It's finally time to admit it. Sunday's game will make the Titans bi-annual meeting with the Texans a legitimate reason to get excited. Point to head-to-head records and current standings all you want, right now Houston has just as good of a chance to wrap this thing up as the Titans do. These two teams are playing for more than pride, they're playing a crucial game that will likely end up determining the winner of the division.
As much as I love pretending the Texans will forever be the little franchise that couldn't, and as much as I want to count them out as the same old team in the JV jerseys with a weak following, I'd argue that they've got just as much of a right to be stoked about the future as we do. The balance of power in the division is slowly shifting. Whether it ends up in Houston or Tennessee will be determined by the way the two teams fare in Sunday's confrontation.
I've said before that whoever wins the AFC South won't have actually won anything at all in 2011, they'll have survived a slew of injuries and overcome some preconceived notions to come out on top. Call it a war of attrition. I think the same idea applies to this week's game. Both teams will (likely) be down their top offensive threat and will have to look to either fresh blood in Tennessee's case or to wily veterans in Houston's case to get the offense going, neither of them are running the ball particularly well.
Back to the main point; sometimes, a rivalry is born through logic.This rivalry is logical. It adheres to a few of the classics; scraps between star players, owners stealing teams, divisional rivals, close-ish proximity, classic. Then the Texans traded for a formerly beloved ex-Titan, Derrick Mason. It was almost as if the logic gods came down and said "Here, use this." And yet, this is just another small bit of kindling that helps create a raging inferno of territorial-ism and hurt feelings.
What we have here is the emergence Tennessee's true rival that they've been searching for. The Colts are always a good one to turn to, but I'm fairly certain that no one outside Tennessee looks forward to the Titans/Colts game more than they look forward to the Patriots/Colts game every year. And that's fair, but now we're stuck with the conundrum of not having a real rival that can genuinely say that we have a franchise that is worthy of the most heinous vitriol they have to offer. I'm embracing the opportunity. No matter the outcome of Sunday's game, the NFL will have its' next great rivalry if things go as planned. The Titans and Texans have always played each other hard, but this game has implications that go beyond the relatively petty rivalry that they had going before this. What Sunday represents is the opportunity to be the author of the first chapter of the the new era in the AFC South. Emperor Manning is on his way out and the power struggle is on. Two teams have jumped out of the gate fast to claim it, one of them will take a massive step towards reaching their goal on Sunday afternoon.
So here's to us; fans of both Tennessee and Houston. The flaming thumbtacks and the choke artists.The One-Yard-Short-ers and the Playoff Virgins. On a day where the NFL will celebrate one of its' most "traditional" rivalries with the Packers and Vikings, join us and celebrate the start of something new, something great.