AFC South


1. Indianapolis Colts: 12-4
Will it be 9 straight playoff appearances & 8 consecutive seasons of at least 12 wins?
2. Houston Texans: 9-7
When will it be “the year” for Houston?
3. Tennessee Titans: 8-8
Can Vince Young continue what he started last year?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11
Is this the end of the Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville?


Jeff Fisher – Titans
He’s the longest tenured head coach in the NFL (16 years) and has had an amazing level of consistency throughout his tenure.  His teams have only had four losing seasons in his 16 seasons.  Only occasionally have the Titans been considered favorites to win it all.  This is a similar time in which there is only one advantage they have and that’s with RB Chris Johnson.  Fisher’s teams though are always competitive and that will be the recurring theme this year.  Finally with stability at quarterback and the defense getting a year of experience under their belt, the Titans should be competing for a playoff spot.  The division might be for another year.

Jim Caldwell – Colts
Yes, anyone who has Peyton Manning as their quarterback doesn’t have to do a lot of coaching, but Caldwell was the quarterback coach for Indianapolis since 2002 before being anointed the head coach in ’09.  That has to count for something.  His calm demeanor goes right along with what the Colts were used to with Tony Dungy.  It did work as their Super Bowl title in ’06 proves it.  Not a lot of turnover on the roster has affected this team as they look to finish with a title this time around.  But as history has shown lately, it’s very difficult for the Super Bowl loser to get back to the Super Bowl let alone the playoffs.

Gary Kubiak – Texans
The Texans have been a good team, but they haven’t been able to get into the playoffs to show their potential.  Last year they won their last four games to finish with a 9-7 record, but there were too many scenarios to fall in their favor to clinch a playoff spot.  Kubiak has turned the Houston offense into a passing powerhouse, but hasn’t been able to create that magic from Denver in the running game.  The defense has steadily improved, but is not at an elite level to keep up with other great offenses.  Namely their own division rival the Colts.  This will be a make or break year for Gary Kubiak.  He did receive an extension in the offseason only to not have him be a “lame duck” coach.  If Houston doesn’t reach the playoffs this year, the Texans will be looking for their third head coach in the franchise’s history.

Jack Del Rio – Jaguars
Entering his 7th season, Del Rio is on the bad end of his tenure.  He’s only had three losing seasons, but two have come in the last two years.  Jacksonville did improve last year with a 7-9 record, but with a young team, primarily on defense they will be expected to improve on that record.  Del Rio is a defensive minded coach which should end with positive results on that side of the field.  However, there is a lot of inconsistency on offense.  Del Rio’s choice at quarterback, David Garrard, has regressed and Del Rio will be looking to pull the trigger at the first sign of trouble.  Without a true number one receiver, Jacksonville will have to count a lot on the running game.  Jacksonville has only had two coaches in its 16 year history.  They might be looking for their third very soon.

Best Acquisition: DE Aaron Kampman – Jacksonville Jaguars
He averaged 12 sacks a season from ’06-’08 for the Green Bay Packers.  The injury bugged took him out for most of last season, but he wasn’t very comfortable in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.  Now that he’s in a 4-3 base defense, he should be able to get at least 10 sacks if not more in Jacksonville.  He isn’t the key to their success on defense, but getting a decent pass rush from their line is something they haven’t had since they traded Marcus Stroud to Buffalo.  Del Rio hardly blitzes and it will be a big plus for the pass defense if there is more pressure from the defensive line.

Quarterback – Grade
Colts – A
Texans – B
Titans – B
Jaguars – C

Peyton Manning is in a class by himself.  A three time MVP.  Super Bowl Champion.  What else can he accomplish in his career?  He will eventually hold most of the NFL passing records, assuming Brett Favre ever retires.  One thing is absolutely certain about the Colts quarterback.  If Manning goes down, the Colts are barely a 4 win team.
Matt Schaub was a highly touted backup in Atlanta.  When given a chance he has proven that he is one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league.  It helps to have one of the best wide receivers in the league in Andre Johnson, but you have to have someone throw him the ball.  When healthy, Schaub can put up Pro Bowl type stats; 4,770 yards & 29 TD.  As with most teams, Houston doesn’t have a reliable backup should Schaub miss a few games.
Tennessee knew what they had when they drafted Vince Young in 2006.  The Titans didn’t know that it was going to take a little longer for Vince to develop.  Starting the ’09 season 0-6 Tennessee had no where else to turn.  Vince showed a side of his ability that no one had seen in his pro career.  Had the Titans turned to him sooner they maybe would’ve clinched a playoff spot.  With the all the confidence in Vince the Titans should have a much better start to the season.
Jacksonville has had success with David Garrard.  Lately it has been an up and down ride.  He is only second to Mark Brunell in almost every major passing category in franchise history.  Garrard’s success for the 2010 season depends entirely on his composure in the pocket.  He has been forcing too many passes and it has resulted in his gradual downfall.

Running Back – Grade
Titans – A
Jaguars – B
Colts – C
Texans – D

Chris Johnson became only the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards last season.  Usually when a back does that, he is appointed the best back in the game.  I would absolutely agree with that.  He does it all.  Catch, block, take a hit.  What more could ask for from your running back?  One thing Tennessee will do is ask that he keep it up and not worry about his contract.  He will get paid, just not for one season.
Jacksonville’s one saving grace is their undisputed star Maurice Jones-Drew.  He has gone out of his way to prove that he should have been a first round pick in 2006.  His level on consistency is unmatched and for his size, his toughness is above all others.  Jones-Drew will be counted on to once again carry the load for Jacksonville’s average offense.
Indianapolis doesn’t run the ball very much.  They do have arguably the best quarterback in the game, but they are lacking a short-yardage solution.  Joseph Addai is getting old quick.  Donald Brown was injured often most of his rookie year and didn’t get off to a fast start in the offense.  Either one if not both will need to get up to speed to help the Colts get back to a more balanced attack.
Houston has only had three seasons in which they had a 1,000 yard rusher.  The last was by Steve Slaton in his rookie of ’08.  Slaton had some serious problems with ball control last year and lost the starting gig.  It was a disaster since.  Houston’s three replacements didn’t fare any better.  This year they will give Slaton another chance, but he has 2nd round pick Ben Tate competing for playing time.  Tate will be given ever opportunity to win the job, but Slaton is a better pass catching option.  Houston’s playoff hopes depend on their running game.

Wide Receiver – Grade
Colts – A
Texans – B
Titans – C
Jaguars – C

Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez were the regulars going into the ’09 season.  With Gonzalez going down with a leg injury, entered Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.  Both were instrumental in keeping the Colts passing attack one of the best in the league.  With Gonzalez healthy, this unit has only gotten stronger with Peyton at the helm.
Matt Schaub had to have bought a lot of dinners for Andre Johnson last season.  Johnson is by far the best receiver in the game.  Coming off back-to-back 100 catch 1,500 yard seasons, there is no stopping what he and Schaub have going in Houston.  The scary thing is Schaub also has a Pro-Bowl tight end in Owen Daniels to throw to.  Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones aren’t bad options either.  Remember, Schaub threw for over 4,700 yards.  It wasn’t all to Johnson or Daniels.
Tennessee hasn’t had the best receivers in the Vince Young era.  However, that could all change thanks to the chemistry developed with last years 1st round pick Kenny Britt and Young.  Kenny led the team in yards (701) and yards per catch (16.7) last season.  Young also has his former college teammate Bo Scaife as his tight end.  Bo has had at least 45 catches the last three seasons for the Titans.  Don’t forget Chris Johnson.  He probably won’t lead the team in catches (50) again, but he’s still a great check down option.
The Jaguars might be onto something with Mike Sims-Walker.  His breakout season (63 rec, 869 yards, 7 TD) was an eye opener for the coaching staff and quarterback David Garrard.  That should continue as Garrard doesn’t have much else to look for.  Tight End Marcedes Lewis has been a disappointment.  Never living up to his 1st round selection.  Mike Thomas came on strong during his rookie season.  Jacksonville only has Jones-Drew as the next reliable option for Garrard.  Unless they get more production out what they have or someone new steps up, they will be in a world of trouble this year.

Defense – Grade
Colts – B
Titans – C
Texans – C
Jaguars – C

The Colts don’t have a dominating defense, but it starts with their pass rush.  Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the two best combo pass rushers in the NFL.  Equally underrated in the run stuffing department too.  First round pick Jerry Hughes is a clone of both Mathis and Freeney and will immediately make an impact.  Gary Brackett roams the middle for the defense.  An undersized linebacker, but he is a ferocious tackler.  Bob Sanders is always injured, but it’s because he puts his body into every hit.  The Colts constantly swarm to the ball and that is a plus.
In the Jeff Fisher era the Titans have always had a good defense.  A lot of good players have been let go, but they’ve always managed to replace them.  Tennessee doesn’t blitz much.  That’s where the defensive line comes in.  First round pick Derrick Morgan enters into a mix that includes Tony Brown, Jacob Ford, Jovan Haye and Jason Jones just to name a few.  There is a constant mix of speed ends and run stuffing tackles.  There is a different look at linebacker, but Stephen Tulloch still patrols the middle.  He is the field general for what Fisher hopes will be an attacking linebacker unit.  The Titans safeties are not the best at coverage, but great at the point of attack.  Cortland Finnegan is becoming one of the best corner backs in the NFL.  His ball-hawking attitude is helping the Titans in the turnover department.
Houston has begun to turn this unit around quickly.  Mario Williams has turned out to be the perfect fit for a team that was in desperate need of a pass rusher.  Look for Connor Barwin to breakout and post near double digit sack totals in his second season.  DeMeco Ryans is the constant force in the middle for Houston.  Brian Cushing will be out the first four games, but he will bring much needed energy in crucial situations.  The Texans don’t have their shut down corner Dunta Robinson (Falcons) anymore.  Their 1st round pick Kareem Jackson will try to help soften the void, but they will struggle to keep up with the elite quarterbacks of the NFL.
Jacksonville hasn’t always had the best defense, but under Jack Del Rio they are always playing hard.  Rashean Mathis and Reggie Nelson take charge of the secondary.  Mathis has lost a step in coverage, but is still one of the best tackling corner backs.  Nelson is above average in coverage.  He does struggle in play-action though.  The Jaguars have an elite linebacker in Daryl Smith.  Always after the ball, Smith is a leading example of what Del Rio expects from his backers.  Jacksonville’s 1st round pick Tyson Alualu will hopefully bring their defense back to the glory days of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.  An above average pass rusher, Alualu was a bit of a reach, but will instantly make an impact with the free agent addition of Aaron Kampman from Green Bay.

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