How Peyton Manning’s Injury Will Change AFC North Race


The Indianapolis Colts historically are a force to be reckoned with.  Since 1998, the Colts have gone 141-67 (.677).  Yesterday marked the first day since 1998 the Colts have started a season 0-2.  1998 also marks a significant year – it was the year that Peyton Manning entered the league and was drafted as an Indianapolis Colt.  Manning has become the centerpiece the team has built around.  And, the man who was set to surpass Brett Favre as the ‘Ironman of Football’ has just about single handedly been responsible for the success of this franchise.  His absence thus far this season has shown it will have a ripple effect around the league – most notably for us in the AFC North.

When the Colts reported that Peyton Manning was having surgery, no one really blinked an eye.  For a guy who started 208 straight games with his cross hairs set on Brett Favre’s record, no one ever imagined that an offseason surgery would shelve the quarterback beyond the start of the regular season.  But it has, and it has already shown how much of a toll it has taken and will take on a team so dependent on their quarterback.

But who is surprised that the Colts are doing so poorly?  For years, the team has been built around protecting and making their quarterback as productive as possible.  Their defense is average at best because so much focus is placed on the personel on offense.  And why would it matter that the Colts are so unbalanced?  With a quarterback and offensive leader like Manning, the team had the obvious firepower to go toe to toe with any team for a shootout week to week.  I personally feel that if the Colts’ front office would even focus on defense for a moment, the Colts could be a truly dominant team in the NFL.  So it really comes as no surprise that the Colts are giving up a ton of points and getting so few of their own.

So how does this impact the AFC North?  Well for starters the Cleveland Browns beat the Colts 27-19.  Peyton Hillis was the obvious difference in the game as he ran all over the Colts for two scores.  Kerry Collins finally showed up for a game and threw for a touchdown, but was very ineffective throughout.  Teams with better defenses are going to eat Kerry alive.  The Steelers defensive, after shaking off the cob webs from last week, should have a fairly easy time handling the Colts’ offense next week.  Which is how Manning’s injury truly resonates in the AFCN.

A glance at the schedule of the AFC North always tells you that if/when the division plays the AFC South the Colts are going to be trouble for the entire division.  No one has an easy win.  It’s a game that you circle on the calendar as one that can change the race for the divisional title – squeak out a win against the Colts, and you have the potential of a slight advantage over the other teams in the North.  The rest of the AFC South has, for the most part, gone unchanged over the past few seasons.  The Titans and Jaguars are both ‘average’ football teams.  Each have certain strengths, but many weaknesses to exploit.  The Texans have been the team to improve over the years.  They’ve gone from a hapless expansion team to a team that can compete week in and week out for the W.  The Steelers and others in the North have had trouble with this team lately.  This makes the games against the Colts that much more important.

The Colts have owned the Ravens for the past five seasons taking all five games with a combined score of 131-51.  The Raven’s are supposedly better this year but they’ve never been able to figure out Peyton Manning.  With him out of the equation, the Raven’s should chew that team up and spit them out into next week.  Now, the Ravens lost to the Titans last week (really?) so for now the advantage is back to the Steelers.  If the Steelers can go 4-0 or 3-1 against that division, they should be in a really good spot in grabbing the division from the Ravens once again this year.  But first, they need to beat the Colts this week.  And if the Colts play the way they have been, the Steelers should have no problem in taking the win.  The greatest unknown out of all of this is if Peyton can return this season.  It was revealed this week that he had an experimental stem cell surgery done in Europe – reportedly it was unsuccessful.  Chances are he is done for the season, but there is a chance for him to return.  Wouldn’t it be something if he returned in Week 14 and torched the Ravens once again?  Excuse me while I sit back and bask in that daydream……

It’s strange to think of the Colts this way.  It’s a game I’m always nervous about – like when playing New England.  You would always just hope the Steelers would bring their A game and take advantage of whatever mistakes either one of those teams would make.  I wonder how other teams around the league who will be playing the Colts feel?  Elated?  You bet.

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