Week Two Roundup: Helter Skelter in the AFC South
"Why not us?"
It's becoming an all-too-familiar rallying cry for mediocre teams struggling to get over the hump.
Illusions of grandeur? Perhaps, but these days any given season could be any given team's year.
The NFL is a sport that is rife with parity, thanks in no small part to its strict salary cap and revenue sharing. It is arguably what makes it America's most popular sport.
Historically, no division in football better encapsulates this than the rugged NFC East. And rightfully so, given that no team in that division has had a losing record since 2006.
Yet this year, the AFC South is poised to steal some of their thunder, with all four teams having a legitimate shot at making a serious playoff run.
Some have a better chance than others, but no team in the division is a guaranteed two wins for its opponents. The gap is closing, and the line between pretenders and contenders is becoming increasingly blurred.
Here's a brief dossier on all four teams—what needs to go right, what could go wrong, and the reality in between.
With Peyton Manning at the helm, 10 or more wins are almost a given every year. As long as he has at least one stud receiver, they will remain perennial Super Bowl contenders.
It seems like almost every year that there are serious question marks regarding his supporting cast, yet he continues to keep his team playing at a high level. In years past, the defense was suspect. In other years, it was the injury bug catching up to older players.
Nowadays, it's his somewhat diminished receiving corps. Anthony Gonzalez went down recently, leaving Reggie Wayne as the only proven threat. But the inspired play of second year man Pierre Garçon has put their minds somewhat at ease.
In order to avoid a ho-hum (by Indy's standards, anyway) 11-5 campaign and a second round playoff exit, they will need at least one other player to step up and make himself a superstar.
Role players are important, but the Peyton and Reggie Show won't cut it in the long run.
An 0-2 start has many on the verge of panic in Nashville. While the record doesn't necessarily spell out the end of their season by any means, 0-3 just might.
No team in the modern era has ever recovered from that to win a Super Bowl.
The talent is there. So is the play calling. It's their old nemesis: execution. This is a team in desperate need of a win. True, they can probably put together a run during their relatively easy second half schedule, but in this division, that might not be enough.
As of late, Kerry Collins has been playing like he has on a Raiders uniform. The Titans need him to channel his 2008 self ASAP. Otherwise, Tennessee could be last year's New England Patriots: 11-5 and sitting on their couch in January.
Both are capable of playing better, and both have had their historically hard-nosed defenses shredded in recent weeks.
The Jags also rid themselves of over-the-hill veterans and malcontents this past offseason, and on paper they're poised for a decent season. Granted, quarterback David Gerrard isn't necessarily anybody's definition of "the answer." But with their smash mouth style of play, he doesn't have to be a gunslinger.
Under coach Jack Del Rio, consistency hasn't been this team's strong suit. Against the newly confident Houston Texans on Sunday, he would be wise to sell the game as a must-win for his players.
Otherwise, they'll find themselves awash in a sea of "shoulda, woulda, coulda."
Getting blown out by an unproven Jets team is one thing.
"Same old Texans" was undoubtedly on the lips of fans everywhere.
But to totally carve the Titans' vaunted defense (in Tennessee, no less) is cause for at least some measured optimism.
Suffice it to say that Matt Schaub and Co. are for real. Every year, this team is a sexy pick for having a break-out year. Yet every year, something inevitably goes awry and they find themselves mired in mediocrity and unrealized potential.
Yes, spirits are high in Houston, but that "something" this year could be their running game. Last year's rookie phenom Steve Slaton is off to a slow start. The tornado's not here yet, but the clouds are forming.
While Schaub has proven that he can deliver on an important stage, it's doubtful that he can maintain it over the next 14 games if he doesn't have run support. All a team will have to do is blitz like crazy and double wide receiver Andre Johnson.
But the fact remains that their schedule is moderately friendly and they're oozing with confidence. Those two things will be invaluable as they try to make their way to the postseason.
And that's just the week two take on everything. One bad play, one bad call or one key injury could literally remake the division.
With history being rewritten every week, the mercurial AFC South promises to provide a script for the ages.
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