Colts are lost cause if Manning goes lame

While earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires hit different areas of the country, another type of potential disaster is bearing down on Indianapolis. Peyton Manning has a neck injury that might doom the Colts’ season before it begins.

Opinions vary on whether Manning will start the opener in two weeks, but what’s not up for debate is his value. The Colts are a lost cause without him.

Imagine replacing Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” with Tony Danza or Don Knotts. A classic would have been a bad comedy.

The clumsy cast of characters backing up Manning — Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins, who could be the emergency starter after being called up from his farm — threatens to turn the Colts into an NFL punch line.

“I would say Peyton Manning right now is the biggest line adjustment in the history of quarterbacks,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books. “With Painter and that crew there, that’s why I make Manning maybe like a 10-point adjustment. The guys behind him can’t get a first down.

“I don’t think they could win five or six games if Manning’s not the quarterback and they don’t get a fair replacement.”

Collins, at his best, is a decent backup plan. Over the years, the New England Patriots have done an exceptional job of grooming quality backups to Tom Brady. The Colts barely bothered to address the issue, assuming Manning would take every snap and continue his streak of 208 consecutive regular-season starts.

Before most of us realized Manning’s summer neck surgery was more than a footnote, oddsmakers opened the Indianapolis-Houston line around pick-em for Week 1. The game is off the board at some books, but Vaccaro has it posted at Lucky’s, where the host Texans are 3-point favorites at minus-130.

If you don’t think Manning will play, lay the 3. The number is headed to 3.5 and maybe much higher. “If he plays,” Vaccaro said, “is he going to be effective?”

Professional gambler Steve Fezzik (LVAsports.com) anticipates the Colts as 8-point underdogs if Collins starts or 9-point ‘dogs with Painter. “No one is going to take the Colts at less than 7,” he said.

Indianapolis’ regular-season win total is 9.5, and sharp action has showed on the low side of the number.

“It’s pretty clear from the betting marketplace someone knew something that Manning’s situation was way worse than expected,” Fezzik said. “The Colts are dead. I think they were in decline anyway. I’m a huge believer that when a Super Bowl contender starts declining, the wheels fall off.”

Fezzik made a similar wheels-will-fall-off prediction for Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings last year, and we know how that turned out.

The Colts, who have been an abomination in the preseason, are also encountering problems with their offensive line and defense. On top of that, coach Jim Caldwell is only a sideline prop.

Overreacting to results in August is a tricky business, but it’s obvious Brady and the Patriots are as powerful as last year, when they finished 14-2. Bettors are impressed enough to keep pounding New England’s win total over 11.5 at minus-125.

The Denver Broncos were lucky to avoid trading quarterback Kyle Orton. The experiment with Tim Tebow failed, so Denver is worth a wager over 5.5 wins at minus-150. Orton has exciting receivers, the defense is stronger and John Fox is a proven coach.

Favorites went 21-11 against the spread through two weeks of the preseason. The New York Jets, 2-point favorites over the Giants, are my best bet for Saturday in a Week 3 dress rehearsal.

To little surprise, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati and Oakland are getting undressed as the league’s ugliest teams.

“In preseason, you can get a gauge of who’s hot and who’s not, and it means something to the betting public and the professionals,” Vaccaro said. “You can already see what are going to be hot sides and the teams to go against. We’re going to need the Bengals every week from now until January.”

The books also will need the Colts in Week 1, with or without Manning.

■ BOTTOM LINES — Vaccaro is among several Las Vegas sports book insiders featured on “The Linemakers,” which debuted Sunday on Discovery HD Theater. The one-hour show will be replayed at 8 p.m. and 11 today on DirecTV (281) and Cox cable (1687). …

The VegasInsider.com football handicapping seminar will be held Saturday and Sunday at Red Rock Resort. It’s free to the public.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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