Peyton Manning has used the AFC South as his personal playground throughout his career. Since 1999, he has helped the Indianapolis Colts reach the playoffs every year except the 2001 season. The Colts have reached two Super Bowls, winning once, under their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Manning is the poster boy of the vision former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had for the league. This has been continued by his disciple Roger Goodell, the current commissioner. As the rules get bent yearly to help the quarterbacks, Manning has more than his exceptional intelligence and accuracy to set him apart from others today.
Typically found on the gridiron one way or another, Manning is usually practicing with teammates or himself whenever the Colts aren't actually playing. He is the definition of an old school player whose desire to improve never dissolves.
He may have several trophy cases full of accolades, but winning is his only desire. Indianapolis has won 10 or more games every year since 1999, with the exception of the the 2001 season. There has been no team in recent years more reliant on the success of their quarterback.
With a neck injury that could have him out eight to 12 games or longer, the Colts locker room know the playoffs are a far-fetched dream in 2011. Indianapolis can only hold out hope for a quicker return, assuming the nerves in Manning's neck regenerate faster.
The only playoff experience the Houston Texans have ever been involved in required turning on a television and watching others play. With Manning out for so much of 2011, the Texans postseason dreams appear more likely than ever before.
Even the Jacksonville Jaguars chances have greatly increased, despite recently waiving their starting quarterback of the past five seasons. Like the Colts, Jacksonville will rely on a reserve at quarterback now. Unlike Indianapolis, Luke McCown has been with the Jaguars since 2010 while the Colts starter, Kerry Collins, hasn't even been with his team for a month.
The Tennessee Titans spent preseason trying to get their best player into training camp. With a new head coach, quarterback and several other players, it may take Chris Johnson time to gel with his new teammates.
Yet Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston all have been given a confidence boost with the news Manning will be out so long. The Colts have mostly dominated this division under Manning, but it now appears the AFC South will belong to someone else this year.