It's entirely possible that two of the biggest names in the AFC South will be sitting out their season opening game on September 11.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster tweeted today that he has a torn hamstring, which could keep him out 3-4 weeks, and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is still recovering from offseason neck surgery. At this time, it's completely up in the air if either will play when the Colts visit Houston to open the season.
If both are out, however, which is the bigger loss?
There's a pretty obvious answer. It's Manning, by a longshot.
The reasons are just as obvious.
The Texans offense would function as normal if Foster can't make it Week 1. It certainly hurts losing the NFL's reigning rushing champion, but running backs can be replaced. It happens every season.
Houston has a pair of backs—Ben Tate and Derrick Ward—who could shoulder the load in his absence. Both Tate and Ward are thought of highly in Houston. The production wouldn't have a significant drop off if either had to be the lead back.
However, it's a completely different story in Indianapolis. The entire Colts offense revolves around Manning. It's been built from the ground up that way. The offensive line, running backs and receivers have all been acquired to give Manning the best chance at success.
Without him in the lineup, the Colts are nothing more than an average NFL team. I think that's an undeniable statement even for the most die-hard Colts fan.
If Indianapolis is forced to go with Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter, everything changes for that team. They might be heading into Houston as underdogs regardless, but I think the Texans could become big favorites for both that game and the division if Manning has to sit.
Now, there's something else to consider in this equation. A hamstring injury can be a really bad deal for a position like running back. If proper time isn't given to let the hamstring completely heal, it's an injury that can give that player problems the entire season.
We haven't been given much information on the specifics of Manning's neck. It's obviously something he's had surgery on twice now in his career. But the Colts are doing the right thing here—Manning has been given ample time to recover. He might be rusty coming back, but the neck should be fully healed.
But even if Foster's injury nags him all season, the Texans will be fine. They have an explosive offense that can still thrive with other backs in the game. The Colts will struggle without Manning, and it's that simple.
Manning's injury is the most important non-football issue happening right now. Foster's injury doesn't even come close.