2012 AFC South Preview: Houston Texans Are the New Sheriffs of the Division
Overview: I’m starting to think the AFC just isn’t a very fun conference to predict. The AFC South is yet another division that won’t be surprising a lot of people in 2012. The Houston Texans are legitimate contenders for a playoff and bye spot, but the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans could all be starting inexperienced players at quarterback.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd in 2011, Predicted Record in 2012: 3-13)
Well, Blaine Gabbert totally fell on his head in 2011. Even with arguably the best running back in the league in Maurice Jones-Drew, and a pretty good defense, he couldn’t figure out a way to make something out of a terrible receiving corps.
The defense is okay, and you can make a case that they are building something with what they got in the draft and free agency. Unfortunately, Justin Blackmon is already getting in legal trouble with his DUI, and they picked a punter in the third round. A punter. That’s like taking David Akers in the seventh round of your fantasy draft. Poor Jacksonville fans—they really wanted Tim Tebow and couldn’t even get that.
Indianapolis Colts (4th in 2011, Predicted Record in 2012: 6-10)
Well, a couple years down the road, we’ll all forget about how they callously pushed out Peyton Manning and ushered in the Andrew Luck era when he becomes a Pro-Bowl caliber player. For now, though, Luck will take his lumps as a rookie, just like Manning did when he threw 28 interceptions in his first year.
The question is, can even Luck help this horrid team? Reggie Wayne is old, and the run game is very suspect. The jury is still out on the defense as they transition to the 3-4, converting long-time defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to outside linebacker. These are still the same pieces that were built to play with a lead, though.
Outside of fourth-year man Jerraud Powers, there’s not much depth in the secondary, which could mean teams rolling up some huge passing numbers against this team. This could result in the Colts pressuring Luck to throw too much playing catch-up, and the result could be magic. Or it could be interceptions galore.
Tennessee Titans (2nd in 2011, Predicted Record in 2012: 8-8)
Chris Johnson’s probably heard enough of the “CJ0K” jokes from his fantasy owners to show up to camp as unprepared to run as he did last season. The Titans have a budding defense that recovered nicely from the free-agency departure of Jason Babin, and rookie Kendall Wright could be explosive opposite Kenny Britt. If Britt can regain his explosiveness that made him look like one of the league’s legit No.1 wideouts before his season-ending ACL injury, the Titans could feel a lot easier throwing in second-year man, Jake Locker.
I liked what I saw out of Locker last season, who somewhat put to rest some of the concerns with his accuracy. He showed some good decision-making and has a surprisingly decent pocket presence. Tennessee isn’t ready yet, in my eyes. But they could surprise in 2012.
Houston Texans (1st in 2011, Predicted Record in 2012: 12-4)
The AFC Mannings finally got a new king last season in the Houston Texans. Even in the wake of injuries to starting quarterback Matt Schaub and receiving sensation Andre Johnson, they won the division. Oh, and they did it without their star on defense, Mario Williams, now gone to Buffalo. This defense is absolutely legit.
Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and Brian Cushing lead one of the best linebacking corps in the league for Wade Phillips 3-4. Johnathan Joseph paid huge dividends at corner. They can take the loss of Williams and DeMeco Ryans no problem.
However, I have concerns about the departures of Mike Brisel and the very questionable salary cut of Eric Winston. The Texans don’t win all those games without their amazing running game, and taking away the entire right side of the offensive line doesn’t look good for reprising Arian Foster’s All-Pro season. But Schaub will be back, and so will Andre. If they can all stay healthy, and the in-house replacements fare decently, so should the Texans’ playoff hopes.
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