End Of an Era Part Two: The Changing Of Guard in the AFC South

Donovan EstridgeContributor IJune 1, 2009

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts walks off the field during the AFC Wild Card Game against the San Diego Chargers on January 3, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

At one time, the AFC South was a joke for the other three teams in the division. Indy yawned through the division securing at worst a fourth seed every year in the playoffs.

It seemed that besides death and taxes, another absolute in life was Indianapolis making the playoffs.

While Indy secured its league-leading seven consecutive playoff appearance last year, those opportunities might not come as easy starting in 2009. And one sure sign Indy has lost its dominance is their vulnerability within the division.

After years of frantic pacing just to keep up with the Colts, the rest of the division has finally caught up to Indianapolis. We saw the first sign last year after former in-conference rival, Tennessee, dethroned the Colts and hoisted the AFC South banner, ending the Colts dominance in the south.

No team south of the Ohio River had won the south since Eddie George and the Titans did it in 2002.

Although Indy finished second last year, the 2009 season could be a further slide down the standings. And one sure sign of suitors to take Indy’s place in the rankings is growing larger by the day.  

Take Houston for example. One could say the lowly and perpetual doormat of the division Texans have ascended to contender for the division.

How and why did Houston manage to compete with Indianapolis?

Back in 2006, many in the media and across NFL fandom mocked the Texans’ pick of DT Mario Williams. Why would they take a solid defenseman from North Carolina State when Reggie Bush or hometown hero Vince Young was the anointed first round pick?

The answer, as Texans coach Gary Kubiak put it, "we need to slow down Peyton Manning." Although Kubiak took heat from the Houston faithful, the gamble looks to be paying off as the Texans are quickly starting to keep up with the Colts.

And the Texans are not alone. Just like Houston, that stingy team from north Florida appears to be hungry to deflate the Colts.

Although Jacksonville struggled to a disappointing season in 2008, the mood in Jaguar camp this spring is positive. And just like Houston and Tennessee, a younger, more athletic roster could be all that’s needed to bypass Indy.  

Revamped rosters and rejuvenated young talent could be all that’s needed to end the Colts run as perennial class of the AFC South.

While the south could be difficult for Peyton Manning and company to win, the AFC is even more competitive. With Tom Brady back at the helm in New England, defending Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh and San Diego, a team that has ushered Indy out of the playoffs for the past two years are eager to take Indy’s place atop the division.

Helping those teams reach that goal could be the aging and depleting roster already found in Indianapolis.

And it is the aging roster coupled with the talent throughout the NFL that could expedite the Colts eventual descent into the doldrums of mediocrity.

For Colts fans throughout the state of Indiana, the eventual slide into mediocrity can’t come as a surprise.

This slide isn’t new. It didn’t begin on an overtime defensive collapse in January, but it began on the last game played in the RCA Dome. When San Diego defeated the Colts without Phillip Rivers or LT, the Colts began their slow and now painful slide to mediocrity.

Sure Manning could carry this team far, but with the aging roster and the improved division, Indianapolis could once again be a one and done team.

And don’t be surprised if they don’t even get a chance to bow out early in the playoffs in 2009 because the clock might have struck midnight in Indianapolis.


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