Sports Blog Movement NFL Preview: AFC South

sbm-nfl-crystal-ballThe AFC south was a one car race for over a decade. For 10 years the Indianapolis Colts dominated the division in record breaking fashion, posting more wins and division titles than any other team in NFL history over a ten year time period. Even more than their nemesis from the East, the Patriots. It was more lopsided than Tony Stewart on the Indianapolis speedway racing against a few dozen Asian women in Volkswagens.

The Jaguars were kinda-sorta good for a few years, if you consider good as getting into the playoffs as a wildcard team twice in the last 13 seasons. The Tennessee Titans won a Division title in the middle of the Colts epic run and then disappeared into anonymity faster than the 5th Kardashian sister. Both teams were little more than a temporary nuisance to the Colts. Neither team sustained any momentum and went back to being Indy’s doormat.

Then 2011 happened. Manning’s neck turned into a bent slinky and suddenly the Colts went into the wall in turn three. They finished the race only because the league forced them to actually play all 16 games. Someone had to take over the division, and the Houston Texans decided it was as good a time as any to start being competitive after 10 years in existence.

But the Colts went to the pits, drafted Andrew Luck, and got right back into the race.

2013 like any other year in the AFC south since it’s inception: there is one very good team, a borderline playoff team and two of the worst teams in the entire NFL. Barring some unexpected bad luck the results of this year’s race should surprise no one.

houHouston Texans2012 12-4 (Lost in divisional round)

Key losses- WR Kevin Walter, TE James Casey, OT Rashad Butler

Key additions- S Ed Reed, WR DeAndre Hopkins

This pretty much the year for the Houston Texans. After a decade of building a playoff caliber team they are one of the best teams in the AFC. They don’t have a major weakness and are a quality football team in any situation. Offensively, defensively, special teams, situational football, coaching, and experience.They are easily the best team in the South, and arguably the best in the entire AFC.

But for how much longer?

The Colts with Andrew Luck won’t be willing to play bridesmaid for very long. Outside of the division the Patriots are in decline, the Ravens blew up their roster, the Steelers are in disarray, and the Broncos are one solid hit on Peyton manning away from being a 6-10 team. The opportunity for the Texans to win a championship may never get better than 2013.

Andre Johnson rebounded nicely from a disappointing year in 2011 with arguably his best season ever. The addition of rookie DeAndre Hopkins will certainly be an upgrade at the #2 WR position, replacing Kevin Walter after his defection to rival Tennessee. This mix of youth and veteran guile reminds me of the dynamic Baltimore had the last two years with Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

Arian Foster is as versatile and dangerous as any RB in the league, but he has also had a tendency to get injured at inopportune times. He had a few nagging injuries even when he does start that limit his big play ability.

Defensively I’m not sure what the addition of Ed Reed will add to this already solid group aside from name recognition. It is entirely possible he was brought in merely to compete against Tom Brady after he eviscerated the Texans defense with 41 points in the playoffs. Suffice to say, Ed Reed has had some success against Mr. Bundchen in his career.

But really this is the same team that went 12-4 last year and missed an opportunity to compete for a championship. They didn’t add much talent, but they really didn’t need too. They were able to keep everyone from last year’s 12-4 team, and in the salary cap era that is some seriously good franchise management. From a talent perspective they are as deep and complete a football team as there is in the league right now. The biggest question in Houston, and the entire AFC South for that matter:

Can Matt Schaub do it when it really matters? Prediction 12-4

indIndianapolis Colts- 2012 11-5 (Lost in Wildcard round)

Key losses-WR Donnie Avery, DE/OLB Dwight Freeney

Key additions-QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, OT Gosder Cherilus, S LaRon Landry, DE/OLB Bjoern Werner

2012 was a remarkable season for the Colts. Their prized rookie QB delivered beyond expectations. Considering he was drafted #1 overall and replacing Peyton Manning the significance of his accomplishments cannot be understated. Of all the situations a rookie QB could walk into last year’s Colts had to be a worst case scenario for Andrew Luck:

A last place team, scores of veterans released or retired, years and years of dominating their division, and the constant specter of arguably the greatest QB to have ever played the game casting a very large shadow…well… suffice to say the task ahead of Andrew Luck at the beginning of last year couldn’t have been more difficult. And, oh yea, his first year head coach got cancer. He was replaced by Bruce Arians (first year offensive coordinator) who hadn’t been a head coach at any level in 15 years. He stepped in and looked like a salty veteran from day 1.

But 2012 is a matter of record. The real question, for the sake of this article anyways, is how much will last year’s surprising Colts team influence this years?

Not that much. If any at all.

The truth is last year nobody knew what to expect from the Colts. With a new QB, new head coach and almost an entirely new roster they took a lot of people by surprise. Again, not to take anything away from Andrew Luck, but there is a reason no other team in the history of the NFL has gone from 2-14 to 9-7 before. There are reasons why teams don’t rebound that quickly. Even with a lot of Luck, literally and figuratively.

Bruce Arians was Andrew Luck’s Offensive coordinator but has since moved on to be the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals. History is not kind to second year QB’s, especially not QB’s that showed such remarkable results their first year. History is particularly brutal however to young QB’s that are forced to change offensive systems early and often. (See: Alex Smith)

Whatever gains they made in personnel will be offset by Luck going through an understandable sophomore jinx and compounded by a change in OC. Neither of those things are quantifiable by anything more than NFL history. If everything went their way again for the second straight year (and you know it won’t) I just don’t see a roster better than 10-6. And that’s if every bounce and every call goes there way for the second straight year. I just can’t imagine that happening.

If they didn’t have 4 easy wins against Jacksonville and Tennessee on their schedule I would say they are an 8-8 team. As it is…Prediction 9-7

tenTennessee Titans- 2012– 6-10 (3rd in AFC South)

Key losses- QB Matt Hasselbeck, TE Jared Cook, G Steve Hutchinson, S Jordan Babineaux

Key additions- QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Shonn Greene, G Andy Levitre, RB Jalen Parmele, WR Kevin Walter, TE Delanie Walker, G Chance Warmack, WR Justin Hunter, S Bernard Pollard

Well the Titans were certainly active this off-season. You can’t say they weren’t trying.

Of course, what it was they were trying to do is still open for debate. Whatever it was they were hoping to do they..umm….well, they sure did a lot of it.

Obviously they placed a priority on improving their offensive line by drafting Warmack and signing Levitre. They understandably believe that Chris Johnson and his playmaking ability is essential to any success the Titans will have in 2013. And really, no matter whether you want to run or throw it never hurts to have some studs on the line. Adding Shonn Greene for short yardage situations should help take some of the heavy lifting off of Johnson’s shoulders. And really, his game isn’t pounding it between the tackles, anyways.

The signing of Delanie Walker from the 49ers is intriguing to say the least. He may have only caught 21 catches last year but he had a flair for the dramatic and showed big play ability. Listed as a WR he is built more like a TE (6’1” 240lbs) and will probably be used in that capacity more than running the 9.

The addition of rookie WR Justin Hunter will give Jake Locker another target. But all of those additions fail to address the obvious:

YOUR STARTING QB IS STILL JAKE LOCKER. Nuff said.

Defensively the Titans were one of the worst teams in the league last year. They ranked 26th in yards allowed per game and dead last in scoring, allowing 29.4 points per game.  To remedy this they added Sammie Lee Hill from Detroit, Anotnio Johnson from Indy and Ropati Pitoitua from KC to beef up their defensive line. Of course the biggest problem with those acquisitions is that none of those three were capable of even starting for Detroit, KC or Indy. Three of the other worst defenses in the league.

Sooo..They are going to help…how exactly?

Bernard Pollard is a nice addition. He’s a sledgehammer disguised as a safety. But hard-hitting safeties are a luxury on teams that have skill at other DB positions. Aside from fellow safety Michael Griffin I don’t think Pollard will add the kind of playmaking ability this defense really needed. And considering Gregg Williams is their new DC, and how closely his players will be watched, I give the over/under on number of games Pollard gets suspended this year at 2.5

And I dare anyone outside of LP field to name me 2 of the Titans starting LBs.

Yea…didn’t think so.

The offense got better, but it’s still an offense being run by Jake Locker. There just isn’t a scenario where an offense featuring Jake Locker can score more points than this defense will allow. Prediction 6-10

jacJacksonville Jaguars- 2012 2-14 (4th in AFC South)

Key losses- None. It’s hard to consider anyone leaving a 2-14 team as a “Key” to anything other than sucking out loud.

Key additions- WR Mohamed Massaquoi, CB Marcus Trufant, OT Luke Joeckel, S Jonathan Cyprien

You would think that a team that finishes in the bottom of almost every meaningful statistical category, offensively and defensively, would do more than draft an offensive tackle.

You would think.

Oh I suppose they added a few FA’s here and there. Massaquoi wasn’t even good enough to start at WR for Cleveland. Trufant would have been a sensational signing; 4 years ago.

And if addressing your porous rush defense (30th, 141 YPG) means claiming a backup defensive lineman off waivers from New England (after he is diagnosed with diabetes) then you aren’t even qualified to be the GM of a team in franchise mode.

Spending your 2nd round pick on a safety (even a very good one like Cyprien) when your team has so many other glaring needs at more vital positions just smacks of mailing it in for 2013 and hoping Manziel declares early. I’ve followed football for nearly my entire life and very rarely have I seen such stupidity from an organization.

Blaine Gabbert is a bad QB, and that is being polite. It wouldn’t be out of line to suggest he isn’t even good enough to be the backup on any other team in the league. Considering some GM’s believe guys like Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb are still viable starters, that’s saying something. If Chad Henne isn’t starting by week 4 it will only be because he’s comatose. Even then…

The Jags defense is just terrible, and they did next to nothing to address it save a few waiver wire acquisitions, drafting a safety and some minor free agent signings.

And on top of all of that their best player (Maurice Jones-Drew) is coming off an injury shortened season and their best playmaker (Justin Blackmon) will miss the first 4 games for violating league substance abuse policy.

This team simply cannot win more than 4 games in 2013. And judging by the way they conducted themselves this past off-season they are perfectly OK with that. Prediction 3-13

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Sports Blog Movement NFL Preview: AFC South

  1. Wow, Patrick … I was wondering how somebody would get through an AFC South post about the Los Angeles Jaguars without someone typing the word “suckitude”, but you have blown my mind yet again…

    Meehan

  2. Pingback: SBM Exclusive Feature: The Ex-Kicker’s Round Table On NFL Contenders and Pretenders in 2013 | Sports Blog Movement

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