The news of the day for the AFC South, of course, is Peyton Manning's knee surgery. I think this has deeper implications for the Texans than just another team's star player going down. I think this could be a sign that the ceiling in the AFC south may finally be cracking. This regression to the mean wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it wasn't paired with another fact that that is just dawning on the rest of the NFL. The Texans are on the rise.
The Titans are sill in disarray and winning against them is a 50/50 proposition. The Jags' vaunted defense is starting to weaken. The Stroud/Henderson tag team is no more, and the Jags are asking a lot of their young defensive ends. Since the Texans always play the Jags hard, I'd put the odds at about 60/40 against us.
The Colts are still the team to beat, but they're looking more and more human. Their biggest playmakers--Freeney, Harrison, Clark and now Manning--all have some wear and tear. Manning is particularly interesting. He's been the engine that makes the Colts go. And he's got a nasty problem. Knee problems are what did in Dominic Davis, Ahman Green (pending?) and Marvin Harrison.
Peyton Manning's knee problem is a big issue for several reasons. Even though Manning is a warrior on the field, he's going to be shielding his knee from contact. This is going to make that ball come out a split second faster, which means more mistakes. Manning's injury is on his plant foot. Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb both showed that it takes a little while to get used to stepping up in the pocket and leaving your plant foot exposed. Lastly, Manning has shown in past games against the Chargers and the Steelers that he gets rattled when he gets hit repeatedly.
The Texans are fielding one of the youngest starting defenses in the NFL. The offense has shown how explosive it can be in flashes last season. The natural upswing the Texans are on as they continue to add talent could be augmented by a fracturing at the top. In a division where one win means the difference between going home and the playoffs, today may have just been the day the Texans got that win.
(images via eorthopod.com and espn.com)