In 2002, the NFL welcomed the new Houston Texans franchise, which led to the creation of the AFC South. Two years after their Superbowl run, the Titans swept the division and posted an 11-5 season. The Colts came in second going 10-6 with two of those losses coming to the Titans.
The next year, the Titans and Colts both went 12-4, but the Colts took the division by sweeping the Titans that year.
For the next four years, the Colts dominated the South with a division record of 19-5. However, last year the Titans took top spot in the NFL regular season and reclaimed the division. The Colts tied for second in the league with three other teams at 12-4, though some would argue their Week 17 victory against the Titans was more of a gift.
The teams' first meeting last year came in Week Eight on Monday Night Football. The Colts went into the game 3-3 and the Titans went into the game 6-0. The 31-21 victory left the Titans undefeated. On the other hand, the Colts' season looked grim.
To try and figure out how this season will pan out for the two teams in blue, I will break down each position. The Titans players are listed first and the Colts second.
Kerry Collins vs. Peyton Manning
Manning: This is a no-brainer. Manning has the reputation and the stats that make him a better QB than Collins.
Chris Johnson vs. Joseph Addai
Johnson: The rookie was outstanding last season and rushed for more than 1,200 yards. In the Titans and Colts' first meeting Johnson put the game away with his 16-yard touchdown run.
Justin Gage and Nate Washington vs. Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez
Colts receivers: Justin Gage is improving but he is not at the skill level of Reggie Wayne. Nate Washington is new to the Titans system and this will be Gonzalez's third season with the Colts, which is why the Colts receivers win this category.
Bo Scaife vs. Dallas Clark
Clark: One of Manning's favorite targets, Clark is turning into one of the league's top tight ends. He had 800 yards receiving last year, which is 300 more than Scaife.
Titans' offensive line: Michael Roos, Eugene Amano, Kevin Mawae, Jake Scott, and David Stewart make up one of the best offensive lines in the league. Though Jeff Saturday is a great lineman, the Titans have a stronger line as a whole.
Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis
Colts DE: Though Vanden Bosch is one of the best defensive ends in the league, the combination of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and their 22 sacks last year makes them the winner in this category.
Jason Jones and Tony Brown vs. Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster
Titans DT: The Titans defensive tackles consist of a rotation of five players. Brown, Jones, Jovan Haye, Kevin Vickerson, and Sen'Derrick Marks all work together to fill the two spots on the field. This allows the Titans to wear out the offensive line of the opponent by the fourth quarter.
Keith Bulluck and David Thornton vs. Freddy Keiaho and Clint Session
Titans LB: Keith Bulluck is one of the best in the league, and David Thornton is coming into his prime. Together they are one of the best sets of outside linebackers in the league.
Stephen Tulloch vs. Gary Brackett
Brackett: Tulloch is starting to turn into a pretty good linebacker, but Gary Brackett is a much better linebacker at this point.
Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper vs. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden
Titans CB: Finnegan made himself known to the league last year by being one of the most pesky of cornerbacks. Though Nick Harper is getting old, he is still a solid cornerback.
Michael Griffin vs. Antoine Bethea
Griffin: Bethea racked up more than 100 tackles last season, but Griffin was the worthy recipient of a Pro Bowl invitation last year.
Chris Hope vs. Bob Sanders
Hope: Normally Sanders would take this category, but due to the fact that Sanders could only stay healthy for six games last season and Hope made it to the Pro Bowl, the Tennessee strong safety wins this category.
Rob Bironas vs. Adam Vinatieri
Bironas: Not only did Bironas have a better percentage last year, he also has come through in big situations for the Titans—including a 60-yard field goal to beat the Colts two years ago.
Craig Hentrich vs. Mike Dragosavich
Hentrich: Dragosavich has no stats to his name so this category goes to the veteran Hentrich.
That makes the count 9-5 in favor of the Titans. Bear in mind that this advantage can easily be overcome by the fourth-quarter play of Peyton Manning.
For the true reason the Titans will take the division this year, look to the coaching staff. Tony Dungy's conspicuous absence from the Colts sideline will leave their bitter rivals in the AFC South driver seat.