The winds of change are blowing in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Four teams, the Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Houston Texans. Each team looks to have a shot at making the playoffs this season, and I believe that this year's AFC South will be the most competitive division in the NFL. Here's why...
Lets start with the Titans, a team coming off of their best regular season in franchise history (13-3, tied with the 1999 team that lost to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV). However, much of the Titans success was a result of their phenomenal yet highly underrated defense.
Last season, the Titans defense only allowed their opponents 14.6 points per game (second in the NFL), 293.6 total yards per game (seventh in the NFL), 199.8 yards passing per game (ninth in the NFL), and 93.6 yards rushing per game (sixth in the NFL).
This year's Titans defense will not be the same. After losing all-pro tackle Albert Haynesworth to the Redskins, the Titans will have to find someone to fill that gap, or it's going to be a long season in Tennessee.
On the offensive side of the ball "Smash and Dash," running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson, were the anchor to an offense that was seventh in the NFL in rushing. The passing offense needed some work, as the Titans finished 27th in passing yards per game.
The Titans went in the right direction during the NFL Draft though, selecting Kenny Britt in the first round. The 6'3 218 pound Wide Receiver from Rutgers will give the Titans a much needed middle of the field threat to draw some of the focus away from the running game.
Now on to the Colts. The retirement of head coach Tony Dungy will not be an easy loss to recover from, but under the veteran leadership of Peyton Manning, the Colts should not slip very far. The key question going into the 2009 season, is how can the Colts turn around a rushing attack that was ranked 31st in the NFL last season.
Well, drafting Donald Brown from UConn, the only 2,000 yard rusher in the NCAA last season should help change that. Brown was a GREAT pick for the Colts, who had been relying too much on Joseph Addai to be an every down back.
With Brown, the Colts now have two very elussive backs who are capable of making a big play every time they touch the ball.
The story remained the same on defense last season, as the Colts had 24th ranked run defense in the league giving up 122.9 yards per game. The issue has not been addressed with any big changes, so expect more of the same out of the Indy D.
Moving on, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coming off their first losing season since 2003, Coach Jack Del Rio has some work to do in getting the Jags back on track. With an offense that finished 24th in the NFL in scoring, and 20th in total yards per game, Jacksonville made a few key off-season additions to make sure that there will be no repeat of last year.
Picking up WR Torry Holt from the Rams, and releasing WR Matt Jones were both great moves. Holt, is one of the most productive receievers in NFL history, and while most people say his best years are behind him.
I think that Holt will be a key target for QB David Garrard, and he will have 70+ catches and finish with close to 1,000 yards receiving.
Another concern with the Jaguars, was the protection in which Garrard had to actually deliver his passes on time, and I think Jacksonville did a great job addressing this issue. Drafting Eugene Monroe with the eighth overall pick in this years draft was the best possible choice for this franchise.
Monroe, in my book, was the best pass blocker in this years draft class and should make an immediate impact on one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. In the second round, the Jags did not shy away from their needs, and drafted another highly talented tackle, Eben Britton from Arizona.
Jacksonville understood that games are won and lost on the offensive and defensive lines, and I think that they will be one of the most improved teams in the NFL this season.
That leaves us with the Houston Texans. What can you say about a team that wins five of their last six games in the regular season, and finished the season with the third ranked offense in the NFL? All I can say is, the best is yet to come.
The Texans are young, yet experienced, and they are solid at every position. If Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub stay healthy, the Texans have no reason to think that they will not win the AFC South. Throw rookie sensation Steve Slaton into the mix and you have a Dallas Cowboy-esque trio at the skill positions.
Schaub, Johnson, Slaton compared to Aikman, Irvin, and Smith? I think all the weapons are there for Houston to have a big season. Keeping the same offensive line from last season, not to mention returning Pro-Bowl TE Owen Daniels, this team has some serious firepower.
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, last season was a nightmare. Finishing 27th in the league in points per game, and 22nd in total yards, the Texans again went on the defensive in the NFL Draft, drafting Brian Cushing from USC.
Cushing was one of the talented trio of linebackers drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, and in my opinion, I believe he was the best.
Cushing adds depth to a solid front seven for the Texans, but the problems are in the secondary. Bringing back Dunta Robinson was the biggest move for the Texans this off-season, and adding Linebacker Cato June will also improve one of the worst defenses in the league.
Looking ahead, I see each of these teams having the potential to win the division. I see Indy and Tennessee slipping, and Jacksonville being much improved. So now for the moment you've all been waiting for, the predictions.
1. Houston 11-5
2. Indianapolis 11-5
3. Tennessee 10-6
4. Jacksonville 8-8
Houston will win the division, and Indy will be a wild card going into the playoffs.