In the first of two posts today, I near the conclusion of my NFL preview, and not a bit too soon, with the season officially kicking off tonight. The second to last division in my preview is the AFC South. Last season, the Houston Texans won the division yet again, and the Indianapolis Colts, led by an amazing rookie year from quarterback Andrew Luck, surprised everyone to finish second and secure a playoff appearance as a wild card. This year, I see this division playing out in much the same way, though I do think that the Tennessee Titans have made strides to become competitive. Let's take a look:
Houston Texans: Though the Texans have a history of being a disappointment, I still think that they have what it takes to take home the division crown again this season. Arian Foster is still one of the elite running backs in the NFL, and the same can be said for Andre Johnson at the wide receiver position. In the draft, the Texans brought in former Clemson stand-out receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Though he's had some concussion concerns this preseason, I anticipate him to be healthy to start the season and finally give Johnson someone opposite him to take the pressure off and give defenses another weapon to fear. Add to that the leadership that the addition of Ed Reed will provide, and I think that this might be the year that Houston steps up and lives up to expectations.
Indianapolis Colts: After a 2-14 season the year before and the jettisoning of nearly everyone on the team, including future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, no one expected anything from the Colts last season. They far exceeded expectations, however, led in large part by the emotional boost that was provided by coach Chuck Pagano's struggle with and eventually overcoming of leukemia. With the maturation of Andrew Luck, and having his roster remain largely unchanged, I see a fairly similar season for the Colts this year. Luck is going to be one of the greats in this game, and it's just a matter of time before he takes this team to the promised land. It won't be this year, but it's not to far off, believe me.
Tennessee Titans: Led by star running back Chris Johnson (though he has been inexplicably much maligned over the last few seasons) and with the additions of two stellar guards in the NFL draft, the Titans should boast one of the top rushing attacks in the league this season. If last year's Minnesota Vikings are any indication, a great running attack can be enough to vault you into the playoffs. I don't think that will be the case with this team though, as the division they play in is just too tough. I don't yet trust Jake Locker enough to be able to get this team over the hump and pass the Colts for a wild card spot. If Locker can develop into more of an NFL-caliber quarterback this team can contend, but that's going to be a year or two off yet. Right now, this team is squarely in the third slot in this division.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Which leaves the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. They have one of the better running backs with Maurice Jones-Drew, but after that the cupboard is pretty bare down in Jacksonville. At this point I don't have any faith in Blaine Gabbert to figure things out and become a competent quarterback. I think we have seen the best we are going to get from him, and that just isn't very good. It's not all his fault though, as he has had a pretty porous offensive line in front of him, and wide receivers that just aren't very good. Justin Blackmon has failed to live up to the expectations placed upon him coming out of Oklahoma State, and Cecil Shorts has been a competent, but not much more, second receiver. At this point, I'm convinced that things aren't going to get better for the Jaguars until they decide to cut ties with Gabbert and usher in a new era. Until then, they will continue to be bottom feeders in this division.
Stay tuned later today as I finish off my preview of this season with one of the two teams playing in this evenings game, the Denver Broncos and the AFC West!