|He's the cure for any under-achieving team. Good luck Texans!|
Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's head south to check out the AFC South...because Indianapolis is definitely in the South. Much like Dallas is in the East. Oh well. In case you missed them, here are the other division's I've previewed.
I suppose this is the part where I need to boldly predict the Texans to depose the Colts and take over the division. Sure, sounds like a great idea. Look, there aren't many certainties in life, but there are two definites that you can count on; Brett Favre will stage a painfully drawn out comeback, and the Colts will win the AFC South. As two of our local radio guys always say, "You can take it to the bank!"
1. Indianapolis Colts: 11-5
Biggest Addition: DT Tommie Harris/DT Drake Nevis - It's sometimes tough to pinpoint a "Best Addition" for Indianapolis because they typically aren't very aggressive in free agency. (By the way, that's probably a big reason why they're always good!) OL Anthony Castonzo wouldn't be a bad pick here either, but I think Indy's real problem lies on the defensive line. According to Cold, Hard Football Facts, Indy ranked 28th in Defensive Hog Index. That's not good. Given that, it's not too surprising that they allowed 30+ points in 5 of their 6 losses last season. Again, not good. What has to be concerning to Colts fans is that neither of the above defensive linemen are sure things. Harris used to be a dominant interior lineman until injuries sapped him of his trademark explosiveness. Healthy now (supposedly), it's a worthwhile gamble to see if he can regain some of his previous form. As for Nevis, it's never a sure thing when it comes to rookies. Those of us who watch a good bit of SEC football can attest to his talent and his 'nasty streak,' but whether that translates to NFL success remains to be seen. Either way, a solid contribution from either of these players would be a huge breath of fresh air.
Biggest Loss: Umm...how about Peyton Manning's neck? Seriously, losing an overrated LB, an unproductive CB, and a crappy tackle on a crappy offensive line is not a big deal.
Biggest Question: How will Peyton hold up? I feel dumb even asking this. Haven't we learned to not doubt Peyton Manning? Look, I'm not the biggest fan in the world...in fact, I kinda hate him, and it would give me pleasure to see him fall off the cliff. Am I betting on it? Not on your life. Someday, he'll finally age. Someday. Until then, I'll keep picking the Colts in the AFC South.
Bonus Question: Why in the world did they sign Mike Hartline?! Did they not see tape of him at Kentucky?! He's the anti-Peyton Manning!
Summary: A lot of people are getting on the "Colts are declining" train. They definitely have some aging parts that likely contributed to last seasons 'lower than normal' win total, but that doesn't adequately explain their 2010 season. Fact is, the Colts were about as un-lucky as you could get. 4 of their regular season losses were by 3 points or less, and their playoff loss to the Jets was by a measly 1 point. Not only that, but they lost 89 games from their starters due to injury. 89 games! Even if you discount Bob Sanders missed games (who didn't see that coming?), the Colts ranked in the top 5 in missed games by starters. In reality, the Colts were an eyelash away from another 12 or 13 win season. There's still some age on the roster, and injury concerns remain, but there's no reason to expect a Colts collapse this season.
2. Houston Texans: 9-7
Biggest Addition: CB Johnathan Joseph - Houston ranked dead last in pass defense last season. Obviously, improving the defense was a major priority, and they hit a homerun with Joseph. He's younger than Asomugha, and he's better at making plays on the ball. Adding Joseph significantly improves Houston's chances of winning.
Biggest Loss: FB Vonta Leach - Arian Foster's 1600 yard season was nothing short of spectacular, but major credit must be given to Leach, who led the way on the majority of those carries. That's not to say that Foster will return to anonymity without him, but losing a First Team All-Pro lead blocker certainly won't help.
Biggest Question: Is the coaching staff up to the task? I know it's cliche to blame the coaches, but this team has been underachieving for far too long to let Kubiak off the hook. Now, as the times get desperate for Kubiak, he brings in perennial underachiever Wade Phillips?! Did he see what happened to my Cowboys last year?! Yeah, good luck with that Houston!
Summary: Even considering the Wade Phillips Effect, the defense simply can't be worse than last year. Especially with a significantly improved secondary. The real wildcard for the Texans defense is how they adjust to the 3-4. Mario Williams move to the DeMarcus Ware role will definitely bear watching. Still, if the defense can just finish in the middle of the pack, the Texans should have a legit shot at the playoffs. The pieces are all there. Then again, how many times have we said that before?
3. Tennessee Titans: 6-10
Biggest Addition: QB Matt Hasselbeck - Let me be clear on this. I think Matt Hasselbeck was a fine QB in his day, but that day is over. He's past his prime and he's no longer a viable starting QB in the NFL. Personally, I think Tennessee should have stuck with Vince Young for another year, but that's just me. Regardless, I think the Hasselbeck signing was valuable for the development of Jake Locker. Locker is extraordinarily talented, but he's equally as raw and unrefined. Hasselbeck was always a smart QB, and I think Locker will be much better having learned the position from him.
Biggest Loss: HC Jeff Fisher - There's no way around how dumb this split was. Fisher catches flack for "not winning the big one," but I've always thought that was a dumb criticism. He's worked miracles with wholly unimpressive collections of talent and he's very underrated in his ability to develop young players. The Titans are in much worse shape now than they were this time last year.
Biggest Question: Can they get Chris Johnson on the field? The passing game isn't going to have much chance to succeed if they don't get Johnson locked up and in the backfield. I completely understand why he's holding out, as he deserves to be fairly compensated. Unfortunately, Tennessee's management seems to be completely inept, so who knows how long this will drag out?
Summary: I gave them 6 wins based on the assumption that Johnson will be ready to go by Week 1. If his holdout lasts into the season, then this could be an absolute train wreck. Once lauded for their defensive prowess, Tennessee finished 26th in the league in total defense. Don't be surprised to see Jake Locker sooner rather than later.
4. Jacksonville (soon to be LA) Jaguars: 3-13
Biggest Addition: QB Blaine Gabbart - I don't even like Gabbart, but at least he's not David Garrard!
Biggest Loss: Their cap space thanks to the dumb Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, and Dawan Landry signings.
Future Biggest Loss: Their franchise...to LA...
Biggest Question: I have several questions. Will Jack Del Rio make it through Week 10? Will David Garrard be captured by an angry mob and killed? Will the franchise be forced to fill the stadium with crash test dummies so it looks like there's somebody at the game? Will they be the first franchise to have zero fans in attendance? Will we get to witness another Baltimore Colts incident with vans moving the team to LA overnight...after a Week 7 loss to Baltimore in which zero fans show up and the franchise is forced to fill the stadium with crash test dummies so it looks like there's somebody at the game? Will the team be dropped a level to the SEC, only to finish fourth in the conference? Will they get desperate and offer four first round picks AND Maurice Jones-Drew to Denver for Tim Tebow? These are all legitimate questions!
Summary: Umm...just read those questions again and you should get the idea. Let's just go ahead and assume we'll see plenty of Blaine Gabbart this year.