Web exclusive: How 'bout them Colts? 

Sports broadcasters give their prognosis


So, how are the Colts going to do this season?

“How’s Peyton’s knee?” responds NBC Sports football broadcaster Chris Collinsworth, referring, of course, to Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. “I just don’t know of a team that’s more dependent on one guy.”

Somewhere down the road — hopefully soon — we’ll find out the answer to Collinsworth’s query. But even with that enormous question mark hanging over Lucas Oil Stadium, NBC’s football announcers expect our hometown team to be good enough to challenge for the Super Bowl.

In interviews earlier this month during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, here’s what four of them had to say about the Colts’ chances and what they think will be the big story of the 2008-’09 NFL season. The Colts, by the way, begin their preseason at 8 p.m. Sunday against Washington. The game can be seen on WTHR (Channel 13).

NUVO: How are the Colts going to do this year?

Jerome Bettis: I like the Colts this year. The Colts are in a difficult position in that they’re good every single year, so teams look at their roster and want to get players from their roster. The Colts have been good at keeping their core players. The problem is, because of how good they are, they’re not drafting that high. They’re not getting the same kind of players they’re losing. Eventually, it’s going to catch up with them ...

I look at the Colts and say in all likelihood, they have another two years, three years of being very, very competitive. Then they’re going to have to regroup and do it all over again.

But right now, you look at their roster and they’re still as good as anybody. And their defense is unique in that they don’t have a lot of big-name players, but the players they have are impact players. Bob Sanders is an incredible force, [Dwight] Freeney is awesome. And you’ve got guys like [Robert] Mathis. Those guys make significant impact on that team. The question is, when you bring in these new guys, can they make the same impact?

All that being said, I like the Colts this year. With their schedule, they’ll be a little bit more beat up than the Patriots will be. I think they’ll be a strong No. 2 in the conference, but in the playoffs, it’s anybody’s game.

John Madden: The Colts are going to be good every year. Tony Dungy, Tom Moore, Peyton Manning — as long as they have that combination and the things they have, they’re always going to be. But at some point, you have to worry about these injuries. Peyton Manning’s going to be out for a while, Freeney’s been out, Harrison’s been out. At some point, you assume they’ll be better and they’ll be OK. You look at the AFC, it’s going to be them and New England. I like their chances.

Chris Collinsworth: People forget how improved their defense is. They turned a corner on the defensive side of the ball that I didn’t know would be possible because of the amount of money they had to spend on the offensive side. But if they can keep Mathis and Freeney and Sanders and they can all play, they can beat anybody.

The problem they have right now — forget New England for a minute. Jacksonville is tough. Houston is tough. Tennessee can play. There are no teams that are a joke. The Patriots are over there playing against the Jets, the Dolphins and the Bills. They’re going to have six wins without working too hard at it. Whereas the Colts, if they make it through the division 4-2 or 5-1, that’s going to be really strong for them. That’s where they’re going to have a problem — getting enough wins to have home football games [in the playoffs], even though that didn’t work out so well last year.

Al Michaels: They’ll do pretty well. Through the years, they’ve been really good. They’ve put together a tremendous operation and they’ve got Peyton Manning, so not a lot more needs to be said. Peyton’s injury notwithstanding, assuming he’s ready to play on opening day and the other guys come back ... They had a great year last year, a tremendous upset in the playoffs. The fact that San Diego beat them under those circumstances I thought was pretty stunning.

But they have almost everybody back, the defense that carried them to that Super Bowl win, all those guys are back. Bob Sanders is as dominant a defensive player as there is in the league. I think when you look at the league, there’s not a lot of change this year. I think it’s New England, it’s Indianapolis, it’s San Diego and Dallas and maybe Jacksonville comes up. I don’t see a changing of the guard. I don’t know if Indianapolis is one, two or three, but they’re right there. They’re a contender.

NUVO: What will be the big story in the NFL this year?

Jerome Bettis: I think from a team standpoint, the resurgence of the Eagles. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to be a team that’s going to shock a lot of people. I look for them to be really impressive this year.

John Madden: To me, we’ll be retelling the story from last year: the Giants. I like positive things — looking for excellence and greatness. You see it in what the Giants did, the way they played the Patriots in the last game of the regular season when it was a meaningless game — I loved that. Football needed that. They didn’t win, but they showed they could play and they played hard.

Chris Collinsworth: What I’m enjoying watching, even though the AFC got beat in the Super Bowl, I think the AFC is so loaded with teams. I think San Diego could win it, Indy could win it, New England could win it, Jacksonville could win it — and I know I’m leaving teams out. The mix has finally gotten so even that even though New England has to be the favorite, the football is so good. The league is wide open.

Al Michaels: Whatever it’s going to be, it hasn’t surfaced yet. As we speak, Brett Favre is the story everybody’s talking about, but that’s going to shake itself out at a certain point. When you went into last season, nobody could have predicted the New England story. So whatever it is, one of the reasons we love football and sports as much as we do is, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t predict anything, but something’s out there and it will be the dominant story — at least for the first half of the season.


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