Saturday, August 4, 2012

PREDICTION: Curse of the Manning Move to frustrate Colts

By Dan Nowak

I am convinced the upcoming NFL season is going to be a wild and wacky affair. One obvious impact on the fantasy football season is the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck scenario.
I am convinced that allowing Peyton Manning to move on to the Denver Broncos will have the same implications as the Curse of the Bambino scenario when the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
For years after Babe Ruth left the Red Sox the team struggled in the post season – sometimes just to get to the poststeason - while the Yankees routinely dominated the post season. After shipping out Manning, I see the Colts struggling over the next decade – at times just to make the playoffs - as the Curse of the Manning Move takes flight and evolves. On the flip side, I see Manning having the Broncos poised for some serious runs toward the Super Bowl with 3-5 good years left in the tank.

I have been successful in making preseason predictions in the NFL and ultimately fantasy football. One of the most challenging and fun aspects of my job is breaking down the trends, stats and moves, including postseason events, heading into a new NFL season. During that process hunches and gut feelings emerge with certain scenarios looking more and more like sure things. The result is sharing that thought process to give fellow fantasy football team owners an edge when it comes to drafting their team.

As far as this season goes, Manning’s return from surgery has been impressive early on with the Broncos. History has shown this is a dedicated man when it comes to his craft with a burning desire to win every time he steps on the field. He has something to prove after a full season of inactivity due to his neck surgeries and he certainly wants to show everyone he is still the Manning of old.
Like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, Manning also makes everyone around him better. The Broncos certainly have the pieces in place for success, especially fantasy football success.
Manning has the kind of physical receivers to work with that he never had at Indianapolis. Eric Decker has emerged as a reliable and productive route runner. I believe with an elite quarterback chucking the ball Decker easily projects to having 100 receptions, 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Last season with Tim Tebow as quarterback, in his last seven games Demaryius Thomas ended up with nearly 800 yards and four touchdowns. What keeps replaying in my mind is his 80-yard touchdown run in the wild card game to beat Pittsburgh. Thomas’ ceiling is quite high with Manning at QB and I see him projecting to about 80 receptions, 1,500 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
The Broncos also added some key pieces to the puzzle to help Manning. Brandon Stokley and Andre Caldwell provide depth at the receiver position. We know how much Manning loves to target tight ends and the Broncos added veterans Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen who should make an immediate impact. Tamme, a former Colt who Manning is familiar with, is the likely top tight end target.
Taking a hit will be the running backs whose production will likely be down a bit with another running back-by-committee situation. Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman lead the way. McGahee is the No. 1 running back but with a good preseason effort Moreno could emerge as a productive guy with his catching ability.
How does all this project for Manning? I expect to see 4,000-plus yards and 35-plus touchdowns.
Note fantasy friends that the Broncos also have a friendly fantasy football playoff schedule with Oakland on a Thursday night in week 14 and Cleveland in week 16.

Now we get to the Colts and the Curse of the Manning Move.
When the Colts released Manning, that very day I told everyone who would listen the team would regret that move. Although it would have cost the Colts some money to keep both Manning and Luck, I thought Manning would stay on at least a year to ease Luck into the NFL pressure cooker.
Now don’t get me wrong. Understand that this is not an indictment of Luck’s talent at quarterback. I know how productive Luck was in college. He elevated the program at Stanford and being selected a Walter Camp All-American and Player of the Year last season was one of several post-season awards that validated that talent.
There just seems to be a perfect storm of events that are conspiring to hurt Luck in the NFL and cause the Colts to crumble for years to come.
As good as Luck is, as much as the experts say Luck is NFL ready, we still have to see how that talent transitions to the much faster and physical level of the NFL. He hasn’t played in a live NFL game yet.
I can recall a trio of quarterbacks who, like Luck, were drafted in the first round and had great college careers but ultimately failed in the NFL – Matt Leinart (2006 draft, Arizona, 10th pick), David Klingler (1992 draft, Cincinnati, sixth) and Jerry Tagge (1972 draft, Green Bay, 11th).
There will be pressure. While there will be a certain amount of pressure on Robert Griffin III and his debut in Washington, Griffin isn’t replacing a legend like Luck is with Manning. Colts fans used to winning games in the postseason with Manning won’t be happy with another 3-13 finish like last season.
The Colts should finish better this season. But Colts management hasn’t made it easy for Luck. Receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Garcon are gone along with tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme and longtime center Jeff Saturday.
Other changes that will make things interesting is the addition of new head coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. How long it takes for the veterans and new coaches to get on the same page will be key to any success.
Former UConn back Donald Brown will be the every-down back this season and is expected to take some pressure off Luck. But Brown has been mediocre at best in three NFL seasons.
One plus is the addition of tight end Coby Fleener. He’s a rookie but played with Luck at Stanford. The Colts also re-signed receiver Reggie Wayne. But he’s on the downside of his career and will likely be double and triple teamed with Garcon out of the picture.
Also, Luck isn’t immune to injury. In 2009 he suffered a finger injury on his throwing hand against Notre Dame and missed the post season. Hopefully he will stay healthy because you don't like to see any NFL player get hurt.

Don’t be surprised to see these factors come together to sow the seed for the Curse of the Manning Move and produce a frustrating future for the Colts.

I’m a guy who believes in karma. I think the Colts created some bad karma by not keeping the guy that elevated their program the last 12 years (1999-2010) he played there. I see the black cloud hovering over the Colts for at least 10 years. There needed to be a transition period going from Manning to Luck.
This season, I think Manning leads the Broncos to the AFC championship game, maybe even the Super Bowl. I think Luck does his best to get the Colts to finish 7-9.

(Dan Nowak is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and was the champion of the 2010 FSWA Insiders Fantasy Football League. Follow Dan on Twitter @NHRDanNowak or friend him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NHRDanNowak.)

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