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Assessing the 2009 AFC South

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Assessing the 2009 AFC South
(Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

If football was tennis, then the AFC South would be quadruplet Williams sisters—evenly matched, talented, and ready.

Competition is steep in the AFC South for the 2009 season.

The Colts will return as a perennial powerhouse with Peyton Manning at the helm.  The Colts are widely favored to win the division on a yearly basis, but the Tennessee Titans have proven themselves as division champions last year, and will likely come back strong.

The Texans are an up-and-coming young team that will show off an elite wide receiver in Andre Johnson, and Garrard will lead the Jaguars with an all-star defense. 

The Titans and Colts are the two playoff contenders entering the 2009 season, but there is no team that should be written off.

In my opinion, Jeff Fisher is the best coach in football.  He rarely has stand-out, superstar talent, but his conservative playcalling allows the team to minimize turnovers and stay in games. 

Their style is to stick close to their opponent.  That means they rarely break away with scores well into the thirties, but they don't let their competitors do so either. 

Once the Young-Collins issue is resolved, the team will be solid, counting on an impeccable performance from new wide receiver Kenny Britt, and a step up from Justin Gage.  The thing they need to watch out for is holes in the defense after losing Albert Haynesworth—a devastating loss for the team.

Although the Colts are a powerful team, the loss of Tony Dungy will surely affect the team's play to some degree.  A shift in regime usually means a shift in morale, and often a change in strategy.  But since quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell will take over, Manning won't have a major alteration in play. 

Manning is the smartest quarterback in the NFL—a master of changing plays at the line of scrimmage and confusing the defense.  Sometimes I think he doesn't even need a coach.  The Colts are the biggest competition for the Titans, and one of the most competitive teams in the league. 

They were 12-4 last year, and there is no doubt that they'll make the playoffs.  The addition of UConn running back Donald Brown was a smart choice to fill the team's holes and will lead them to an even more successful record. 

While still a talented team, the Jacksonville Jaguars have hurdles to jump in improving their 5-11 record from last year.  They'll be sporting new uniforms and two new offensive tackles—Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.

Last year they beat the Colts at home during the regular season, but inconsistent play would not permit a winning streak that would last very long, and the team is reeling from a violent incident that left offensive lineman Richard Collier paralyzed last year.  The Jags would play well in another division, but when paired with elite Colts, there just isn't a margin for error. 

Finally, the Texans are just too young to make great strides this year.  They will use this, their eighth season, to try to improve their 8-8 record from last year, but even Hilary Duff's planned appearances won't help the team.  She's a reminder of what they are—talented, perhaps, but young and unpolished. 

According to recent practice reports, they appear to be focusing on defense, perhaps hoping to align themselves with the great defenses in this division.  But Matt Schaub lacks the game experience to compare with Manning and Collins, leaving the Texans too short for playoff likelihood.

The division's near-equality in talent and administration means that teams will have to play a tight football game.  But like it or not, injuries matter. Whichever team stays the healthiest will play the best, but it's a question mark throughout the season.

Keep your eye on the Jags as a dark horse if crisis strikes on the Colts or Titans, but be prepared to see those two battle it out for the division championship.

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