NFL Preview - Seattle (1-2) at Indianapolis (3-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - No one in NFL history has ever won four league Most Valuable Player awards. Peyton Manning, who will lead his Colts into battle against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, might have something to say about that before all is said and done.
Manning, who took home the hardware in 2003, 2004, and again last season, might not end the year with as many passing yards as Drew Brees or have as many highlight-reel-worthy plays as Adrian Peterson. But anyone who has watched Manning's work in the team's last two nationally-televised wins would have trouble arguing against the quarterback's immense value.
Just six days after going to Miami and using only 35 plays to set up 27 Indianapolis points, Manning was at it again in Arizona last Sunday night. Manning made the defending NFC champs look like...well...the Cardinals, when he completed 24-of-35 passes for 379 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick in a 31-10 runaway.
And he did it, once again, with perhaps the weakest supporting cast of his 12- year-career, one that includes Reggie Wayne (7 receptions, 126 yards, 1 TD), tight end Dallas Clark (7 receptions, 62 yards, 1 TD), and little else of note.
The 33-year-old Manning, who underwent two knee surgeries prior to last season, is completing 68.8 percent of his passes, has seven touchdown passes to just two picks in his first three games, and has logged an AFC-best 117.7 passer rating. And oh yeah, the Colts are 3-0.
Indianapolis enters Week 4 a full two games ahead of its nearest competition in the AFC South - the 1-2 Jaguars and Texans, with defending division champ Tennessee pulling up the rear at 0-3.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, don't currently look like a candidate to slow Manning's roll.
Seattle has dropped consecutive decisions to the 49ers (23-10) and Bears (25-19) following an opening-week win over the Rams, and the same injury problems that ultimately sunk the Seahawks' 2008 season are rearing their ugly heads again in Jim Mora's first year on the job.
The most significant ailment at the moment is the one plaguing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was unable to play due to a fractured rib last Sunday and is doubtful against the Colts.
That will leave signal-calling duties again to backup Seneca Wallace, 5-8 as a longtime starting understudy to Hasselbeck.
Wallace was 26-of-44 for 261 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and three sacks absorbed in the loss.
Indianapolis has a 5-4 lead in its all-time series with Seattle, but was a 28-13 road loser when the clubs last met, at Qwest Field in 2005. The Colts had already clinched homefield advantage in the AFC prior to that Week 16 encounter, and rested many of their starters. Indy won the previous matchup in the series, a 37-24 triumph in Seattle in 2000. The Hawks were 31-3 winners when they last visited Indianapolis, in 1997, and the Colts' last home win in the series took place in 1994.
The Colts' Jim Caldwell and Seahawks' Jim Mora will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Seattle offense has not been consistent through three weeks, the attack has hinted that it could be strong if and when it finds a better measure of health. Wideouts Nate Burleson (20 receptions, 1 TD), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (14 receptions), and tight end John Carlson (15 receptions, 2 TD) have all had their moments, and running back Julius Jones (226 rushing yards, 8 receptions) has posted two strong outings in three appearances this year. In the loss to Chicago last week, Burleson went for 109 yards on nine catches, while Jones had 136 total yards on 22 touches with this third touchdown of the year. Wallace (388 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) will need to get Houshmandzadeh and Carlson more involved this week after the duo was held to a combined seven grabs for 63 yards versus the Bears. The entire offense would be lifted if former Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, who comes off knee surgery, will be able to participate for the first time this year. Jones' would-be replacement, Sean Locklear (ankle) is definitely out for Sunday, and it does not look good for guard Rib Sims (oblique) either. The Seattle line has allowed just four sacks through three games.
The depleted state of the Seattle offense matches with what the Seahawks will see when they look across the line of scrimmage. The Colts are likely to head into Sunday's game without their top two defensive playmakers - end Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) and safety Bob Sanders (knee) - while starting linebacker Gary Brackett (knee) and cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) are among the other notables who could be on the shelf. With Freeney out, his pass-rushing bookend Robert Mathis (9 tackles, 2 sacks) could command a double-team or two, which will place more scrutiny on safeties Melvin Bullitt (14 tackles), Antoine Bethea (21 tackles, 2 INT), and cornerbacks Marlin Jackson (4 tackles, 1 INT) and Tim Jennings (16 tackles) on the back end. With Brackett (17 tackles) possibly out, a run-stopping group that ranks just 21st against the run (125.7 yards per game) will rely on Ed Johnson (8 tackles) to make plays in the trenches and Tyjuan Hagler (13 tackles) and Clint Session (17 tackles) to work well behind them. The Colts limited the Cardinals to 24 rushing yards last Sunday, but Arizona ran the football only 12 times.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning (983 passing yards) has not missed a beat with Marvin Harrison now in involuntary retirement and No. 2 receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee) on the shelf, with Wayne (20 receptions, 2 TD) and Clark (18 receptions, 2 TD) allowing the future Hall of Fame quarterback to run the offense at a typically high level. Wayne leads the NFL in receiving yards (325) as Week 4 begins, while Clark has 14 catches, 245 yards, and two touchdowns in his last two games. Along with that duo, youngsters Pierre Garcon (7 receptions, 2 TD) and Austin Collie (6 receptions) have also played a role in the offense. Garcon has scored touchdowns in each of his last two appearances. The Colts running game seems to be coming around as well, as backs Joseph Addai (137 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 2 TD) and rookie Donald Brown (99 rushing yards, 1 TD) combined for 103 yards on 27 carries in the win over the Cardinals, with Addai contributing a touchdown catch from Manning. The offensive line has allowed just two sacks thus far, and the quick-firing Manning has scarcely been touched.
The Seahawks' injury problems are hardly limited to the offensive side of the ball. Linebacker LeRoy Hill (groin) will definitely miss the Colts contest, and a trio of cornerbacks - Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), Ken Lucas (groin), and Josh Wilson (ankle) - are questionable as well. There is some good news on the injury front for the Seattle defense, however, as middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (5 tackles, 1 sack) participated fully in practice on Wednesday after missing the Bears game with a hamstring problem. Given the injury situation in the secondary, pressure will be on ends Patrick Kerney (11 tackles) and Lawrence Jackson (7 tackles, 3 sacks) to do the near-impossible and put heat on Manning, while safety Deon Grant (10 tackles) and cornerback Kelly Jennings (8 tackles) will have to play over their heads in helping to stifle the Indianapolis receivers. The strength of the Seattle defense looks to be the run-stopping group at the moment, as tackle Colin Cole (11 tackles) and linebackers David Hawthorne (23 tackles, 1 INT), Aaron Curry (15 tackles, 1 sack) and Will Herring (14 tackles) played a major role in limiting Chicago's Matt Forte' to 66 yards on 21 carries last week. Cole had five tackles from his spot in the trenches while Hawthorne, filling in for Tatupu, had a whopping 16 tackles behind him.
The Seahawks have not been a greatly consistent offensive team, though even with their starting quarterback out of the lineup, the team has some decent fantasy plays. Burleson looks to be going through something of a renaissance after missing most of the 2008 season due to injury, and has been much more effective than the higher-profile Houshmandzadeh. He's worth starting, as is Jones, who is getting the number of touches you want from a starting running back. Carlson didn't have a great day last week but Wallace threw to him often last season and his performance against the Bears is probably an aberration.
Manning is giving every fantasy owner who owns him a chance to win each week, and Sunday should be no different. Wayne and Clark are must-plays as well, and Garcon, who seems to have a knack for big plays, is worth considering as a flex guy. With Addai and Brown splitting carries, it's tough to count on either man from a fantasy perspective.
The Seahawks have never been a great bet to win during the early afternoon slot on the road even when circumstances have been favorable for them, so the notion of them going in and pulling an upset in Indianapolis seems far- fetched. Wallace is a definite downgrade from Hasselbeck, and the team's other injuries along the offensive line and on defense will limit the team's effectiveness until further notice. The Colts have injuries too, including some pretty significant ones on defense, but as long as No. 18 is pulling the trigger it's silly to expect those absences to have an effect on the won-loss column.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 27, Seahawks 13
10/01 13:55:37 ET