The Indianapolis Colts have all but owned the AFC South for this decade. Since the division's inception in 2002, the Colts have boasted the best record a total of seven times. No other team has stolen the divisional crown from them except for the Tennessee Titans, which has happened only twice.
Many think that this is the year that the AFC South shifts power. Do I agree?
Want to know who I think will steal the crown from the Colts?
Here are my predictions for all of the AFC South teams for the 2011-2012 NFL regular season.
Divisional Record: 4-2
Chance of Being a Sleeper: Very high
The Houston Texans have been preseason Super Bowl darling picks for years, but up until now have disappointed each and every season.
This is the season to change all that.
Despite having a lethal offensive game last year, the Texans' poor defense led to a 6-10 season. This offseason, the front office made moves to patch this glaring hole. The hiring of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator and additions at cornerback with Johnathon Joseph and strong safety Danieal Manning were impressive.
Wade Phillips has switched the defensive scheme to the 3-4, which should work out better for the Texans this season. Mario Williams should thrive as a rushing linebacker. With Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Steve Slaton as threats at any moment when the offense takes the field, the Texans shouldn't have a problem scoring.
Arian Foster getting and staying healthy is key to Houston. If that happens, and the defensive line, special teams and overall ability to play well in the second half of the season improve from last year, look for the Texans to wrap up the AFC South.
Divisional Record: 3-3
Chance of Being a Sleeper: Hard to be a sleeper as the Colts, but high
The Colts' season will hinge on one thing, and that's the man pictured above.
No one can doubt how great Peyton Manning is, and how he drives this team to the playoffs every year. However, coming off a neck surgery in the offseason, Manning is only starting to participate in limited practices. It's not as if Peyton Manning will suddenly forget how to throw a football, but he should be a bit rustier than normal for at least the first half of the season.
This roster is mainly unchanged from last year's, which is both a blessing and a curse for the organization. Continuity is great, especially after a decade of pure domination. At the same time, this is largely the same team that lost to the New York Jets in the first round of the 2011 NFL Playoffs.
The Colts will continue to be good this year, but will need an awful lot of help to make the playoffs if they walk through the smoke without the AFC South crown. Teams like the Patriots/Jets, Ravens/Steelers and Chargers/Chiefs will be looking to nab those last two wild card spots.
Divisional Record: 3-3
Chance of Being a Sleeper: Medium
The Tennessee Titans are in an a bit of an awkward situation.
The organization is stuck between rebuilding and win-now modes, and the result of that is usually mediocrity. Matt Hasselbeck was brought in to mentor rookie Jake Locker, and defensive veterans were dropped from the roster in favor of giving young players experience. Both point to the Titans leaning towards rebuilding.
Tennessee is moving towards a new era under coach Mike Munchak, and these kinds of things usually take a few years to develop. When you release old talent such as Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin in favor of new players such as Akeem Ayers, this shows a team that is more focused on the next few years.
Yet, the Titans will have a decent season. The team boasts one of the easiest schedules in the league this year, with matchups against beatable teams such as the Bengals, Browns and Broncos. In addition to this, both the offense and defense will be decent. Chris Johnson is still a pretty good running back from what I've heard, and Kenny Britt will look to have another breakout year.
This season should consist of a few things for the Titans: a more stable position at quarterback, lots of kinks to work out in coaching and the defense and the emergence of young talent as legitimate threats. However, it should not be considered a season to see the Titans in the playoffs.
Divisonal Record: 2-4
Chance of Being a Sleeper: Low
Much like the Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars are in football purgatory.
Trading away Mike Sims-Walker, the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver for the past few years, and drafting Blaine Gabbert in the first round of the draft sends the message that general management wants to rebuild. The combined signings of free agents totaling up to $100 million screams the opposite.
Did I mention that Jack Del Rio's job is on the hot seat? He wants to win.
Sadly, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't make any huge moves to make themselves playoff contenders. David Garrard is not a franchise quarterback, and without his former No. 1 receiver, he will probably struggle more this year. Maurice Jones-Drew is a stud, but needs to stay healthy.
If the defense could perform better against the passing game and MJD can stay healthy, the Jaguars could win a few more games than predicted. At this point, though, it looks like the difficult schedule that the Jags were handed will move them to be the cellar dwellers of the AFC South.
There doesn't seem to be a possibility of the AFC South being won this year by anybody not named the Colts or Texans.
The Jaguars and Titans seem to be in the same position, an awkward place where the GM wants to not only win now, but also rebuild for the future. That strategy shouldn't lead to anything better than mediocrity, and most likely will lead to a losing record.
The Colts will most likely relinquish their stranglehold on the division's crown for this year, as the Texans are a real threat, especially to an Indianapolis organization that temporarily doesn't have Peyton Manning at his normal effectiveness.
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