For those of you that realize the first game of the 2009 NFL season is less than 48 hours away from kicking off you will probably be wondering how I expect to be able to finish the rest of these division previews. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a good question but I think I can pull it off. The game on Thursday is between the Titans and Steelers, so by doing the AFC South today and the AFC North tomorrow I’ll have those teams out of the way. On Thursday I will likely do two, those being the AFC East and the NFC North. On Friday I will again do two, the NFC South and the NFC East. Saturday brings UCLA to Knoxville to face my Volunteers and I highly doubt that I’ll be posting anything that day. So on Sunday morning and early afternoon I will churn out the NFC West, because all of the NFC West teams kickoff at 4:15 ET on Sunday. So if I actually manage to pull this off, that’s how it’s going to happen.
On to the AFC South. This is the division I know the most about because this is the division that contains my Colts but I’m going to try to keep this one shorter (yeah right) than my 1400-word AFC West post. The teams in the AFC South this year will be facing the AFC East and the NFC West. This should provide for some interesting matchups, the most intriguing of which is the always anticipated Colts vs cheaters patriots game, which takes place this year on November 15 in Indianapolis.
The Houston Texans were the bottom of the division for the first few years upon entering the league in 2002. The time has come though that they have built a solid team and I would expect to certainly finish above the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team hasn’t had a winning season since becoming the newest expansion team, though they have finished 8-8 each of the last two years and even relinquished their bottom-dwellers title last year when the Jags went 5-11. The Texans have been a popular sleeper pick to make a push for the playoffs this year but it’s going to be tough with the Colts and Titans in their division. They’re 1-13 all-time against the Colts and 3-11 against the Titans. Those aren’t promising numbers. The Texans offense, led by wide receiver Andre Johnson, did rank third in the league last year in total offense though and they’re returning all of the main components from that unit. The defense however were ranked with the sixth worst scoring defense in the NFL. That needs to be fixed by defensive coordinator, Frank Bush. The biggest loss this offseason for the Texans was cornerback Demarcus Faggins, who went to the Titans, but the Texans shouldn’t miss him too much. They also seem to have finally found a reliable running back in Steve Slaton who was a stud last year as a rookie. The defense also added some key players: defensive tackle Shaun Cody should provide some quality depth behind Amobi Okoye, Antonio Smith from the Cardinals who has taken of the starting left defensive end spot, Connor Barwin who was their second round pick out of Cincinnati and is Mario Williams backup and right defensive end and Brian Cushing their first round draft pick out of USC who will be starting at strongside linebacker. Look for this team to at least get their first ever winning record. My prediction: 9-7.
The Indianapolis Colts. Oh yes, the Indianapolis Colts. It has been a crazy offseason for my team. The head coach retired, one of the greatest wide receivers of all time was released, we brought in a new defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator, the offensive coordinator and offensive line coaches retired and then came back, and our infamously worst position is now one of the deepest spots on the roster. We have won at least 12 games in each of the last six seasons, we haven’t missed the playoffs since 2001, we had won the division for five straight years until last year when Peyton Manning played injured for the first part of the year and we still only finished one game back behind the Titans. We have had as smooth of a transition as a team can hope for when your head coach retires and we still have Peyton Manning. We have some great, young wide receivers in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, rookie running back Donald Brown looks very good, we picked up defensive tackle Ed Johnson in free agency and drafted Fili Moala in the second round who is also a defensive tackle. Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers are both rookie cornerbacks who look very promising. We have great competition at the linebackers positions. We return both of our starting defensive ends who were both in the Pro Bowl last year. We have a rookie punter in Pat McAfee who can bomb the ball. Our offensive line is much healthier than last year and we might have the best group of tight ends in the league and the same could be said for our safeties. Look out. This team is going to be good. My prediction: 13-3.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have fallen off quite a bit. They had 11 wins in 2007 and made the playoffs but last year they went 5-11 and looked absolutely dreadful. They had a ton of injuries along the offensive line and throughout the defense. To help with their problems they hired a new defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker and they also made a lot of moves in free agency and drafted some solid players. The Jags drafted Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton in the first and second rounds respectively and will be the teams two starting offensive tackles; Monroe at the left tackle spot and Britton on the right. They also signed free agent Tra Thomas as a backup offensive tackle from the Eagles and brought on Torry Holt, the former Ram, to lead the receiving corps. On the defensive side of the ball they signed two safeties, Gerald Alexander who will be the backup free safety and Sean Considine who will be starting at strong safety. The also drafted two defensive players in the third round, Terrance Knighton a defensive tackle from Temple who will provide some needed depth and Derek Cox a cornerback from William & Mary who is currently listed as a backup. While these acquisitions will help, they also lost some key components. Running back Fred Taylor is gone, leaving Maurice Jones-Drew to carry the running load by himself, something I’m not sure he’ll succeed at. Also four wide receivers are now gone from last years team: Reggie Williams, Jerry Porter, Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt. That’s a lot of receivers to lose. Offensive tackle Khalif Barnes is also now elsewhere and while Monroe and Britton are talented, starting two rookie offensive tackles would make me nervous. On the defensive side middle linebacker Mike Peterson, who was the leader of the defense for so long is now in Atlanta, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is gone and defensive end Paul Spicer has left. All in all this could be the makings of a good team in Jacksonville… for the future. Right now though I think they’ll likely struggle. Though I suppose any team with John Henderson stands a chance for two reasons: 1. He went to Tennessee and 2. He does this before every game. My prediction: 6-10.
The Tennessee Titans had a great run last year but I wasn’t impressed with the teams that they beat when they beat them and this thought was reinforced when they lost their first game of the playoffs. They beat the Ravens when the Ravens were struggling early in the year, they beat the Colts when the Colts were struggling early in the year with an injured Peyton Manning, and they beat the Steelers late in the year when the Steelers had already pushed the cruise control button for the playoffs. This year they will be starting a 36-year-old Kerry Collins at quarterback, which doesn’t exactly provide a lot of promise. Backup quarterback Vince Young has shown signs that he won’t be able to develop into a quality NFL starter, even if he has the physical tools, he has too many mental break downs, both in decision making and emotional levels. On top of that, stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is now gone and so is Jim Schwartz who left to take over the head coaching job in Detroit. The running game will still be stout but the defense is questionable. The Titans did try to help give their quarterbacks more weapons by signing Nate Washington away from the Steelers who is now a starting wide receiver and drafting Kenny Britt in the first round out of Rutgers who is currently their number three receiver. On defense they signed Jovan Haye, a former Buccaneer but is only a backup and they drafted Sen’Derrick Marks out of Auburn but is only a third string defensive tackle on their depth chart. Neither player will really cushion the blow of losing Haynesworth. My prediction: 10-6.
Division standings prediction:
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Houston Texans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
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