There has been much talk lately about the demise of the Colts once Peyton retires. From what I can see, there is a lot of different opinions on the issue, so, I figured I would give my opinions on the topic.
First, I believe it would be an insult to Peyton Manning to expect the Colts to continue how they have for the last 10 years once he's gone. The Colts have built their entire franchise around him, drafting playmakers and pass-protecting linemen on offense, and building their defense so that it can stop the pass once the Colts open up a lead. The coaches have been groomed to allow Peyton to have a lot of control, and the playbook and signals are designed specifically to take advantage of Mannings incredible mind and instincts. When he retires, the Colts will have at least a year or two of rebuilding. They have to. They will need to completely change the makeup and direction of the team, because getting another Peyton Manning will not happen again in this lifetime. To think that another quarterback will be able to take that spot so quickly, and have the unparalleled success that Manning and the Colts have had, is an insult to Manning's unique talents.
Second, it is unrealistic to expect the Colts to "keep on winning" as they have for the last decade with Manning at quarterback. The Colts have had success unlike anything the league has ever seen during Manning's career. The Colts had 7 straight 12 win seasons, 9 straight 10 win seasons, 9 straight playoff appearances, 8 division championships, and has had the most regular season wins of the decade. That kind of success is matched by only a few teams in league history, namely the dynasties of Cowboys, Steelers, and 49ers. And yet, all of those teams have endured their share of losing.
From 1966 to 1985, the Cowboys missed the playoffs twice. TWO TIMES. In nearly twenty years. They also won 2 Super Bowls and appeared in 3 more. It was an incredible run, and the Cowboys were by all means a "great" franchise. Yet, they had to have a rebuilding period. From 1986 to 1990, the Cowboys had losing seasons, and rebuilt. Then, in the 90's another dynasty team was built, one that missed the playoffs once in 9 years, and won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. And then, in the early 2000's, they had another losing period, one that led to a new period of winning, though one that has not come anywhere close to the dynasties of old.
From 1972 to 1984, the Steelers made the playoffs every year but two, including winning 4 Super Bowls in 6 seasons. But they too, rebuilt, making the playoffs only once from 1985-1991. They had a string of playoff appearances from 1992-1997, then had three down seasons. In the 2000's the Steelers have never gone more than 2 years straight in the playoffs, but have used those off years to gear up for another couple playoff years.
From 1981 to 1998, the 49ers missed the playoffs only twice, and won 5 Super Bowls. That is success. That is a great franchise. And yet, that has declined since then, the franchise trying desperately to return to that level it once acheived.
From 1960 to 1967, the Packers went to the playoffs 6 times, and were the champions in 5 of those. But, from 1968 to 1992, success was sparing, making the playoffs only twice, and having only 6 winning seasons. But then, from 1993 to the present, the Pack has missed the playoffs no more than 2 seasons in a row. But, they have had losing seasons.
The point of comparing those franchises, was merely to point that all franchises, even the great ones, have periods of losing, times of rebuilding between the good times. I fully expect the Colts to experience a rebuilding period after Manning is gone, although I do expect them to return to their winning ways. Now, some will likely say that this is a "losing mentality," that for a great franchise, losing is unacceptable. I plead with you, do not fall under this trap. It will cause you to be disappointed, bitter at the establishment, and ultimately failing to support the team you love. As fans of a team, we support them. We support through the thick and thin. That doesn't mean we don't criticize, but criticize with an understanding mind. It's an unrealistic burden to expect the front office to keep the Colts at the level they have been under Peyton Manning once he is gone, and a burden that will likely cause more grief than not.
Personally, I will enjoy the rest of the Manning years immensely, having the unique privilege to watch and cheer for the GOAT. And I will look forward to the moves that the team takes to alleviate the pain when he is gone. I look forward to the franchises new direction (though, don't get me wrong, I wish the Manning era could last forever). I would not be surprised if BP and Irsay got us through without a huge drop off in wins, for that is how much I respect their abilities. However, I don'e expect to, not at all. Not after losing a Peyton Manning. I do expect to rise again though. To rise back into the NFL's best, to win once more. Some may support when the team is doing well, and condemn or leave when the team is losing. But I will cheer for them all the way, I will support them all the way, because they are my team, and my loyalty isn't based on wins and losses, but on something more than that. Something... different.