Following their first losing season since 2003 fans in Jacksonville had little to cheer about this past season. A team that far exceeded expectation in 07 was not even close to meeting expectation last season as the Jags fell from grace and will look to regain some pride in the franchise that has been so promising since entering the league in 1995. This will be a tall order given how improved the AFC South has gotten in recent seasons as the Titans,Colts,and even the lowly Houston Texans are all legitimate playoff contenders.
On paper the AFC South has never been a particularly strong division and history can back up that claim as only once has an AFC South team gone on to win the Super Bowl (the 2006 Indianapolis Colts). Take away Tennesse's 13-3 seasons last year it is safe to say that perhaps the only team others feared in the South was the Indianapolis Colts. While it may be hard to find a division in the AFC tougher than the AFC East the Jaguars must be careful not to overlook their division which is greatly underrated.
Since Peyton Manning came into the NFL the Indianapolis Colts have been contenders every season. The Colts have not missed the playoffs since the 98 season which was Manning's first of many season in the NFL. The Colts will again be picked by many pundits to still be playing ball in late December when the post-season hits. With the likes of Joseph Addai running the ball and reliable Reggie Wayne to throw to the Colts will be a handful for the Jags who struggle in the secondary. However the Colts did show signs of being human last season and despite posting a 12-4 record in the season lost the AFC South title for the first time since the division was formed in 2002. The retirement of Tony Dungy as head coach will be put to the test as Dungy was looked upon as a real mentor and leader particularly to the defence which was much improved under him. Offensively they released future hall of famer Marvin Harrison which will be a welcomed relief for Rashean Mathis and company as Harrison for years ran laps around the Jaguars secondary. The Colts dominance will really be put to the test this season and do not be surprised to see them slip up a little this season.
The Tenesse Titans were the talk of the league for much of 2008 as they surprised everyone by finishing with the best record in the league at 13-3. Much of that credit was given to to veteran quarterback Kerry Collins who is back in the spotlight as the team's number one quarterback. Collins was terrific in the regular season throwing only 7 interceptions all season and completing over 58% of his passes. He will once again have the luxury of handing off to explosive running back Chris Johnson who averaged 4.9 yards per carry and gained 1,228 yards, good for second in the AFC. In the air he can rely on Justin Gage who had a phenomenal year receiving, averaging over 19 yards per catch for the Titans last season. Defensively they are rock solid as a healthy Kyle Vanden Bosch should add some more sacks to the teams sacks next season. What will make the Titans a handful however will be their play as a team. While they had no one individual lead any statistical categories last year they were among the best in team stats. Their defence only allowed and average of 211 yards per game to lead the NFL and they were in the top five in every other defensive and offensive team category.
Finally there is the Houston Texans who since coming into the league were known for awhile as the whipping boys of the NFL. But that has begun to change since the team handed the reigns over to quarterback Matt Schaub. Under Schaub the Texans have had back to back seasons of 500, their first since entering into the league. Last season the Texans were third in the league in yards per game and fourth in passing. A big reason was the play of Andre Johnson who lead the league in receiving, gaining 1,575 yards, good for 8 touchdowns. On the ground they can rely on a very effective running game anchored by Steve Slaton who was sixth among NFL backs last season averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The defense is what has really hurt Houston as they are in the bottom in alot of categories. Last year they allowed over 300 yards a game to the opposition, over 120 on the ground. If they improve defensively they could very well be ready to make the next step to the postseason.
What could make or break the Jaguars season may be their play against the AFC South. It is a division that has given the Jags fits over the years. Just for starters they are 2-4 against the Houston Texans in the last three seasons. They have only won 2 of their last 5 meeting against Tennessee going back to 2006, which is the exact same record they have against the Indianapolis Colts. Put those together and they are a dismal 6-12 against the AFC South. They need to improve on that statistic if they are gonna have any hope of taking the next step and being a contending team next season. The Jaguars have six games against their division this season, a successful divisional record could help catapult the Jaguars back into the post-season