The Great and the Terrible in the South (2013 AFC South Preview)

afc_south

The AFC South is a tale of two separate types of teams as there are the two good teams and the two terrible teams. It is the story of the haves and have-nots as the AFC South contains more than just two good and two bad team but also two very different ways of doing things. Two teams are clearly doing things the right way while the other two have been doing things wrong. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are the teams that have been doing it right as both have been on top of the division for year. They have had their tough seasons where they do not make the playoffs and look like a lesser team but these seasons are few and far between. The Texans have been getting better every year since they joined the NFL in 2002 and are now one of the top teams in the league. The Indianapolis Colts had a long run with Peyton Manning at the helm and when Manning was gone would see one of their worst seasons. Then they drafted a replacement and made their way back to the top of the division leaving their bad season a distant memory. Then there are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans who are doing things all wrong. Unlike the other two teams these teams have had their limited successes but tend to fall back in to the bottom of the division. The Titans were the more successful of the two as they had a run of very good years but since then have fallen out of grace. The Jaguars are a different story as they have been at the bottom of the league for years and never seem to be able to climb out. The four teams in the division will go at it again this year as the two top teams look to continue their success while the bottom teams try to figure out how to fix things as they look to surprise the league and win the division beating two very good teams.

 

Houston Texans

houston_texans

The Houston Texans are a team that can show every other team in the league how to build a winner. The Texans began as an expansion team in 2002 and every year they have been getting better until they would become one of the best teams in the league. The last few years the Texans have been a force in the NFL as they have built a team to win. The Texans last year would get into the playoffs for the second year in a row starting a streak that they had never seen before. It took the Texans some time to get past the Colts but they have taken the right path. This year they look to keep the streak going and trying to take it a step further as they hope to get past the first round of the playoffs. The Texans are led by their defence and there is no question that it has become one of the best defences in the league. Last year the Texans got better with the emergence of J.J. Watt as the best defensive player in the league. Watt will once again lead this squad along with Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed at the second level. The Texans would add another big piece to the defence in Super Bowl winner Ed Reed to patrol the middle of the field. The Texans will once again have a great defence that will help to dominate the opposition and with the veteran presence of Ed Reed the defence has become scary good. The offence will once again look to establish their air raid attack while mixing in one of the best running backs in the league. Matt Schaub has been able to connect with Andre Johnson to provide one of the best passing attacks in the game but there was always a hole in the passing game. This year the Texans have filled this hole by drafting DeAndre Johnson who will provide a second threat in the passing game relieving some of the coverage on Johnson. In the backfield Arian Foster returns to lead the rushing attack while Ben Tate will provide relief in a two-back system. The Texans are one of the strongest team this year and with some key editions in some holes from last year there is not a lot in their way to another division title and a potential Super Bowl appearance.

 

Strength:
Defence
– There is no question that J.J. Watt and company are a good defence and with Ed Reed now patrolling the defensive backfield there are few issues with the defence that looks to be the best defence in the league again this year

Weakness:
Learn how to win the big one
– The Texans are still a relatively young team and they have some learning to do as they hope to get over the hump and win the big one but that is easier said than done as they have to learn how to win the big one

Biggest Addition:
Ed Reed, S (Free Agent, Bal)
– 1 Super Bowl, 9 Pro Bowls, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and multiple defensive records is what the Houston Texans will be getting with Ed Reed as he will come in and be a constant presence among a number of younger players and will undoubtedly be the leader of this defence

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Texans have kept all of their key players as they would not lose anyone that they could not replace and made better additions than anyone that left as they will go into the season with their team intact

Indianapolis Colts

indianapolis_colts

The Indianapolis colts took a big risk in 2012 as they would let franchise QB Peyton Manning walk in hopes that young star could take over. As one of the worst teams in 2011 the Colts would select second overall in the draft and would find a Manning replacement in Andrew Luck. Luck would enter the NFL last year with a lot of pressure as he would look to meet expectations coming from the NCAA along with competing with first overall pick Robert Griffin and looking to replace a legend. Luck would lose to RGIII but on the other two aspects he would do just fine. A great year would see Andrew Luck bring the Colts from the bottom of the division to second place and into the playoffs. The run would end there but the fact that he brought them from picking second in the Draft to the wild card was proof enough that the decision to release Manning had paid off. This year Luck is back for his sophomore season and looking to bring the Colts back to the playoffs for the second year in a row. This year he will have some back up in the passing game with Darrius Heyward-Bey joining T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne as weapons in the passing game. The running game will be led by another sophomore as Vick Ballard takes the starting roll and will likely split time with Donald Brown. The offence is better than last year but it will all hinge on Andrew Luck avoiding the sophomore slump. The defence for the Colts is a different story though as a mainstay in blue and white is no longer with the team. Dwight Freeney is no longer with the team leaving a massive hole in the pass rush. To fill this hole the Colts would go out to get Aubrayo Franklin, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Erik Walden. The combination of these three may just do it as none of them can replace Freeney alone but together they may be able to fill the hole. LaRon Landry was another good pick up for the Colts as they would strengthen their secondary along with most of their defence. The Colts have made improvements in a lot of aspects of their team but there are still some questions. Because of these questions the Colts will not win the division but the playoffs could be in sight for them.

 

Strengths:
Team Commitment
– This offseason the Colts showed that they are behind their teams as they would add a number of key pieces to the new base on the team and prove that the organization is willing to do what it takes to win

Weakness:
The Sophomore Slump
– Andrew Luck is in the same situation as the three other great Rookie QBs from last year as he will need to overcome the sophomore slump as opponents know what he is about and will be able to adjust to him

Biggest Addition:
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR (Free Agent, Oak)
– Reggie Wayne is getting up in age and T.Y. Hilton can’t carry the passing game and so comes Heyward-Bey who is not a #1 receiver but will provide a very good second option for Luck taking the pressure off of Wayne

Biggest Loss:
Dwight Freeney, DE (Free Agent, SD)
– Replacing a veteran pass rusher who put up double-digit sack numbers is a tough task and that is what the Colts are dealing with as they have to try to move on from their defensive leader and best pass rusher

Jacksonville Jaguars

jacksonville_jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a team that has had almost nothing to look forward to in the past few years. They have regularly been a team that cannot get out of the basement and as a result have been one of the least valuable teams in the NFL. Last year some of the fans came back but there is no doubt that they are not a successful team. Last year they finished in last place in the NFL and once again disappointed their limited fan base. With the 2013 season approaching the Jags are hoping to get even more fans back with an adjusted logo and new jerseys that hope to bring people back. That might be all that the Jags will have to bring people back to the game as they have done very little to improve a bad team. Despite a new general manager in David Caldwell and a new head coach in Gus Bradley there is not a lot to be hopeful for.  Blaine Gabbert was supposed to be the solution at QB for the Jags but so far he has not shown that he can lead a team. Gabbert will get another shot to do it with Chad Henne sitting directly behind him as the insurance policy for the Jags. If Gabbert or Henne cannot prove to be the starter they need a new QB in the draft could be coming. The QBs will not have a lot to work with as Cecil Shorts and sophomore Justin Blackmon, who has been suspended for four games due to a DUI, lead the passing game alongside the best option for them tight end Marcedes Lewis. The best player on the team, as always, will be Maurice Jones-Drew who will hope to have an injury free year and take control of the offence to help the Jags take games. The defence is not much better as they rely heavily on Jason Babin to provide something on the line while the rest of the team is not a lot to talk about. The Jags seem to be in a place where the new General Manager will sit back and see what he has before blowing the team up and starting over. The Jags are not a good team and will not be challenging the top in the division as they will likely sit in the bottom of the division and the league once again.

 

Strengths:
New Regime-New Team
– A new GM and a new head coach mean a new path for the team but they are not going all out to change the team yet and that is a good sign as they are going to take their time to rebuild this team meaning the management in Jacksonville has gotten better

Weakness:
Talent
– The Jags are in a tough way as they do not have a lot of talent on the team with a lot of holes on offence and defence this year that they have not filled in the offseason leaving a lot of issues still to be fixed

Biggest Addition:
Luke Joeckel, T (Draft)
– The new GM did good with his first pick as he would take a cornerstone of a good offence as offensive tackle Luke Joeckel would mark a new path for the Jags and will be the start to a new team that will likely see a lot of change next year

Biggest Loss:
Rashean Mathis, CB (Free Agent, Det)
– One of the few talented players on this defence Mathis is no longer with the team creating another hole in a defence with plenty of holes that have not been fixed as the Jags may be looking at the first overall pick again this year

Tennessee Titans

tennessee_titans

The Tennessee Titans are not that far away from their best years when they would make the playoffs and challenge for the top spot in the division. Still they are not there anymore as they continue to sit at the bottom of the division with few playmakers to put them over the top. Last year the Titans would finish with a 6-10 record and would be out of the playoffs again but it wasn’t all bad news. Although the Titans still do not have the talent it might take to beat the top teams they are on their way up in the division. The Titans are looking to continue their upswing as they slowly build a team that will hopefully challenge for the division. The offence is led by young underrated QB Jake Locker who may not be the flashiest QB in the league but with the starting job firmly in his grasp he may have a better year. Locker will take over this team after battling for the starting job in the last few years and will look to improve the offence. Locker got a lot of help in the offseason as the Titans would revamp an offensive line that allowed 25 sacks last year. Adding free agents Andy Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack immediately upgraded the middle of the line and will give Locker more time to make plays. With this time Locker will look to Nate Washington and Kenny Britt who could have a great season in a contract year. As usual the driving force behind the offence is Chris Johnson who will try to stay injury free and get back to his dominating ways. On defence the Titans will welcome some help in their pass defence with the addition of Bernard Pollard in the offseason. Pollard will join Michael Griffin to create a good safety tandem. Other than that there is not a lot of other great points for the defence. They will struggle on defence without a pass rush and limited playmakers on the defence leaving some big questions. The Titans are on the cusp of getting better but it will not happen this year as there are too many holes in this team for them to challenge for a playoff spot. The titans will need to continue on the path of improvement before they are back near the top spot in the division.

 

Strength:
Running Game
– Chris Johnson, when healthy, is a player that can take over a game and he can do it again this year as he will be looked at to lead this offence and will try to take over once again to provide some relief for Jake Locker

Weakness:
Pass Rush
– There is no real stars on the defensive line or in the linebacking corps that can put pressure on QBs as they will rely on a number of unproven pass rushers who will not give much support to the pass defence

Biggest Addition:
Andy Levitre, G (Free Agent, Buf)
– The defensive line for the Titans would allow 25 sacks last season and would not be much help to their young QB but adding a veteran like Levitre to the interior line is sure to go a long way in correcting that

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Titans did not have a lot to lose in the offseason and the few that they did lose will not be missed all that much as the few players they need were not major players in any aspect of the Titans’ offence or defence

Prediction:
1. Houston Texans
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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