Yesterday, the NFL suspended Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker for the first four games of the season for violating the league's PED policy.
Obviously, losing a player like Welker is a big loss for the Broncos offense. Last year, Welker caught 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns, continuing to be one of the most dangerous slot receivers in the NFL. Last year against the Colts, Welker caught 7 passes for 96 yards. Both the Colts and the Broncos know what a big loss it is for Denver to be playing without Welker.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano certainly acknowledged the impact it will have but was quick to note that the Broncos have plenty of other receivers who can and will step up. "He's a great player, been a great player for a long, long time," Pagano said of Welker. "They're going to miss him, but they've got plenty of weapons for Peyton to go to. They've got runners and tight ends and wide receivers, so they've got enough skill to where, again they're going to miss him, we've got great respect for Wes, but they've got enough weapons for Peyton."
Speaking of Peyton Manning, he also noted on a conference call with Indianapolis media how Welker's absence will affect the Broncos. "Obviously Wes is a great football player," Manning said, "and it would be disrespectful to him to say, ‘Hey, it'll be a smooth and easy transition.' He is an excellent player and a great producer for us, and he played really well against the Colts in this game last year. I know the cliché, you hear it all the time whether it's injuries or whatnot, but somebody else has to step up. I really believe everyone else has to step up, raise their level of play when one of your best players is not playing."
Let's not overlook the fact that the Broncos will be hurt by not having Welker in the lineup - though there was some uncertainty in the past few weeks to begin with over Welker's status due to a concussion. No doubt, it will be a big loss for the Broncos. But like Pagano, let's be realistic: the Broncos still have Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and tight end Julius Thomas, along with receivers like Cody Latimer and Andre Caldwell who could step in. Oh, and they've got a pretty good guy throwing the ball to those receivers, too. I mean, Peyton Manning could make Blair White look like a good slot receiver (oh wait, he did).
Ultimately, the suspension of Welker won't even be the most influential of the game. The Colts will be much more affected by the suspension of Robert Mathis than the Broncos will be by Welker's absence, due to the fact that, 1) Mathis is a better overall player, 2) Mathis is more important to his team, and 3) the depth behind Mathis is much worse. So talk all you want about Welker not being there, but that won't even be the suspension that impacts the Colts versus Broncos game the most. And let's not forget about Matt Prater or Jim Irsay, either, if we're talking suspensions.