2012 NFL Preview: AFC South

Before 2011, the AFC South was only won by 2 teams in it’s 9 year existence. The Colts had taken the division 7 times with the Titans taking the other two years. A new beast in emerged in the AFC South in 2011 though, and they are here to stay.

1. Houston Texans, Predicted Record: 12-4

The Houston Texans lost their best RB, QB, WR and pass rusher at different parts of the 2011 season but were still able to make the playoffs and win their Wild Card game. They benefited from a really bad division, but the Texans are a really good team. As long as they are healthy, this team is a real serious contender. Arian Foster is one of the 3 best RB’s in the NFL and his injury shouldn’t be a problem. He had 132 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Texans playoff loss to the Ravens, and looked as good as ever at the end of the year. They also have Ben Tate, which will make for a very dangerous backfield. Andre Johnson may have some injury issues, but when he is healthy he is one of the best WR’s in the NFL.

In the absence of Mario Williams, the Texans decided they had a juggernaut of a linebacking crew, which is likely the reason the Texans weren’t too worried about losing Williams. Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed form one of the league’s best young linebacking crews. The Texans still have a good secondary, led by All Pro corner Jonathan Joseph.

The Texans are definitely a team that will have a successful regular season, but I’m concerned if Matt Schaub is good enough to lead them to the next level. Schaub has had moments of brilliance but hasn’t proven to be anything more than a good QB, and not a great one. A team in the NFL can only go as far as it’s QB takes them, and the Texans will need Matt Schaub to be more than good if they want to reach their first Superbowl in franchise history.

2. Tenessee Titans, Predicted Record: 8-8

The Titans had one of the more interesting QB battles in the NFL this offseason. They had Locker, who they drafted in the first round last year and came in with success when Matt Hasselbeck was hurt. And then there was Hasselbeck, who is a solid veteran. They named Locker the QB this past week though, and I think it was a good move. The Titans are going to be a good team this year, but they aren’t playoff ready yet. Getting Locker experience will only help in the long run. In the long run though, the weapons around him are questionable. I’m a believer in the return of Chris Johnson, but I’m still not certain. I think he’s re-focused and re-energized but we’ll have to wait and see. Kenny Britt is also returning from an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2011 season, so his health is also a concern.

There’s a lot of questions in Tennessee, but I think that they are a good team this year. The Titans also benefit from playing in a pretty weak division, besides having to play the Texans twice. They aren’t a playoff team yet, but Locker has them on the way.

3. Indianapolis Colts, Predicted Record: 4-12

I know the Peyt0n Manning-Andrew Luck comparisons are getting old, but bare with me for a minute. There’s no doubting Andrew Luck will be good, but that’s not going to translate into success in his first season with the Colts. In Peyton Manning’s first season, his Colts went 3-13 which is a reasonable expectation for this Colts team considering how their 2011 season went and with all their holes. I can see them getting to 4 wins though, based off the play by Luck and running back Donald Brown, who I expect to have a breakout year. Brown is the guy in the Colts backfield, and has already shown some flashes of brilliance in his career. At the end of the 2011 season, he had a breakout game against the Titans where he ran for 161 yards. He needs to stay healthy, but if he is he could have a pretty successful season for the otherwise poor Colts team.

Even with good play from Luck, this defense is a joke. They were in the bottom 5 of the NFL in 2011 when it came to yards allowed and points allowed. They brought in a couple of Chuck Pagano’s guys from Baltimore, but Tom Zbikowski and Corey Redding aren’t going to turn this around. There are no expectations for greatness from this team in 2012, and a lot of that is because of the defense. Chuck Pagano coached the Ravens great defense in Baltimore though, so if there’s one thing he’s focused on turning around it’s the defense.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars, Predicted Record: 2-14

I decided on a 2-14 record for the Jags in 2012, and that was when I actually thought Maurice Jones-Drew would report to training camp. Without him, they could be even worse. Blaine Gabbert has shown little signs of improvement, but there’s still no way I trust him to win games. Especially when he has very little to throw to outside of Justin Blackmon. If MJD is out, that also means teams don’t have to load the box and can focus even more on Gabbert. Yeah, that offense is a mess. Actually, that whole team is a mess. At least they have a shot at a high draft pick this year, and could get an NFL caliber QB like Matt Barkley.

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