AFC South Preview: Winners, Losers, and Also-Rans
The AFC South comprises four teams from four distinct regions in America.
The Jacksonville Jaguars hail from the Far South with their warm, humid locale that will suck the life out of opponents traveling from northern climes.
Out in the Southwest, the Houston Texans take over the fan base of the former Houston Oilers. They wisely decided to play in a stadium to combat the dangers of dry heat.
Smack in the middle of the Southeast are the Tennessee Titans, who enjoy slightly warmer weather through a good bit of September and October, but are far enough north to get quite chilly in the latter months of the season.
And up in Indianapolis we have the Colts.
Um, Indiana? Last time I checked, they were NORTH of the Mason-Dixon line, which we Southerners have used for years to distinguish between a Southerner and a Yank.
Not that it really matters, of course; the division assignments are somewhat arbitrary (I hear they were decided by drawing names out of a hat). What really matters is what level of competition each team in a division is able to give the others.
With only six postseason slots available to 16 teams per conference, coming out on top of your division is the only guarantee for postseason action anymore. It used to be you could stand a better than average chance of making a Super Bowl run by coming in a close second.
Ask the Patriots, Bears, and Falcons how that worked out for them last year.
No, winning your division is the key to getting in. Of course, it always has been a guarantee, but it is even more critical now.
With that in mind, here are my picks as to who does what in the AFC South in 2009.
Last year's No. 1 playoff seed has a lot of 'splaining to do. All they had to do was put away the Baltimore Ravens, with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach, and the AFC title game was theirs to lose.
Instead, costly turnovers and poor clock management had them go one-and-done in the postseason. Not exactly a fitting end to a 13-3 regular season.
However, all is not lost. They are returning 10 starters on a defense that was rated at or near the top all season long last year.
Kerry Collins is secure in his starting position—at least until we have a slow news day. If Kenny Britt is all he's cracked up to be, Collins will have three down-field targets who are more than capable of making the big play.
Britt, Justin Gage, and the newly acquired Nate Washington are primed to have big years if Collins can find a way to get them the ball.
I won't even go into the possibility of Drew Bennett coming back, because that would just be too good to be true. Don't wanna jinx it.
One way or another, this could be the year that Collins puts to bed any question about whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame some day.
For those of you looking for my Vince Young mention, this is all you are gonna get: Don't expect him to be a factor, unless Collins goes down to injury. If that DOES happen, I see Young as being a factor in Tennessee NOT making the playoffs.
Sorry to all those on the Vince Young bandwagon, but that's just the way I see it. They never should have gotten rid of Chris Simms, but at least they picked up Patrick Ramsey from Denver.
Prediction: 13-3, again. It's a scary possibility they could go 12-4, though. Read on for the explanation to THAT one.
As long as No. 18 is throwing the ball for the Colts, Indianapolis is going to challenge for the division every year.
Peyton Manning could retire right now, and he would most likely find his way into the Hall of Fame (and not just as a visitor). He has set more records than I care to count, FINALLY broke through and won the big one, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down or losing his timing.
As long as he has receivers that are above average, he can—and will—get the ball to them for points.
Defensively the Colts aren't too shabby, either. Last year was one heck of a defensive year, with eight of the top 10 defenses holding opponents to an average of less that 300 yards per game. But Indy was within shouting distance, giving up 310 per game.
They also held opponents to less than 20 points per game, which played heavily in their favor seeing as they averaged just over 23 points on offense.
They stopped opponents on third and fourth down better than half the time, and were one of the most disciplined defenses in the league.
Yeah, they have a new head coach in Jim Caldwell. But he's not new to the organization, and he certainly isn't new to the system. I wouldn't expect any major hiccups.
Prediction: 12-4. This is where it gets scary for Tennessee AND Indianapolis. Lose the tie-breaker, and you might lose a berth in the playoffs.
You know, from time to time I find myself wanting to root for the Texans.
Not because I have any particular loyalty to Texas; I'm a Tennessean born and raised, and still hold Texas responsible for the loss of a few good Tennesseans at a little mission some years back.
Houston doesn't particularly interest me, either. I've been there: the roads are horrible, it's too hot at 9 o'clock at night, and if you're not careful what you eat, you might end up wishing you'd never heard the term "Tex-Mex."
No, it's because every now and then, just when you think they aren't going to amount to anything, the Texans show a flash of brilliance that makes you think that one day they just might be a winner.
Hold on, I know what you're thinking. And you're right, they haven't had a winning season since they started playing. But for the last two seasons they have been one win away from checking that off the list.
Looking down their roster doesn't reveal any big names that jump out at you, but that's what makes them dangerous: with no one in particular to draw attention, the Texans have the ability to sneak in and spoil someone's season REAL quick. For both the Titans and the Colts, this team could be the deciding factor if things come down to a tie-breaker.
Prediction: 9-7. This is the year they break the .500 mark. If they manage 10-6, look for things to be REALLY interesting.
What is there to say about the Jacksonville Jaguars? They have new uniforms, they have four quarterbacks vying for two positions—Gerrard probably has the starting position locked down, so it's actually three vying for the backup slot—and besides Maurice Jones-Drew, they don't have a single proven option at running back.
I take that back: Greg Jones has 257 carries. For a grand total of 869 CAREER yards.
The Jaguars defense doesn't include a single name that brings chills to anyone's spine. They were ranked 17th in total defense and 20th in total offense a year ago.
It doesn't matter how close their losses are. They LOSE them nonetheless. No moral victories in the big leagues, fellas.
Must we go on?
Prediction: 6-10, if they are lucky.
Two Could Go, Spoilers Await
Both the Titans and the Colts have the panache to make the playoffs this year, but it won't be an easy route. Besides facing each other twice, they have to face the snake-in-the-grass Texans twice, as well as contend with the rest of the AFC big boys.
If they can manage to win both games against the Texans and Jaguars, they can split their series and still have a good chance of seeing postseason action. All that's left to decide is which one comes out on top in the division.
Any further predictions should wait until AFTER the preseason.
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