By Will Robinson

Here is the preview for the AFC South, the third of eight previews. Check out the other previews below (Note: projected records have been removed and will return in my season forecast/playoff predictions. I’m still working out who I want in the post-season, and I want the records to add up correctly):

AFC West

NFC West

NFC South

Houston TexansDiggs-Dishes-Williams

2010 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: J.J. Watt (DE), Brooks Reed (DE/LB), Brandon Harris (CB), Jonathan Joseph (CB), Danieal Manning (S)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Vonta Leach (FB), Bernard Pollard (S), Amobi Okoye (DT)

Strengths: Offense (just about in every sense)

Weaknesses: Pass defense (like, ridiculously bad)

2010 Season Summary: Coming into the 2010 season, the Texans were a very trendy sleeper team to earn a Wild Card spot, or even win the AFC South. With their high octane passing game and promising running back Arian Foster, Houston looked to make “the leap.” Alas, the same ol’ Houston Texans showed up and fell flat. Their offense was fine statistically; Matt Schaub put up good numbers (he was un-clutch at times, though. Like the Baltimore game); an injured Andre Johnson still made play after play; and the aforementioned Foster exploded onto the scene with a 33-carry, 231-yard, and three-touchdown performance against Indianapolis. He had some off weeks, but statistically, Foster was arguably the league’s best running back last year. Unfortunately for Houston, their defense had to play. Their run defense wasn’t bad; it was actually average to good. Their pass defense was so bad that it took Houston out of games; Football Outsiders’ numbers listed Houston last in pass defense. The lowest moment definitely came against Jacksonville game when cornerback Glover Quin failed to knock down a 50-yard Hail Mary, which allowed the game winning touchdown to be scored. Ouch. I thought head coach Gary Kubiak would be fired after last year, but I guess owner Bob McNair will allow him one more chance.

2011 Prospects: I think Kubiak realized that you can’t win games if your defense plays like they’re not there. So he went in the draft, and used his first five picks on defenders, including a pass rusher, a 3-4 defensive end and a cornerback. Then, in free agency, the Texans acquired ex-Bengal CB Jonathan Joseph – obviously not the best corner available, but he was in the second tier. They have a decent looking schedule this year, as they play the AFC North and NFC South. I have no reason to doubt that Schaub and Johnson will produce to their norm. I think Foster should have a bit of a drop off, but with the production he had last year, I expect he will still have a very good season. Houston was hurt by Demeco Ryans’ injury last season, but he is back now; a healthy and effective Ryans will go a long way to helping their team. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips switched things up to a 3-4 defense and is presumably standing their best player, Mario Williams, up to rush the passer. If they can get to the passer, and the new corners can keep the outsides locked up, then Houston could FINALLY break out. But like San Francisco, I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Owen Daniels (TE)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Matt Schaub (QB)


Indianapolis Colts

2010 Record: 10-6

Notable Additions: Anthony Castonzo (OT), Ben Ijalana (OT), Tommie Harris (DT)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Clint Session (LB), Kelvin Hayden (CB), Charlie Johnson (OT)

Strengths: Peyton Manning/passing attack, receiver depth, pass rush

Weaknesses: Offensive line, run game, pass defense

2010 Season Summary: As far as rocky seasons go for Peyton Manning and his Colts, this was perhaps the most tumultuous since 2002 – the last time the Colts won fewer than 11 games. 2010 included an anemic running game, a three-game losing streak (first time since ’02), and 17 Manning interceptions (most since… take a guess? Yeah, ’02!). But the picks weren’t really a huge problem, especially with how much he threw; his percentage of passes intercepted was 2.5%, down from the previous year. He threw 679 times, which was the second most of all time (Bledsoe ’94 – 691 attempts) and better than Drew Brees by 21 attempts last year. And since he had to drop back so often, Manning was hit a lot. He was only sacked 16 times, but Manning was definitely rocked many times after he got rid of the ball. Obviously, he would have had fewer bruises if he could rely giving it to Donald Brown or Joseph Addai. Despite the invisible running game, Manning led his team to the playoffs, only to lose to the New York Jets as time expired on a Nick Folk field goal. Besides Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne had a great season, catching 111 balls for 1355 yards. Austin Collie was on pace for a great year but could not stay on the field after suffering concussion after concussion. The biggest loss of the year had to be tight end Dallas Clark, Manning’s go to man, who was lost after the Week 6 game; Jacob Tamme filled in admirably, though. On defense, things were not too good. Safety Melvin Bullitt missed 12 games, but his partner in crime, safety Antoine Bethea, led the team in tackles. If a safety is leading the team in tackles, the front seven is failing. The defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were their usually strong selves, with 10+ sacks apiece, but rookie Jerry Hughes made no impact. Linebacker Clint Session missed much of the year, but the healthy starters didn’t do much.

2011 Prospects: Indy has not been too active thus far in free agency, while division rivals Jacksonville and Houston have been quite busy; Tennessee got a new quarterback to boot. I think they are banking on their rookies, such as offensive tackles Castonzo and Ijalana, and injured players coming back making an impact. Clark was a big loss and will be back, as well as Bullitt and Collie. They will need a rookie running back, such as Delone Carter or Darren Evans to step up and become an effective runner, because Donald Brown has certainly not been and Joseph Addai is a preferred customer of Indianapolis General Hospital. On defense, I think they have to sign a solid free agent to fill in, unless they have confidence in their youth. Besides the pass rushers, I would not buy much Colts’ defense stock, and with the Texans and Jaguars filling up their defensive gaps, the distance between the Colts and everyone else is closing. They drew a decent schedule with the AFC North and NFC South, which means they will be playing strong teams such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, but also the stinkers in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Carolina. If they notch at least three wins of the first five teams, they will be in good shape. Fortunately for fans of the game, we get another Indianapolis vs. New England game this year. The closest thing to a sure thing in THE National, FOOTBALL League (© Trent Dilfer, Mark Schlereth 2011) is to pencil in the Colts for at least 10 wins and a playoff berth.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Darren Evans (RB) [super sleeper, but he was great in college besides a torn ACL. If he makes the roster, he has a great chance to get a good amount of carries if Addai/Brown fail]

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Pierre Garçon (WR)


Jacksonville Jaguars

2010 Record: 8-8

Notable Additions: Blaine Gabbert (QB), Paul Posluszny (LB), Clint Session (LB), Dawan Landry (S), Drew Coleman (CB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Adam Podlesh (P), Justin Durant (LB), Mike Sims-Walker (WR), Derrick Harvey (DE), Vince Manuwai (G)

Strengths: Run game/Mojo

Weaknesses: DEFENSE, passing attack

2010 Season Summary: Despite having an awful all-around defense, the Jags were sitting pretty with three games to go in the season. Had they won one game (say, against Indianapolis) of those three (assuming the other two results held), they would have held the tiebreaker and made the playoffs. But how the hell did they almost do that? For one, they had a pretty nice schedule, playing the AFC West and bottom-feeders Cleveland and Buffalo, as well as being in a division that had a down year. They didn’t produce much, but they did enough to win half of their games and to save coach Jack Del Rio his job. Granted, the roster was not particularly talented, so 8-8 may have been a great year, but I am still flabbergasted how they managed to go .500. Even though he was hurt throughout the year, Maurice Jones-Drew was still his electric self. With MoJo and the emergence of tight end Marcedes Lewis, the two former UCLA Bruins were the only consistent offensive threats; Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas could be dynamic from time to time, but they would not put up productive games (or even look good) every week. Defensively, the Jags invested in two big-time pass rushing prospects in Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, neither of whom are still on the team (Groves was traded before last year started, but Harvey was recently cut). Tyson Alualu, the surprise draft choice at #10, was very good in his rookie year, warranting the high pick. Other than Alualu, their defense was not particularly astounding.

2011 Prospects: Jacksonville has gone to WORK on their defense, signing potentially four new starters in this year’s free agency class. Alualu will have progressed a year, and maybe last year’s free agency prize, DE/LB Aaron Kampman will play more than eight games. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton looked good next to Alualu, and there’s talk D’Anthony Smith could be a disruptive force in their DT rotation. The new players may be able to jump in right away and improve them, but with that many new bodies, the possibility of a slow start exists. My concern for Jacksonville is what they have not done with their receivers. Mike Thomas showed good signs last season, but I don’t think he’s a number one receiver. They drafted a potential sleeper in WR Cecil Shorts, but as a second receiver, they must have a lot of faith in him. Defenses will start to key in Marcedes Lewis this year, and in a division with the Colts and Texans, they won’t be able to run the ball with MoJo if they are playing from behind late in games. Also: if David Garrard plays poorly, how long will the fans to clamor for rookie Blaine Gabbert to take snaps? I don’t think he will be able to play well this year, and if there’s a quarterback controversy to distract the players, there’s no positive in that.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Rashad Jennings (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Marcedes Lewis (TE)


Tennessee Titans

2010 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: Jake Locker (QB), Akeem Ayers (LB), Matthew Hasselbeck (QB), Shaun Smith (DT), Barrett Ruud (LB), Jordan Babineaux (S)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Jason Babin (DE), Vince Young (QB), Stephen Tulloch (LB)

Strengths: Run game, offensive line, pass rush, defensive backs, run defense

Weaknesses: Passing game, overall inconsistent team play

2010 Season Summary: The Titans had a nice team put together that was ready to embark on its 2010 season. After some convincing play down the stretch of 2009, quarterback Vince Young and Chris Johnson proved to be a nice duo on offense. I will still say this: Young’s 99-yard drive is still one of my favorite football moments I’ve witnessed, despite his attitude, work ethic and play since leaving Austin. Saying last year was rocky for Jeff Fisher and Young would be like saying the “Jersey Shore” cast is dumb: IT’S A MASSIVE UNDERSTATEMENT! They started the year hot after blowing out the Raiders and losing a hard-fought game against Pittsburgh, but then the wheels really fell off after their Week 8 defeat in San Diego. I don’t want to rehash the events, but I kind of covered it and what could happen last November. The events obviously led to Fisher’s resignation and Young’s release, with the Titans going a new direction with Mike Munchak and Jake Locker. Chris Johnson (CJ2K) had a “down” year with only 1,364 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, and Kenny Britt was on pace to have a good season (mostly helped by his inhuman Week 7 game), but his injury and extracurricular activities limited his playing time. Defensively, the Titans were pretty solid. Despite allowing high yardages, Tennessee was tied for eighth most sacks, 15th most points allowed and tied at 11th for most interceptions. Negatively, they had the 20th best opposing passer rating (take that with a grain of salt), third most passing yards allowed, and 12th most rushing yards allowed. Yet, Football Outsiders’ numbers had them as the 12th best pass defense and third best run defense, and if you look at the game logs, they were prone to give up big numbers to great players, but really limited anyone who was just good or worse. Defensive end Jason Babin was a force off the edge, and Stephen Tulloch locked things down in the middle. Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner compose of a pretty good secondary, but the whole defensive unit couldn’t rest on them all year. Oh, and don’t forget kicker Rob Bironas. He continued to knock balls through the uprights on a regular basis.

2011 Prospects: With all the upgrades to the Houston and Jacksonville, and the great foundation Indianapolis has laid down, I see Tennessee as the odd-team-out this season. They lost Jason Babin to the Philadelphia Heat (sorry for the white text, blame Babin) and rest their future in Mike Munchak and Jake Locker. Looking at his pedigree, Munchak seems like the ideal candidate to replace Fisher; he’s been a part of the Titans organization since his 1982 Hall of Fame career started. Locker, who has been given a bad rep coming out of college for being inaccurate, could become the best quarterback of his class (it’s not just me who thinks so). They also happened to add Razzano’s favorite defensive tackle, USC’s Jurrell Casey, to sure up their defensive line. They don’t really have a threat at receiver, especially if the volatile Britt doesn’t get his act together, but Jared Cook could be poised to have a good year. John Carlson, new quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck’s old tight end, had good success until 2010 with Hasselbeck when new coach Pete Carroll entered. If Locker dethrones Hasselbeck somehow, a young quarterback’s best friends are his check down targets: usually tight ends and running backs. Chris Johnson, who is currently holding out, should have another great year as one of the league’s best running backs. On defense, with Stephen Tulloch gone, former Buccaneer Barrett Ruud will have to step in and perform. I don’t think the Titans will be particularly terrible, but with the division they’re in, it will be an unlucky year.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Jared Cook (TE)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Kenny Britt (WR)


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