Perhaps the toughest division in all of football, I expect the teams in the AFC South to wage in a war of attrition against each other.
When all is said and done, I think the Colts will make their way back to the top of the division.
First: Indianapolis Colts
Projected Record: (11-5, No. 3 AFC Seed)
Overview: Since drafting Peyton Manning about a decade ago, Bill Polian and Co. have always ensured that he has a strong supporting cast.
The trend continued with this year's draft, as the Colts took running back Donald Brown with their first pick. I see one of two things happening at RB: Either Brown will light a fire under Joseph Addai's rear end, or the fire will burn Addai up and Brown will be the starter by midseason. In my mind, it's a 50-50 proposition.
Perhaps the biggest news out of Indy were the new roles of Tom Moore and Howard Mudd (and the consternation it cost Peyton). The offense will experience some growing pains, I'm sure, but not enough to keep Indy from winning the division.
Second: Houston Texans
Projected Record: (10-6, wild card)
Overview: Call me crazy, but I think this is the year Houston puts it all together.
The addition of Steve Slaton last year added a new dimension to an already potent offense that includes Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Owen Daniels. Matt Schaub might not be the best triggerman out there, but if healthy, he can get the job done.
Adding Brian Cushing to a linebacker corps that includes DeMeco Ryans and Cato June should put the defense over the top.
Third: Tennessee Titans
Projected Record: (8-8)
Overview: I'm sure Tennessee fans will be bent to see their squad in this position, especially after last year's success. In my mind, there are two reasons the Titans won't approach those heights in 2009.
First, Baltimore provided the blueprint for every team in the NFL. Load up the box against the two-headed monster of LenDale White and Chris Johnson, and force Kerry Collins to beat you.
Second, the loss of Albert Haynesworth makes this defense a shell of what it was last year. Opponents will now be able to put together long drives by running the ball, and opposing defenses will be more rested when they go up against that once hard-nosed D.
Fourth: Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected Record: 7-9
Overview: Jacksonville is certainly moving in the right direction, but there are still too many holes that need to be filled (WR, CB, DT, C).
On top of that, I think Jack Del Rio has lost this team. There is no doubt in my mind that the Jaguars quit on him last year.
The tough schedule out of the gates (@ Indy, Arizona, @ Houston, Tennessee) will revive the grumbling, and Jack will be out of work by the end of the season.