It has just been announced on NFL.com that Peyton Manning will miss the season opener versus the Houston Texans. This news comes straight from Bill Polian speaking on ESPN radio. Kerry Collins will be the starter.
Last night it was announced that the Jaguars had released former starting QB David Garrard. This pushes Luke McCown into the starting role and makes Blaine Gabbert the recent first round draft pick the top back-up.
These moves could really shake up what the top of the division looks like this year. The Houston Texans were an explosive offense last year but were held back by the second worst defense in the league (stats based on footballoutsiders.com advanced metrics). They brought in Wade Phillips as defensive co-ordinator to change the mentality on defense. Phillips is known for his ability to turn around the fortunes of a defense, add to that the fact that they spent their first five draft picks on defense and get some key defenders back from last year. Then there is the signing of Jonathan Joseph, one of the top CB’s in the league. If Houston can simply improve to a league average level on defense their offense should be able to carry them to the playoffs.
The only defense worse than the Texans last year was the Jaguars. The Jags also finished 31st in pass D, the second straight year they were in the bottom five in pass D. They also failed to draft any defenders until the fourth round this year. This means alot of pressure will be placed on whoever ends up as the starting QB. Somehow the Jags were still able to win 8 games and were even in position to make the playoffs late in the year if they could have won some division games.
As for Indy, the Manning injury is distracting from the fact that the Colts are in decline. Last year they finished 10-6, good enough to take the division. But even with a healthy Manning they dropped their first two division games and didnt have the play the remainder of their division games until very late in the season when they had rounded into shape. What you see when you watched Indy though was a team that played increasingly close games against tough competition. The team never able to pull away from decent opponents and only pulling out the victory because of Mannings complete control over the game and ability to pull out any victory as long as his team is within one score.
The team is in decline because it has been a while since the Colts have had a decent draft. They are a top heavy team, relying on a few superstars to show up and win them the games and carry the rest of the mediocre players. As those superstars grow older this task becomes more difficult. With a healthy and practicing Manning it would be extremely difficult to predict anyone but Indy to win the division. But with this current squad and Manning sitting out Indy no longer feels like a powerhouse. Remember in 2008 when Manning was not able to practice in prior to the season the team opened up only 3-4 before rallying to make the playoffs. If something simliar happens to start this season I don’t think they will have the talent to turn it around.
Is this crazy talk, or will someone other than the Colts win the AFC South for only the third time since its creation in 2002?