Everything was all out of whack in the AFC South in 2008. The perennial division champs, the Indianapolis Colts, finally began to show some of their age last season. The team picked to emerge as the new divisional favorite, the Jacksonville Jaguars, stumbled right out of the gate and their season was over before it really even started. The Houston Texans are a team on the up as well, but in all truth, they are still probably a year or two away from challenging for the AFC South crown. That leaves just the Tennessee Titans, who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the division last year. Well, 2009 is a different season, so let's take a look at some of the things each team must do to get back to the top of the division.
The Texans will head into the 2009 season one of the sexy picks to take that next leap and get into the playoffs this season. There is a lot to like with this team (good coaching, solid QB and RB play, a stud WR and an emerging defense), so the expectations for this team are by no means unattainable. The problem that the Texans will run into is within the brutal AFC South where they have to play six games against the Colts, Jaguars and Titans. Well, that and keeping Matt Schaub healthy. The Texans may indeed be on the verge of becoming a team to be reckoned with, but in 2009, look for them to once again fall short.
Final record: 9-7 (3rd in the AFC South, and once again, on the outside looking in. Maybe next year Houston.)
The 2008 season was one that most Colts players and fans are glad is over. Sure, they finished 12-4 and made it to the playoffs as the first wild card team, but if you saw this team play at all, you knew there was something wrong. Marvin Harrison was a shell of his former self. The motor of the defense, "Big Hit" Bob Sanders, couldn't stay on the field, missing all or most of ten games last season. Same goes for their starting running back Joseph Addai. Really, the only reason the Colts were able to continue to compete was because Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne put the rest of the team on their backs beginning in Week 9. And all of this without mentioning the fact that the team saw Tony Dungy finally step down as head coach after the season.
Needless to say, this is a team in flux. New head coach Jim Caldwell will certainly have his hands full in year one, but with guys like Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, Manning, Wayne and Sanders, this team should still be right in the mix of things come December.
Final record: 10-6 (2nd in the AFC South and probably good enough for a Wild Card berth.)
Much like the Texans are this year, the Jaguars were the dark horse Super Bowl pick heading into the 2008 season. After a hard-fought loss to the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs in 2007, many pundits picked the Jags to come into 2008 poised to take that next step. It didn't happen. In fact, they actually flipped their record, going from 11-5 in 2007 to 5-11 in 2008. Not good.
If the Jags want to get back into the elite ranks of the NFL, they must do so behind their star RB Maurice Jones-Drew. After years of sharing the backfield with Fred Taylor, MJD will finally get a shot at being the every-down guy in Jacksonville. Much of their success this season will depend on whether or not he is capable of taking on that responsibility. In order to help in this adjustment, the Jags selected two offensive tackles (Eugene Monroe and Ebon Britton) with their two first round selections. Probably a good call.
I don't think the Jags did enough this off-season (even with the Torry Holt signing) to envision them rebounding this year. And honestly, its not even so much the personnel that is the issue in Jacksonville. I don't think Jack Del Rio (shown above, flailing on the ground) is a capable head coach in this league. I'm willing to bet he will be out if the Jags fail to finish below .500 again.
Final record: 8-8 (4th in the AFC South)
After years spent looking up at the Colts in the standings, the Titans finally broke through last year to win the AFC South for the first time since 2002. The target is squarely on their backs now. Good thing for the Titans that Jeff Fisher is at his most comfortable in the crosshairs.
With most of their starters returning, pivotal year's for some big name players that will have contract issues after next season (Kyle Vanden Bosch, LenDale White, Bo Scaife and Vince Young) a nice mix of young talent (Kenny Britt, Courtland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, "Twitch" Johnson, Nate Washington) and a few quality veterans (Keith Bulluck, Kerry Collins, Alge Crumpler, Nick Harper, Kevin Mawae and David Thornton) this it truly the year where the Titans must make their run at a Lombardi Trophy. Anything less would be a huge disappointment.
Final record: 11-5 (1st in the AFC South, but probably not good enough for a first round bye again)