Indianapolis Colts: Is it just me or did last year's Colts practically mirror that of the champion Steelers the year before them? Both had been forever on the cusp of a title, especially their head coaches. Both had similarly faltered late in the season somewhat and were written off by most pundits and experts. However the Colts like the Steelers got the job done finally and brought home their first Super Bowl to Indianapolis with their victory over the Chicago Bears.
The Colts much like the Steve Young San Francisco 49ers of the 1990's got the monkey off their back against Troy Aikman's Dallas Cowboys, Peyton Manning was finally able to knock off the nemesis Tom Brady New England Patriots. Yes they've lost a lot on defense with the defections of Nick Harper, Cato June and Mike Doss, defense was never the name of their game to begin with. And with the monkey off his back and his mind at ease, Lord knows what Peyton Manning will do for an encore?
Final Verdict: With Tony Dungy at the helm, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne all still at the top of their game, the Colts are still the most consistent horse in the stable when it comes to stability on what is truly the greatest show of excellence on turf. Does anyone doubt, like the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East for years with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid and the New England Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick who have for year's taken their respective divisions seemingly every season that the Indianapolis Colts of Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy won't win the AFC South once again? Granted the AFC is so tough it's hard to think they'll repeat, but they've been there before and now they know what it takes to get over the hump. Predicted Final Record: (11-5).
Houston Texans: The Houston Texans started off in the NFL where the Houston Oilers left off. Since they've come into the league in 2002, the only other AFC team to not qualify for the playoffs is the Buffalo Bills. The team which has tried desperately to forge an identity, finally gets a new one in QB Matt Schaub.
Whether Schaub can get the ball to anyone with this offensive line is another story. Houston would've greatly benefited last year from taking home state hero Vince Young or Reggie Bush (come on a Bush in Texas, how'd they miss that one?). Though WR Andre Johnson did reel in 103 catches and TE Owen Daniels did emerge to catch five TD passes.
Final Verdict: This Houston team looks better on paper than any since its inception. They have some playmakers on defense in DeMeco Ryans who was the NFL defensive rookie of the year leading the team with 156 tackles, Morlon Greenwood and newly acquired Shawn Barber all make for a solid linebacker corps. The growth of their defense will also depend on the maturity of CB Dunta Robinson and DE Mario Williams. Ultimately the Texans are pining their success on Schaub and if everything breaks right they could find themselves in the hunt. Predicted Final Record: (8-8).
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags have to be one of the bigger "lures" in the NFL. Statistically everything seemingly adds up on both sides of the ball. However, inevitably it seems their season always comes down to key injuries at key positions, mainly RB Fred Taylor. When healthy, he has great raw talent and ability, again though that's when healthy.
The Jags offensive line obviously proved they could move the ball, with the team accumulating over 2,541 rushing yards, which ranked third in the NFL and set a Jacksonville franchise record for a season. Most of that was turned in by Taylor and his 1,146 yards on the ground and by rookie RB Maurice Jones-Drew who ran for over 941 yards, 13 TD's and was the NFL's leading rookie scorer with 16 TD's overall. Both Taylor and Jones-Drew averaged over five yards per carry and combined to rush for 18 TD's.
Their total defense ranked only second to Baltimore in the NFL. They are virtually impossible to score on at home, allowing at league low 88 total points. Rashean Mathis has been the ultimate ball-hawk and playmaker for Jacksonville with eight interceptions and twelve pass deflections to go with 56 solo tackles. The drafting of free safety Reggie Nelson off of the Florida Gators National Championship team will only seek to solidify their already solid defensive corps. Fellow Florida alums LB Mike Peterson and DE Bobby McCray will look to keep the defense at the top.
Final Verdict: They've got the right formula to make a playoff run, a solid one-two punch of a rushing attack and a top notch defense. However they must stay healthy and get consistency at the QB spot. Improving upon a 2-6 road record and not getting swept by the Houston Texans would certainly help their cause in making it back to the playoffs. Final Predicted Record: (7-9).
Tennessee Titans: Tell me who's on the cover of Madden Football and I'll tell you who's going to have a bad season, maybe even a lost season. Hopefully for Vince Young doesn't succumb to the same fate which has afflicted others over the years. Though they dug themselves out of an early hole last year, things don't get any easier in the early going this year, when the Titans play their first three against Jacksonville, Indianapolis and New Orleans.
Though Vince Young was essentially a one man band last season, I can't say I'm all that much more enamored with the Titans offense this season. The Titans are well coached and do scout well and do more with less than virtually any other team in the league. In fact statistically nothing really jumps out at you when looking at this team and its overall rankings.
Final Verdict: As mentioned above, Tennessee has a chance right off the bat to make a statement within the division that last year's late season run wasn't a fluke. The Titans are still a young team and it will be interesting to see how they deal with having expectations put on them. That progress will ultimately depend on the progression of number ten. Final Predicted Record: (6-10).