Thursday, August 25, 2011

2011 NFL Divisional Previews - AFC South

The Colts were able to maintain their hold on the AFC South but they were perilously close to losing it. At just 6-6 with four games left, it seemed that the division was the Jaguars for the taking. However, order was restored, Jacksonville collapsed, and the Colts finished the year with a four game winning streak. The Titans started 5-2, then Vince Young had a hissy fit, and the signing of Randy Moss proved to be inconsequential as they faltered to a 6-10 finish. The Texans were huge disappointments at 6-10. Somehow, Gary Kubiak survived and once again Houston is a chic pick to make the playoffs and win the division.

1. Indianapolis Colts

2010 Record: 10-6, 1st place AFC South
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (3rd season Indianapolis, 26-10 career)
Key Additions: QB Kerry Collins, OT Anthony Castanzo, DT Tommie Harris, LB Ernie Sims
Key Losses: CB Kelvin Hayden, S Bob Sanders

2011 Outlook: The Colts are starting to show their age. They had to scrape and claw their way into the playoffs last year, and this year look like they will have to start the season without Peyton Manning at quarterback. Manning had neck surgery and the signing of Kerry Collins makes it pretty apparent that Manning could miss some real game time. If Collins gets to start he will have plenty of weapons. Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Blair White, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, and Jacob Tamme are all viable threats. The Colts could possibly be even more potent throwing the ball if they could get their running game going. They brought back Joseph Addai who suffers more from lack of touches than lack of ability. He also hasn't been helped by the inconsistent blocking and running of Donald Brown. Defensively, the Colts remain a middle of the pack type of defense. They are hoping that Tommie Harris might have a little something left in the tank. It will be strange to see the Colts with anyone but Manning under center but that looks to be the case in 2011. I think the Colts can stretch their run one more season, but massive rebuilding may be coming sooner than they would like.

Prediction: 9-7

2. Houston Texans

2010 Record: 6-10, 3rd place AFC South
Head Coach: Gary Kubiak (6th season Houston, 37-43 career)
Key Additions: DE J.J. Watt, S/KR Danieal Manning, P Brad Maynard
Key Losses: FB Vonta Leach, S Bernard Pollard, DT Amobi Okoye, S Eugene Wilson

2011 Outlook: Gary Kubiak reminds me of Norv Tuner with the Washington Redskins. You look at the constant seasons of disappointment, the pathetic career record, and you wonder how he is still the coach. Texans fans thought a 6-10 disaster was finally the nail in Kubiak's coffin but he is back yet again. The Texans success or lack thereof this season will hinge on whether Wade Phillips can transform the Texans pathetic defense. The Texans were atrocious on defense last season, and are hoping a switch to the 3-4 will do the trick. Mario Williams is moving from defensive end to linebacker, and the Texans are hoping that the additions of J.J. Watt and Daniel Manning will spark the defense. Phillips usefulness as a head coach can certainly be questioned but he has always been successful as a defensive coordinator. Offense should the least of the Texans concerns. QB Matt Schaub continues to play well, and now he has perhaps the best running back and wide receivers in football with Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Foster came out of nowhere to take the NFL by storm last season. The question everyone will have is whether he can sustain it or if he turns out to be a one hit wonder. I came so close to picking the Texans to win the AFC South but Gary Kubiak stops me from doing it. Until the Texans get a better head coach, they will be stuck in the purgatory that is mediocrity.

Prediction: 9-7

3. Tennessee Titans

2010 Record: 6-10, last place AFC South
Head Coach: Mike Munchak (1st season Tennessee, 0-0 career)
Key Additions: QB Jake Locker, QB Matt Hasselbeck, S Jordan Babineaux, LB Barrett Ruud, CB Frank Walker
Key Losses: QB Vince Young, QB Kerry Collins, WR Randy Moss, TE Bo Scaife, DE Jason Babin

2011 Outlook: Change is the theme in Tennessee. Jeff Fisher's run as head coach is over after 16 long, overrated seasons. Last year's quarterbacks Vince Young and Kerry Collins are both gone, replaced by veteran Matt Hasselbeck and the QB of the future, Jake Locker. Hasselbeck was brought in with the idea of being a mentor to Locker and perhaps giving the Titans a chance to win. The Titans have some talented offensive pieces but they are question marks right now. RB Chris Johnson is still holding out, awaiting a new contract. It is not known yet if he will be back by time the season starts. Their best WR Kenny Britt was making headlines for all the wrong reasons in the offseason and may get suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell. The Titans weren't anything to boast about on defense last year, and are hoping new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray can right the ship. They lost their best pass rusher in Jason Babin, but did add Frank Walker, Barrett Ruud, and Justin Babineaux. The pass defense will have to fare better to give the Titans a chance to compete. Too much uncertainty and change is swirling around this team to expect anything more than a nondescript, playoff-less season.

Prediction: 6-10

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

2010 Record: 8-8, 2nd place AFC South
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (9th season Jacksonville, 66-65 overall)
Key Additions: QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Clint Session, LB Paul Posluszny
Key Losses: WR Mike Sims-Walker

2011 Outlook: Jack Del Rio is an even more astounding case than Gary Kubiak. Despite not making the playoffs in three seasons and going 20-28 in that span, Del Rio is back for his ninth season. The Jaguars surprised many by being in contention down to the final weekend but to me being a little bit better than people expected shouldn't have been enough to save Del Rio's job. One bad sign for the season is uncertainty at quarterback. Sure, David Garrard is the unquestioned starter right now, but sentiment will turn to Blaine Gabbert immediately if and when Garrard struggles. Maurice Jones-Drew continues to be one of the best runners in the game, but him missing the last two games of the season, must win games for Jacksonville, didn't sit well with many. The Jaguars have a bunch of nobodies at wide receiver, which is probably the reason they gave TE Marcedes Lewis so much money to stay. Defensively, the Jaguars may have four new starters from a unit that ranked 22nd against the rush, and 28th against the pass. They hope to get a full season out of DE Aaron Kampman, as it was obvious how badly the defense missed him once he went down. I think this will be an ugly season in Jacksonville, and will finally result in Del Rio's ouster and the beginning of the Gabbert era.

Prediction: 4-12

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