The 2008 Colts regular season ended with them in a position they were not used to.
Second place in the division.
After five straight division championships, their bitter division rivals, the Tennessee Titans, dethroned the Colts. While still making the playoffs in 2008, the lack of a home playoff game hurt their hopes of a second Super Bowl in three years.
While the Colts have stood out as the kings of the AFC South, they certainly have had to deal with their fair share of revolts from their neighbors in the division. After seeing the Goliath like Colts finally stumble into second place, their fellow AFC South teams realize its possible to make the playoffs not just as a wild card.
In 2008, the Titans were lucky enough to be the team people were comparing to the ’72 Dolphins and ’07 Patriots by starting the season off 10-0. Led by the “Smash and Dash” tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale While who racked up over 2,000 yards rushing and 24 TD’s, the Titans were able to improve to a league best 13-3 and win the division for the first time since 2002.
Coming into this year, the key components of the Tennessee offense are back together including starting QB Kerry Collins, Johnson and White as well as WR Justin Gage and leading receiver TE Bo Scaife. They come into the season with a deep threat with addition of ex-Steeler Nate Washington, giving Collins an added target.
The big loss for the team was the departure of DT Albert Haynesworth who left for Washington. This left a gap in the line which the Titans filled during the draft by taking Auburns Sen’Derrick Marks, a 6 foot 1, 306-pounder.
While last year was no fluke, a repeat performance may be tough. They were able to squeak out a victory at home against the Colts last year, which was the deciding game in taking the division.
While the core of the team is back, you can’t rely too heavily on Collins keeping up with his play. He turns 37 this season and if the loss of Haynesworth affects them too much, teams will be putting up far more than the 14.7 points allowed by the defense last year.
TITANS – 10-6
2008 was another tough year for the Texans as they came so close to finishing above .500 for the second year in a row. An 8-8 record isn’t too bad when you realize just a few years ago they finished 2-14. With an early bye week in Week 2 due to hurricane damage, the Texans were forced to play 15 weeks straight.
Hopes were high coming into the season as the Texans had traded for the coveted Matt Schaub. Unfortunately, injuries occurred which opened the door for Sage Rosenfels to start and give away a game Week 5 to the Colts. With a victory here, the Texans could have finished 9-7, giving them their first winning season.
After finishing 8-8 the past two season under Head Coach Gary Kubiak, the team will look to improve and make the playoffs. The offense finished third in passing yards with the help of stud WR Andre Johnson, but that didn’t translate into points as they averaged just 22.9 points a game while giving up 24.6.
The defense built up their linebacker corps in the off season by signing former Colt Cato June as well as using their first round pick on Brian Cushing from USC. They also went with Connor Barwin, a defensive end from Cincinnati to book end with former number one pick, Mario Williams.
Keeping the offense healthy will be key. Matt Schaub put up solid numbers when playing giving himself a 92.7 rating in his 11 games. Together with the RB team of Chris Brown and Steve Slaton and the outstanding play of Andre Johnson, this offense could put up some big numbers. With some shake ups on the defensive side including new coordinator Frank Bush, this could be the year they finally win those close games.
TEXANS – 9-7
After signing David Garrard to a staggering six year, $60 million dollar contract in the off season, the Jacksonville Jaguars had high hopes for 2008. Unfortunately, Garrard came down to earth after a recording tying three interception season in 2007. The offensive line was often injured leading to Garrard being sacked an average of 2.7 times a game.
The team used the draft to fill in some holes on the offensive line picking offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton with their first two picks. With the departures of RB Fred Taylor and WR’s Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, the offensive mixes new blood with old blood this season.
The WR corps varies from veterans like Torry Holt and Dennis Northcutt to rookies Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard. A lack of an explosive WR has always been a problem for the Jaguars and this season may not be much different.
This season will test whether Garrard can regain the form he had in 2007 or if his new contract was a mistake. Maurice Jones-Drew’s numbers should increase as he becomes the lone stud RB behind Garrard paired with a healthy offensive line.
They should put up more points than the 18.9 they averaged last year but the defense will need to return to their old form. What was once one of the scarier, hard-nosed defenses in the league fell apart last year and needs to make bigger plays this season in the bigger games.
JAGUARS – 7-9
Compared to their division rivals, the Colts look to be the favorite to capture the AFC South title. While Houston looks like they should improve, it wont be enough to overcome the Colts.
The Jaguars seem like a lost team that could end up with another disappointing season. The only team that could rival the Colts would again be the Titans. Most of their pieces are returning, minus Haynesworth, but if Collins continues to orchestrate the offense how he has, they could give the Colts another run.
That being said, the Colts will be looking to take back their title as well as show the league that although they may have a new head coach, they are still the team to beat in the division. I see them going 13-3 en route to taking back the South.