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One reason I had to wait to write this preview article was because of injury concerns of one player. That one player, Peyton Manning, is vital to the success of the Indianapolis Colts and really to the entire AFC South.
Since the division alignments in 2002, no team had dominated its division like the Colts have, having won seven division titles in nine years and qualifying for the playoffs every year.
But it looks like 2011 may mark the end of the Colts' dominance. Finally, the Houston Texans have put a team in place that could dethrone the Colts' reign atop the AFC South. With Pro Bowl players at quarterback, running back and receiver, the Texans offense is as good as anyone's.
Now that Wade Philips has become their defensive coordinator and they've made some good pickups, the Texans should get their first division title and first playoff appearance.
It's hard to bet against the Colts, because whenever Manning plays, they always have a chance. Last year showed a major decline, primarily caused by injuries, as the Colts dropped to 10-6 and only won the division because of the collapse of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now that Manning is coming off neck surgery, he could struggle similarly to how he did in 2008, when he also had surgery. Since both the Colts' running game and their running defense are among the league's worst, there's just too much pressure on Manning to carry the Colts yet again to another playoff appearance.
The Jaguars are one of the league's most unattractive teams. They lack star power, play in an unrecognized city and seem to fall apart under pressure. Yet despite this, they have stayed around .500 most seasons and occasionally make the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Since their offense is so sorely lacking compared to the Colts and Texans, and their leadership has repeatedly failed to get them to the next level, the Jaguars won't be able to take advantage of the Colts' decline.
Like the Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans are going through a rebuilding phase. They are committing their future to the capable hands of Jake Locker, but for now, the starter will be veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
But even with All-Pro running back Chris Johnson returning from his holdout, the Titans are too unprepared to compete in the AFC South, much less the entire NFL.
1: Houston Texans 10-6
2: Indianapolis Colts 9-7
3: Jacksonville Jaguars 8-8
4: Tennessee Titans 5-11