Thursday December 15th, 2011

Jim Caldwell had a 24-8 record as Colts coach before this year's 0-13 effort. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

With Peyton Manning's future in doubt, and Andrew Luck (or maybe Heisman winner Robert Griffin III) sitting on the table as a potential No. 1 draft pick, there's no telling what the 2012 Colts will look like.

And that includes at head coach, where Jim Caldwell finds himself on the hot seat thanks to Indianapolis' 0-13 start to the season. A report by Jason La Canfora indicated that Caldwell would lose his job, unless the Colts manage to win one of their final three games.

Earlier this week, Colts vice chairman Bill Polian hinted at that same topic, saying that, ""My fervent hope is that Jim's job is not in jeopardy because my fervent hope is we don't go 0-16, and we're doing everything we can to try and avoid that."

But here's the question: Would 1-15 really be that much better than 0-16?

From an historical perspective, sure, sidestepping the stigma of being the NFL's second-ever 0-16 team is an obvious goal. In terms of where the franchise is as a whole, though, it's hard to believe a win over Tennessee, Houston or Jacksonville would give Polian that much more confidence in Caldwell going forward.

It wasn't that long ago, of course -- less than two years -- that the Colts were 14-0 and pushing toward an AFC title in Caldwell's first year as Tony Dungy's replacement. Indianapolis then followed that up with a 10-6 mark last season and another AFC South title.

It's been all downhill since then, as Peyton Manning's offseason neck surgeries set off a disastrous course of events for the Colts that has them three losses from a winless season.

The fact that Polian and Colts owner Jim Irsay are considering firing Caldwell at all could indicate a couple of things:

1. They would feel obligated, at 0-16, to find a fall guy for the Colts' season.

2. They believe the blame for this year goes well beyond Peyton Manning's absence.

The Manning injury has been the Colts' excuse all season long -- with some people going so far as to call for Manning to receive MVP consideration without so much as playing a game. The drop-off from Manning, a future Hall of Famer, to Curtis Painter (and now Dan Orlovsky) has been staggering.

Still, it's not as if Painter was a one-man wrecking crew. The Colts have had issues all over the field, all season long.

That's probably what Polian sees while putting Caldwell on the chopping block.

That's also what makes it all the harder to figure why, if Polian has reached his patience limit, Caldwell is still around. Either this is Caldwell's fault or it's not -- whether the final record is 0-16, 1-15 or anything else.

Maybe Polian's just throwing up smoke signals, and his mind is made up. In that case, perhaps his cryptic comment about going 0-16 is just an odd tactic to try to motivate the Colts over the final few weeks. It wouldn't be the fairest way to deal with Caldwell, but that's life in the NFL.

Manning's career, whether he returns in 2012 or not, appears to be on its last legs. Under any circumstances, it's hard to envision him playing more than three or four more seasons.

So, it would be hard to fault Polian and Irsay if they opted to wipe the slate clean and rebuild from the top down. It makes a lot less sense, though, if they're basing that decision on how Indianapolis plays in its meaningless final three games.

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