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AFC South: A Preview of the Division and How the Teams Stack Up

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 13:  Wide receiver Andre Johnson #80 of the Houston Texans fends off  linebacker Jameel McClain #63 of the Baltimore Ravens as he gains a first down late in the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium on December 13, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images
John SzurlejAnalyst IAugust 29, 2011

This division is always interesting to watch as it offers some of the league's best players and more interesting teams.

It's not just about the Indianapolis Colts anymore as there has been an increasing level of competition between the division's teams.

This season looks like it should offer the tightest race to the division title as there are some interesting story lines to see.  Here's a look at my take on the AFC South.

 

Houston Texans

The Texans are a team that have been on the rise for some time and this should be the year where they can take the next step and become a playoff team.

Quarterback Matt Schaub leads offense and has steadily been one of the division's better quarterbacks.  If Schaub's receiving corps can stay healthy, he should come very close to his career-best 29 touchdowns or break the 30-touchdown mark for the first time in his career. Look for the interceptions to take a slight rise to mirror the positive achievements but there should be no other concern here.

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 27: Matt Schaub #8 of the Houston Texans drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL pre-season football game at Candlestick Park August 27, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Gett
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Stud receiver Andre Johnson remains the biggest threat in the passing game and should stay on his usual pace in receptions and touchdowns.  Kevin Walter is the Texans' version of a Wes Welker receiver and will continue to contribute.  As for Jacoby Jones, this is a year which he must make bigger contributions to help take coverage away from his counterparts.

The ground game is led by Arian Foster, who is a very talented back. I don't see him duplicating his performance from last year, but do expect him to come close to it.  Look for more carries to come from the backups to help preserve Foster's freshness this year.

Defensively, the Texans need to improve in the linebacking department and need to have consistent plays in the secondary to avoid falling behind to other teams too often.  Although the team's offense can bail them out at times it can't rely on that.  I think this team is poised for a strong run and will finish at 9-7

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are a team in decline after last season's performance.  The concerns here are considerable and the team must have players step it up if they expect to compete.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 27: David Garrard #9 of the Jacksonville Jaguars throws against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

David Garrard is aging and has seen better days, and the concerns over his back may just be his undoing.  Garrard has always relied on a combination of his arm and the ability to run.  With the concerns at wide receiver and defenses looking to zero in on Mercedes Lewis, Gerrard will be running more often than expected. Blaine Gabbert is not ready to start and may be forced into the role by mid season.

The receiving corps is led by Mike Thomas and outside of him, there is nothing special here.  Lewis is the only other legitimate target as a receiver and will be one of the most utilized tight ends in the league this year.  If the Jags want to move the ball another receiver needs to step up.

The ground game is headed by Maurice Jones-Drew, who is coming off of a surgery that poses questions about his effectiveness this year.  If he struggles or gets injured again, backup Rashad Jennings has talent, but isn't ready for the primary workload despite looking impressive.

Defensively, the Jaguars have improved by adding Aaron Kampman on the defensive line and Paul Posluszny at linebacker. They need to come up bigger against the run this year.  This team might find the lack of the offense's ability may keep them on the field longer and tire them out.  Look for the Jaguars to finish this season at 4-12.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Joseph Addai #29 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The Jets won 17-16. (Photo b
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Indianapolis Colts

The drama in Indy is making most Colts' fans nervous is that future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is most likely going to miss the first 3-4 games this season.

When Peyton is healthy, he makes this team a contender for the Super Bowl every year.  The concern here is does this team have enough to be able to carry itself through his absence?  The Colts' answer to that was the singing of veteran Kerry Collins.  Hurry back, Peyton.

The ground game needs to, now more than ever, become something more than merely something to do every now and to give Manning's arm a rest.  Joseph Addai is looking better this year and has the ability to make plays, but Donald Brown may be the MVP here.

Their receivers are fine and I can't really find much to say other than they work well, provided Peyton is throwing to them.  Without him, they look like lost children. 

Defensively, the Colts need to stop the run!  The linebackers need to improve to prevent running backs from gaining the second level and making plays for big gains.  The secondary is average and they need to find some consistency.  Overall the team without Manning will be shaky, but when he returns should start firing on all cylinders.  Look for the Colts to go 11-5.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to throw the ball during pregame before taking on the Chicago Bears in the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on January 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

 

Tennessee Titans

Forget Chris Johnson for the time being and focus on the things Tennessee did to address some concerns they had before Johnson held the team's season hostage.

Matt Hasselback comes to town to replace the team's ineffective quarterbacks and bring some stability to the position while teaching draft pick Jake Locker the ins and outs of the position.

Although Hasselback has seen better days, he is a marked improvement in this area and will help the team in the passing game tremendously.  Locker has a lot of potential but is not ready for the starting position now, but may wind up trumping Hasselback midseason or after Week 10.

The receivers need to have big years from Kenny Britt and Nate Washington.  Washington needs to become more involved in the passing game besides being just be a deep threat.  Look for more involvement from Justin Gage this year.

The ground game should be able to provide enough of an attack in Johnson's absence with the talents of Javon Ringer and Jaime Harper.  It is possible that the Titans may try to acquire a veteran to help in this area and to provide insurance if the other two backs aren't working well.

Defensively, the Titans should be able to handle their workload as the unit seems to be balanced pretty well. They can do the job effectively enough to keep the Titans in good shape.  Look for the Titans to end up 8-8 with Johnson, 6-10 without.

 

It remains to be seen how the impacts of injuries and holdouts affect their teams. It can be speculated to the end of days, but the games need to be played to see how it actually pans out.

The AFC South is one of the more entertaining divisions in the NFL, and we should have more of the same this year.

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