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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 8:44 AM

In a media world that loves creating and talking about conspiracy theories…it's interesting that the following storyline has received so little national play. Could the Indianapolis Colts be tanking the season so they can have the #1 draft pick and take Andrew Luck out of Stanford?

Few quarterbacks will enter the NFL with the kind of 'can't miss' label that Luck is wearing at the moment…and will certainly be wearing even more brightly leading up to the draft. You'd think Indianapolis would be in great shape for a few more years with Peyton Manning running the show. But…

*Manning is getting old
*Manning's neck injury may be even worse than people are letting on
*Andrew Luck is seen by many as the next Peyton Manning
*Colts GM Bill Polian is a genius!

This potential story got legs when the Colts had Manning undergo additional neck surgery that was likely to keep him out at least a couple of months…and possibly for the whole season. This isn't much of a team without Manning, as you've seen in the first two games of the season. If he misses a couple of months, they're not going to rally and make the playoffs because nobody does that from a 2-6 head start (or worse) with a rusty quarterback.

Sending Manning back for the extra surgery virtually guaranteed this would be a wasted year. If you're going to waste a year, why not waste it as bad as it can be wasted so you can pick up a high impact start that will help you next year when Manning is hopefully back. Sound familiar? The San Antonio Spurs built a dynasty that way…falling apart so badly when David Robinson got hurt that they were able to draft Tim Duncan.

It's interesting that the Colts didn't go with Curtis Painter as their starting quarterback this season. If you're going to be losing anyway, why not go with your normal backup and get him some experience? Indy brought longtime veteran Kerry Collins out of retirement. The kind of guy who can do what management wants late in a close game…WINK WINK!

Hey, maybe Indianapolis will shock the world Sunday Night on NBC with a stunning win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. It might take a punt return, a kickoff return, and a pick six off Ben Roethlisberger to get much on the board. But, this is the NFL and something strange seems to happen every week.

Handicappers should at least be aware of the possibility that the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes started before the 2010 season even began…with smart teams trying to figure out how to position themselves to get that #1 pick without obviously tanking the whole season in front of their loyal fans who have to pay an arm and a leg to watch games. If your quarterback can't play…and you're a team that's known for lacking depth to begin with…it becomes very easy to have a horrible season in a way that doesn't look blatantly conspicuous.

Here's how the race to the bottom is shaping up two weeks into the season.

Indianapolis 0-2
Seattle 0-2
Miami 0-2
Minnesota 0-2
Kansas City 0-2
Carolina and St. Louis 0-2

We tried the rank those in the most logical order for tanking. Seattle has already realized that the Tavaris Jackson experiment is going to be a disaster. They could really use somebody like Andrew Luck at quarterback. Interesting that a former USC head coach would be asking a Stanford quarterback to save his team were that storyline to play out. Luck may not want to play in Seattle.

Miami thought Chad Henne was going to have a big year. He laid a big egg vs. Houston last week. The Dolphins are probably already out of the AFC East race already given the starts of New England and the NY Jets. Tony Sparano is a favorite in the 'first coach fired' pools. The Dolphins have a real shot here.

Minnesota was planning to be competitive this year, and probably isn't of the mindset right now to make a run at the bottom. But, Donovan McNabb has been so shaky in crunch time that a collapse may be inevitable. McNabb is not the future answer at quarterback for this franchise based on the best evidence.

Kansas City made the playoffs last year. It's difficult to fall that far off the map if your starting quarterback didn't just go under the knife. But, we'd have to say that it looked like Kansas City was tanking the second halves of both of their first two games already! Maybe they were just discouraged…or maybe there are problems behind the scenes we don't know about. Kansas City's current form makes them a serious contender for worst in the NFL. We're skeptical right now that this is really what they have in mind.

We paired Carolina and St. Louis together because they both already have #1 quarterbacks who represent the future of their franchises. They might be 0-2…but they are not good candidates to lose out on purpose to try and get Luck. St. Louis wants to win its division. Carolina may play it by ear…Nothing wrong with a 4-12 season with a rookie quarterback that gets you a good draft pick even if it isn't Luck. (It might take 0-16 or 1-15 to get Luck!).

Here are some 1-1 teams who could conceivably be awful the rest of the way, and find themselves in position to get creative in December.

Jacksonville 1-1
Cincinnati and Cleveland 1-1
Oakland and Denver 1-1

Jacksonville has already installed rookie Blaine Gabbert in the starting lineup. He doesn't have the upside of Luck though. Some are skeptical his college skills will translate well to the NFL. The Jaguars could easily be plotting a future that includes a move to Los Angeles with Golden Boy Luck as their hallmark player.

Cincinnati and Cleveland are both trying to win right now with young quarterbacks who played college ball in Texas. In terms of future NFL potential, Luck would be an upgrade over either one. These teams are in a tough position because they're trying to sell their current quarterbacks to local fans. But…should there be an injury…or should McCoy's lack of arm strength convince the franchise he's not the future…things could get interesting in Ohio.

Oakland and Denver are paired because both look to be mediocre teams with veteran quarterbacks who could still play for awhile. Awkward spot! Do you go 6-10 with these guys (plus or minus a couple of games) and try to build around them? Or, do you swallow your medicine, live with local outrage for a few months…then set a new course for the future with a budding star?

You can see why this could become an important story for handicappers down the road. And, you can see why Indianapolis is so well-positioned at the start of the race because of Manning's injury. They have a built in excuse. They have a fan base that would be understanding of the situation. They have a team that doesn't even look competitive at the moment.

Of course, the question Sunday Night is whether they'll be good enough to cover a big spread as a home underdog. A 24-17 loss works just as well as 31-3 loss when you're thinking about the draft. The Colts could easily have some pride in front of a national TV audience on NBC.

JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his sources all week to gauge the Colts mindset coming into this game. He knows how important Sunday Nights are to Las Vegas gamblers because they can turn a bad day around (if you lose with your own picks) or make a great day even better (if you're winning with NETWORK!). Check out our offers here at the website for the latest news on what's available on this sizzling Sunday. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back Monday here in the NOTEBOOK to preview Washington/Dallas. There's really not much in the trenches to preview about Pittsburgh/Indianapolis. One team's obviously much better than the other right now. Covering the spread is going to come down to motivation. That's why JIM HURLEY has sources in every NFL city…and that's why YOU should make JIM HURLEY your source for pro and college football winners!


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