Wednesday, September 8, 2010

AFC South season preview

Indianapolis Colts
Super Bowl XLIV was the only game in 2009 that the Colts tried to win, but failed...a 14-0 start to the regular season allowed Indy to rest players in the final 2 meaningless regular season games - both losses...Peyton Manning lost great WR Marvin Harrison, and had the worst running game in the League, but was able to be amazing (as usual)...pen him in for 4,250+ yards and 30+ TD's this season...the Colts drafted heavy on defense, and brought in zero new toys for Manning during free agency, which means Manning will have to help young guys like Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and Donald Brown further develop...Anthony Gonzalez returns from injury, and Peyton has a great chemistry with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark...overall we see a TON of talent here...longtime Offensive Line coach Howard Mudd, and longtime Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore are both gone, so there may be slight adjustments to be made on O

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis
On D I think they can only be as good as DE's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis allow them to be...the other 9 guys on the field are all good (at best) but the pass rush must be able to force opposing QB's into mistakes...as always the key question mark for this D is the health of talented, but injury prone Safety Bob Sanders

PREDICTION...this teams amazing - honestly say it again - amazing - run of 7 straight seasons of at least 12 wins is insanely good...many franchises have not won 12 games in the last few seasons combined, but Peyton and Sons get there every year...AFC South good and has the potential to get really good, in my opinion, as far as being an extremely deep/talented Division...a Division that is about to be on the rise...for the first time in a long time there looks to be a contender(s), instead of the usual pretenders for the AFC South Champs, and Super Bowl runner-up Colts...for that reason I am going to go below the 12 win mark and put the Colts at 10-6...they have the longest current streak of making the play-offs at 8 straight, and this season will surely pump that to 9

Tennessee Titans
I am as interested in how the 2010 season will turn out for the Titans as any other team in the NFL...in 2009 when the team put QB Vince Young back at the helm the Titans regained their relevance going 8-2 in the last 10 games...the O got going, as did the D...

2,006 rushing yards for Johnson in '09,  his 2nd season
RB Chris Johnson is amazing...he is currently riding an 11 game 100+ yard streak...he is the only player ever to have three 85+ yard rushing TD's...the plan in 2010 is to try to have a repeat of last years amazing 2,000+ yards rushing, plus his 50 catches also led the Titans...he had an amazing 358 carries to go with 50 catches...that is 408 touches which is wow wow wow...Titans plan to give the ball to Johnson an enormous amount of the time this year too...RB Javon Ringer is entering his 2nd season and has skills, so if Johnson does falter for whatever reason Tennessee does have a talented back-up

Veteran's Justin Gage and Nate Washington will start at WR, while veteran TE Bo Scaife will also start, but there is a lot of young talent behind them...at WR rookie Damian Williams is solid, and WR Kenny Britt is very talented...2nd year TE Jared Cook will be healthier this season and he has a ton of upside...The Titans have a very good O Line providing QB Vince Young time to find one of these talented targets on every play...it does need to be mentioned in any analysis of Young that he is an X-Factor kind of guy...the opposing defense covers everyone in the patterns-blows up the pocket, Young still scrambles for 13 on 3rd and 8 for a first down kind of guy...

On D the word is that Tennessee is trying to re-acquire DT Albert Haynesworth...the 2009 pass rush (and really their D overall) was very poor so Phat Albert would be an instant help...the real key to the Titans D is the extreme improvement required in the Secondary...Top 10 from last year as far as generating INT's, but they were such an all-or-nothing Secondary as they took chances on just about every pass which either resulted in an INT, or a big reception with room for YAC afterwards (YAC is Yards After Catch) for the opposition...more solid play will be needed in Tennessee for 2010

PREDICTION...looks to me like this team builds on their 8-2 finish to 2009 and get to double-digit wins in 2010...10-6

Houston Texans
This team is also interesting...a 9-7 2009 saw the team struggle to 1-5 within the Division which surely cost Houston their first ever play-off birth...in the first 8 games of 2010 they will only play a Division foe twice - both times (week 1 and week 8) it will be the Colts...weeks 2 through 7 feature only 1 2009 play-off team (at home week 3 to Dallas) as the 2010 Texans could be a team like the 2009 Broncos who surprise everyone early with a great record to start the season, but will they put together enough of a finish to the season to finally qualify for post-season play?!?!

On offense there is some talent in the backfield...only 2 teams were worse than Houston in 2009 when it came to running the ball...Adrian Foster used Training Camp to win the starting RB job and will be backed up by Steve Slaton...I was optimistic that rookie RB Ben Tate would figure in to the Texans game plan for 2010, but an ankle injury sustained during Camp will have him out for the season...

from the U...100+ catches 2 straight seasons
The passing game is really a top-heavy affair...WR Andre Johnson (from the U...aka University of Miami...my fav!) is as good as any WR in the NFL, but after that the talent drop off is huge...to try to add depth the Texans signed Arizona cast-off QB Matt Leinart to back-up Matt Schaub...Schaub will be looking to duplicate his gaudy 2009 #'s of 4,770 yards and 29 TD's vs 15 INT's...wow...a lot of the Texans WR had career years in 2009 which is why I am less than optimistic about their talent on the unit after Johnson, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak will continue to run his version of the West Coast offense

There is room for optimism on the D side of the ball...2nd year Defensive Coordinator Frank Bush had this team D ranked #13 in his first year, and that was with a down year from star Mario Williams...Texans ranked in the bottom third of the NFL as far as INT's and sacks, but a return to health for Mario Williams should provide a massive boost to the unit...in the Secondary #1 round draft pick Kareem Jackson used Camp to earn a starting spot on the corner

PREDICTION...a repeat of 2009 9-7...and yet again the Texans will flirt with their first ever play-off birth, but I believe they will fall just short

Jacksonville Jaguars
At 7-9 last season the Jags were the last place team in the AFC South...they lost their last 4 games and the thought was that would surely mean the end of the Jack Del Rio era...he is certainly on the hot seat, but he does remain as the man in charge...Del Rio will take over the play calling for the D which will hopefully mean a much more aggressive unit...last year this team recorded a pathetic 14 sacks...not even an average of 1 per game which is yikes...rookies Tyson Alualu and Austen Lane are not listed as official starters, but they may both see a lot of action on the D-Line (especially Alualu)
Pocket Hercules
With the room for optimism on D it is likely that the O that will need to carry the team to the play-offs...QB David Garrard is entering his fourth season as the main man...his best option is to hand the ball to great RB Maurice Jones-Drew, but for the Jags to leapfrog the Titans, Texans, and Colts they will have to get much much bigger play from Garrard than his 15 TD's from '09...especially in the early going as star Jones-Drew is battling a wonky knee currently...reports are as varied from he requires arthroscopic knee surgery, to he requires a few days of rest...this team can only go as far as Pocket Hercules aka Jones-Drew and David Garrard take them...WR Mike Sims-Walker is a nice story in Jacksonville...3rd year man had a breakout season in 2009 and will start, and likely be the #1 target in 2010

PREDICTION...interest for Jaguars football in Jacksonville is at an all-time low...if you want to go to sunny Florida and take in a Jags game then good news - PLENTY of seats are available...this is a decent team in a Division full of very good, to great teams...a repeat of 2009 7-9 will be tough...I am going with a 6-10 season which would surely result in a regime change in Jacksonville

check out the other Division previews too...send me an email with your thoughts to craig.ballard@hotmail.com