I hate Peyton Manning. I hate his stupid forehead. I hate how he would orchestrate an entire offense at the line of scrimmage, and I hated how the computer version of him would do the same thing when playing Madden. I hated how the Texans could never beat him, and even when they were close, he would come clomping his way to set up another game-winning field goal. I hate his corporate schilling. I still can’t believe he kissed the Papa and talked about drinking a lot of Budweiser after becoming the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl back in 2015.
My hatred of him led to a hatred of the Colts. Which then led to a hatred of everyone else the Texans played twice a year. The lugubrious Jags. The inbred Titans. The rest of the division could rot in the musty cellar until their flesh fell off.
Then I became an adult. My views of the world changed. Hating things isn’t fun. The things you hate don’t make you special. Life is about enjoying it, being mindful, unclumping it, and doing the things that you enjoy.
And so, aside from Peyton Manning—that vitriol will still be around even when this heartbeat isn’t—I nowlove the AFC South. I love #exoticmethmouth and dancing like the Pineapple Man when Marcus Mariota inches closer to throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions. I love seeing Andrew Luck slowly go bald, slobber, and make OMG throws. I love watching Bad and Bouye and that insanely fast Jaguars defense. I love DeAndre Hopkins’ Spiderman catches and that the Texans may actually now have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson
When the playoffs were on this past weekend, I didn’t grimace that the Texans went 4-12 and finished last place in the division. I wasn’t wishing they were playing. I was savoring the AFC South having two teams make the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2012, back when the Colts stormed back against Kansas City and the Texans skinned Andy Dalton again.
There was no greater joy than seeing the Chiefs blow a 21-3 lead, the Titans going no-huddle to save their season, Marcus Mariota throwing a touchdown to himself, Derrick Henry bouncing runs to the left side like he had been doing all year, Jurrell Casey getting interior pressure, Alex Smith running from ghosts, and Johnathan Cyprien hitting Albert Wilson to force a game winning incompletion.
There was no greater joy than seeing Tyrod Taylor scamper around the pocket like he punched a hornet’s nest, Blake Bortles Bortling easy completions into the ground, the wind turning all of his passes into choose your own adventure novels, Bortles running wild and free to gain more yards on the ground than through the air, Calais Campbell spending his Sunday in the backfield, the defense closing it out when Buffalo had three late game opportunities to tie, and Jalen Ramsey sealing the win with a tip-to-himself interception.
The Jags can hang with the Steelers this weekend if the game goes a certain way. The Titans are going to be decimated by New England like a FCS school playing the big state college. Regardless, I can’t wait to see something I never thought I’d see—two AFC South teams in the Divisional Round again. It seems like the AFC South has finally caught up to the rest of the AFC. And with Houston getting Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus back next season and having all that cap space, along with the Colts possibly getting Andrew Luck back and having all that cap space and draft capital, the AFC South maybe more than fun as hell next season. It may actually be good.
A division with four competitive teams makes the season infinitely more enjoyable. Rather than have six sleepwalks, you get six rock fights. That Titans team you hate so much? When was the last time Houston played a meaningful regular season game against them with anything on the line? 2011? That rout earlier this season was spectacular, not only because the Texans put 50 on them, but because it was 50 points against a team they were potentially in a playoff battle with. Despite the Texans winning the division four times since 2011, there hasn’t been a monumental regular season game to seal it up. It’s been bullying the meek and slaughtering the lambs en route to a divisional round loss. I want Week 4 Titan-Colts to be more than interesting, I want it to mean something.
You choose you. You can live with a blackened, hate-filled heart. Or you can learn to live, laugh, and love the AFC South.