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Peyton Manning Super Bowl blocks other AFC contenders — Houston Texans included

It could have been worse, sure. Peyton Manning could have signed with the Tennessee Titans and shaken the Houston Texans' new hold over the AFC South.

Manning could be flinging passes for Bud Adams and tormenting the Texans anew two times a season.

 Before Manning chose Denver, it was easy to make the case that the Texans stood out as a Broncos' clear superior.  

But Manning going to the Denver Broncos instead shouldn't exactly be sounding bells of relief in Houston. For Manning and the Broncos suddenly become a very real threat to the Texans' Super Bowl vision. Another budding AFC power is suddenly that much better.

Super Bowl windows tend to be tight and there is little doubt that the Texans are in one now. Having a team good enough to make the Super Bowl doesn't guarantee you'll ever get to one though. Circumstances and who is in your way dictate a lot.

Before Manning chose Denver, it was easy to make the case that the Texans stood out as a Broncos' clear superior. 

No one really believed in Tim Tebow — least of all John Elway. As long as Denver depended on Tebow's erratic bits of hero work, the Broncos could never be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender — even with a defense capable of giving the Texans' own Bulls on Parade unit a run for its money.

With Manning though, there is no longer any dismissing the Mile High City as a possible Title Town. New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Houston all have to take notice. The Broncos don't suddenly become the favorites. But they're much more in the game.

The trickle down effect could make the bottom of the AFC stronger as well. The favorites to land Tebow in a trade are AFC squads — the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

You have to believe that Manning chose the AFC in part because it appears to offer an easier road to the Super Bowl (the NFC is packed with threats, including the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles). But his presence suddenly throws another factor into the AFC Super Bowl race.

Texans owner Bob McNair talked confidently last week about how the Texans have beaten Manning before and will do so again. But the reality is Houston's beaten Manning twice. In 18 games.

Houston and its own-healing quarterback Matt Schaub will have the chance to back up McNair's bold words this season. The Texans have a game at Denver in 2012.

Would they really relish a second meeting with Manning in the playoffs?

The AFC is tougher because of this move. There's no denying that. The best-case scenario for Houston would have been Manning signing with the 49ers.

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