I can't believe I'm saying it, but the Tennessee Titans can actually win the AFC South this season.
They released Vince Young, their former quarterback of the future. They fired Jeff Fisher, their coach of 16 years. They just came to terms with Chris Johnson, ending his hold out just a week ago.
How the heck could Tennessee be expected to compete for anything but the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft??
Here's five reasons why I, the eternal Titans pessimist, think that they have a legitimate chance to win the division.
It was reported earlier today that Peyton Manning underwent a second neck surgery and will be out two to three months.
He hasn't missed a start since 1994, his freshman year at the University of Tennessee. He has been the most consistent player-caller (and I mean that literally) in the NFL for his entire career and is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
You don't get better by losing him.
ESPN simulations have put the Colts' playoff chances at 20 percent if Manning misses the season, which is a very real possibility. Who's going to step up now that the perennial division champions have stumbled?
If you think the Houston Texans are going to pick up the AFC South slack, you need to take a second look.
The Texans finished with a measly 6-10 record in 2010, the same as the Tennessee Titans. They were projected by many as the darlings to finally make their playoff appearance. Is it just me or do these guys get off on disappointing fans every year?
Houston has hardly improved since last year, and the injury to Arian Foster is concerning. After is explosive 2010, Foster has been hampered by a hamstring injury through the preseason, missing several practices leading up to their first game on September 11th.
The Texans defensive secondary is still garbage, as all they did was swap sub-par defensive backs for more sub-par defensive backs this offseason.
Your best bet is to wait on the Astros to do something, Houston...oh wait.
So if the Colts and Texans aren't going to win the AFC South, surely it'll be the Jacksonville Jaguars' division, right?
Lee Corso says, not so fast, my friend! You have to remember one simple, undeniable fact: The Jags kinda suck.
Jack Del Rio has miraculously made it to his ninth season with the team as Jacksonville's head coach, having amassed an un-firable record of 65-63 over that time with a 1-2 playoff record. The Jaguars are sure to win the South with his leadership!
They just cut their starting quarterback, David Garrard, after years of inconsistent play and feuds with Del Rio. They have zero offensive weapons after Maurice Jones-Drew. They have a defense whose best player is nearly impossible to identify.
The Titans will prove Sunday that they're a better team than Jacksonville.
Imagine this: Chris Johnson enters the season with little on-field fanfare. He plays behind an aging quarterback/young exiting quarterback and an offensive line with a lot to prove. The Tennessee Titans have signed an aging tight end known for his run blocking ability. His team isn't predicted to do much, but he runs for 2,000 yards.
Yeah, 2011 is going to be great, isn't it? Wait, did you think I was talking about the 2009 season? It's understandable since the situations are nearly identical.
In 2009, it was just his second season and he was just another solid running back. In 2011, the story is all about his contract. In 2009, he had Kerry Collins and Vince Young. In 2011, he has Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. In 2009, he had Alge Crumpler. In 2011, he has Daniel Graham.
You get the point. I'm basically predicting CJ will run for 8,000 yards.
Kenny Britt's potential is undeniable. It's his off-field actions that might hold his career back. Britt was fortunate to not get suspended by Lord Roger Goodell (whom I actually really like) and should be motivated to make the most of it.
I see big things coming from the Titans' offense.
It's a defense of virtual no-names for the Tennessee Titans, which should work great for them. That's been the been the Titan-way for years.
But there's talent among those Blue Collar Boys (my nickname of choice—love the double entendre). Derrick Morgan is basically a rookie this year after tearing his ACL early in 2010, and he has shown his great talent early on.
Cortland Finnegan has vowed to remain focused and lead the cornerbacks since he's the best and more experienced. Avoiding Andre Johnson's beatdowns will be a good start.
Barrett Ruud was a terrific signing at middle linebacker and is an upgrade over Stephen Tulloch. Ruud will look to get back to his 100 tackle seasons of 2008 and 2009. Beside him will be exciting rookie Akeem Ayers from UCLA, who the Titans believes has first round talent.
You may not know some of the Tennessee Titans, but they're plenty good enough to win the crap shoot that is the Peyton Manning-less 2011 AFC South.
And once the playoffs begin, who knows?
This would make the Music City Miracle a daily chore.