long, long time I actually think Peyton Manning might be mortal. Despite the rumors of his injuries and the impact it could have on the start of his season I never believed it. But then the Colts took bold action — they signed Kerry Collins. This is a team that doesn’t seem to believe in competent, experienced backup quarterbacks, so this signing is by far the clearest indicator we have had that everything might not be rosy in Indianapolis. In fact, it’s hard to believe that things are good at all after this move.
The biggest thing we can be thankful of is that if they decided to sign an ancient veteran who briefly returned after last season at least it was Collins and not Brett Favre. Favre-mania is something no one ever needs to deal with again. Even without that circus, though, this latest development and the overall situation is going to have big implications on NFL handicappers looking to bet on the Colts early in the season. Let’s look at how:
Manning - Manning still insists he is going to be ready to play — or at least he did the last time he spoke. While I don’t doubt his determination or his toughness, I do have to start to question whether that will happen. If he was indeed on his way to playing and being ready then they never would have taken the step of bringing in a guy like Collins. Their backup situation — Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky — is far from a good one, but it is comparable to what they have always had behind Manning, so the only reason they would seek to adjust it is if they thought that Manning wasn’t going to be ready to play at the start of the season, or that he wouldn’t be particularly durable even if he was ready.
While Manning has seemed immortal over the course of his career, it’s important to look at context here. He’s 35 years old, and has taken virtually every snap for his team since he was a rookie in 1998 — and that includes a lot of playoff games as well. He’s not the most mobile guy the league has ever seen, so he has taken his share of abuse over the years. He’s also a very big, tall guy. Add that all together and it’s no surprise that he’s hurting.
I’m not suggesting that he’s washed up, but it seems inevitable that it’s going to be easier to get hurt and harder to recover from those injuries as time passes. That doesn’t mean that we have to discount what he can do, or consider him to be a lesser player. It just means that we really need to start to adjust our perception of him and the team. Favre and Manning have made us believe that quarterbacks can play forever, but missing games is actually a pretty normal part of being a QB.
Even if Manning does play right out of the gate it’s hard to believe he’ll be right. He’s on pace to miss most or all of training camp and the preseason, and he didn’t have the benefit of normal summer work. While he knows his system and his players as well as any player in the league, there is still rust to be knocked off, and he’ll still have to wrestle with his comfort over his injury and how it can hold up.
Collins - This is not the ideal signing — in my eyes Marc Bulger or Jake Delhomme both would have been better. Both were considered, but Colts’ GM Bill Polian drafted Collins in 1995, and has remained loyal to him.
There are many reasons to be concerned about his ability. For one, he retired in July because he said he no longer had the fire required to properly prepare for games. He hasn’t exactly done a great job of adjusting quickly to new systems, and he doesn’t typically play well early in games once he is comfortable with a team. None of that is going to instill his new team with confidence, and they are going to need all the confidence boosting they can possibly get if Manning can’t play. Collins is probably a better option than what they had — though I have respect for Orlovsky — but I wouldn’t exactly call myself optimistic.
Indianapolis Colts Schedule - This is where I would be terrified if I was a Colts fans — something I am definitely not. The early part of the schedule is really ugly. They open at Houston, then play an improving Cleveland team and an always tough Steelers squad at home. Then they travel to Tampa and host Kansas City. If Manning can’t play, or if he is not at his best, then it would be easy to fall into a very deep hole out of the gate. Things get a bit easier after that but it still isn’t an easy schedule — they have back-to-back trips to New England and Baltimore.
The Public - The chances the betting public will panic here are very high. They will really panic if Manning doesn’t start the season. They will panic if he plays but plays poorly. They’ll really panic if he were to start and then get re-injured. They will panic with every Collins incompletion or interception (both of which should happen with some frequency). Each loss will increase the panic levels.
The betting public isn’t patient at the best of times, and they certainly aren’t patient with public teams and popular players. It doesn’t get much more public than the Colts or more popular than Manning. The challenge for handicappers here, then, is not only going to be to try to figure out how the team will respond to whatever happens to them, but also how the public will perceive what happens, how that will impact line movement, and what that means for value. It promises to be a unique and significant challenge — unless Manning shows he really is immortal and we can just forget that any of this ever happened.
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