Last week, we brought you our previews of the AFC East, and the AFC North. Today, we are going to tackle the AFC South, where the Houston Texans look to be huge favorites. The Andrew Luck era begins in Indianapolis, while the Titans and Jaguars will try to put the past couple of seasons behind them, and look towards the future. Let’s dive in alittle deeper.
Fresh New Face: DE Whitney Mercilus. If you are scratching your head trying to figure out who this guy is, don’t worry. Mercilus was the team’s first round draft pick, and he will be looking to fill some big shoes, as we will cover in the next paragraph. It was a pretty quiet off-season for the AFC South champs, because they didn’t really need to add anybody new. The Texans were 10-3 last year before tanking the last three games when the season was already decided. If they can stay healthy, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t cruise to one of the top seeds in the AFC.
Won’t Be Coming Back: DE Mario Williams- On paper, this is a huge loss, and there is no denying that not having Mario Williams will hurt the Texans. Williams was the top draft pick in 2006, and lived up the the billing, turning out to be one of the most feared pass rushers in all of football. However, Williams was hurt for the season in October of last year, and that didn’t stop the Texans from cruising to the playoffs, and being just a few plays away from the AFC Championship. If anything, his presence in the locker room and practice field may be more missed then his pressure on the field.
Season Prediction: I mentioned it earlier in the post, but I’ll say it again. This is easily the Texans’s divison to lose. They should have no problem sweeping their division, and the only games that look to be trouble are the Packers, Ravens, Bears, Lions, and Patriots. Three of those five are on the road, so they could struggle there, but barring any catastrophic injuries (Schaub, Foster, or Johnson), the Texans should easily go 11-5 and could be as good as 13-3.
Fresh New Face: OL Steve Hutchinson- At 34, Hutchinson may be a year or two past his prime, but he is still a seven-time pro bowler who is one of the best offensive linemen in the game. He will provide some great leadership for a young Titans team, that has young players at most of the key positions on offense. If Hutchinson can motivate his offensive line to step their game up, the Titans may be able to match or even improve their 9-7 mark from last year.
Won’t Be Coming Back: LB Keith Bulluck- Keith Bulluck retired from the NFL at the age of 35, completing one of the most underrated careers in NFL history. Bulluck was a stalwart of a Titans defense that made a couple playoff runs in his career. Another case of his presence on the practice field might be missed more then his physical presence. It’s impossible to quantify how much players like Bulluck and Williams mean to their team off the field, so this could be a tough hit for the Titans.
Season Prediction: Looks like another average season for the Titans for me, although this season marks the beginning of the Jake Locker era. Locker showed flashes of brilliance last year, and he was always highly touted by NFL scouts when he was at Washington. Having Chris Johnson in the backfield will certainly help, and the Titans will be keeping an eye on Kenny Britt and his knee, the injury that knocked him out of the season early in last year. The offense will be solid, but they don’t have much going on defense. If everything goes write for Tennessee, they could sneak into the playoffs. However, it’s more likely that they go 7-9 or 8-8.
Fresh New Face: WR Justin Blackmon- Blackmon will be thrust right into the lineup as the star player, much like AJ Green was for the Bengals last year. Well if Blackmon can come close to the same production, then the Jaguars will be ecstatic. It’s Blaine Gabbert’s sophomore season, and Blackmon gives Gabbert something he didn’t have last season: a big play threat. I’m not predicting pro bowl or anything like that for either player, but I think the two of them together could do some damage down the road.
Won’t Be Coming Back: Coach Jack Del Rio- On the field, the Jaguars didn’t lose much. Their biggest “loss” could have been the fail experiment with WR Lee Evans, who they signed in April before releasing just last week. This will be the first time that the Jaguars are coming into a season without Del Rio since 2003. Not that he was the best coach in the world to begin with, but anything you bring in a new coach, you bring in a new system, new way of doing things. Could be a long season for the Jags.
Season Prediction: If EVERYTHING falls the Jaguars way, then I see them going 9-7 at best? More then likely, the Jags will pull off an upset or two, and end up at 6-10 or 7-9. This is the season to make or break Gabbert. He had a bad year last year, but so do alot of rookie QB’s. The second year will decide if he is ready. If he can pick some things up, he has the physical abilities to be a scary opponent. But if he can’t get the mental side of his game right, then the Jags will have to go back to the drawing board.
4. Indianapolis Colts- 4-12
Fresh New Face: QB Andrew Luck- Obvious choice here. Luck was the #1 overall pick in the draft, and he is being handed the reigns right away, much like the last #1 pick the Colts had, that Peyton Manning guy. I had the honor(or not considering I’m a USC fan) of seeing Luck play last year at the Coliseum, and the kid is good. He seems like he gets the x’s and o’s of the game, while also having some great physical ability. Luck will no doubt struggle this year. Let’s not forget that Manning went 3-13 in his first year with the Colts. But Luck is a can’t miss player, and I don’t think he will miss.
Won’t Be Coming Back: QB Peyton Manning- Oh what a difference a year can make. This time last year, there were whispers that Manning was battling an injury, but no one expected him to be gone for too long. Then, a few weeks later, the bombshell was dropped that Manning would miss most of the season due to neck surgery. The Colts season tanked, they got the #1 pick, and decided it was time to move on from the 4-time MVP signal caller. No doubt Manning will be the most important “won’t be coming back” player in these previews, but the Colts lucked out(no pun intended) to get a guy like Andrew Luck to replace him.
Season Prediction: Don’t expect too much from the Colts this year. Andrew Luck will do just fine, but he doesn’t have much around him. He caught a big break when Reggie Wayne, who most expected would be a package deal with Manning, decided to stay in Indianapolis. He will be a huge source of help for the young QB, but that will only take them so far. Combine that with a defense that isn’t getting any younger, and you have to figure the Colts are at least a couple years away from being playoff threats again.
That wraps it up for us from the AFC South! What are your thoughts on the division? Is there anyway the Texans don’t cruise here? Let us know in the comments!