Which means it's really now or never for the Houston Texans. For the last few years, the AFC South conversation has gone like this:
The Texans: "This is our year! We're really going to win the division this time!"
Peyton Manning: "No, you're not."
The Texans: "OK, Mr. Manning."
But now that Peyton has had a second surgery to make sure his neck stays fused to his body, the Texans are out of excuses. The current prognosis for Manning's season is that he will be out 2-3 months. But given the way the Colts have been so secretive about Manning's condition, it seems much more likely that Peyton wouldn't risk his career (or his neck, literally) to come back to a 4-4 team when he could hang up his cleats for the entire season and get his body back to 100% for the 2012 season.
And while no one wants to see anyone get injured, I'm sure there are more than a few quiet fist pumps going around Houston right about now. I can image all the smiling faces popping up over cubicle walls and saying, "Did you hear? Manning had another surgery!"
And the truth is, this puts all the pressure on the Texans because if they can't win it now, then when?
Everyone knows the Texans' history of high expectations unrealized. In any other division Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak would've been fired years ago. But since he kept losing to Peyton Manning he was given a long leash. It was the excuse that no one could argue with. He's Peyton Manning, of course he's going to be better than you.
But now that Manning's not there, Kerry Collins isn't an excuse. He's a guy with a gray beard who may or may not be eligible for AARP who happens to be wearing a Colts jersey.
So while this is only the first week of the season, this is a must-win for the Texans. For their own psyche. If they can't beat the Manning-less Colts, at home, after signing a top cornerback and hiring genius defensive mind Wade Philips to turn their worst defense in the league into something that doesn't resemble swiss cheese.
And while you're probably saying to yourself, "this is just the first game of the season, it can't be a 'must-win' game." And you'd be wrong.
While no they wouldn't technically be out of the playoff race at 0-1, the blow to the Texans' ego after yet another loss to the Colts would be too much for them to overcome. A loss to the Collins-led Colts wouldn't be another loss, it would become a curse. The Colts would be in their head and I'm not sure 15 more games would be enough to get them out.
As of right now, the Texans should have one of the easiest roads to becoming division champs in 2011 (the Chargers being the only team who may have an easier road.) But a loss to their bitter, division foes who should be half the team they once were (remember, the Texans have never played against a Peyton-less Colts team) could be more than the Texans could handle.