AFC South Predictions
The AFC South was dominated by the Indianapolis Colts over the past decade with Peyton Manning running the show. With Manning out all season with an injury in 2011, the Houston Texans took advantage. They captured the division title with a 10-6 record while making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Tennessee was a close second at 9-7, but Jacksonville (5-11) and Indianapolis (2-14) really struggled.
With Manning gone to the Denver Broncos, the South now clearly belongs to the Texans. They are easily the most talented team in what has become arguably the weakest division in the league. Here are my predictions on where all four teams finish in the South in 2012.
1. Houston Texans (11-5) – After a 3-3 start, the Texans reeled off seven straight victories in 2011 to get to 10-3 and clinch a spot in the playoffs. They would show their youth by losing the final three, but rebounded with a 31-10 victory over Cincinnati in the first round. Houston gave Baltimore all it could handle, outgaining the Ravens 315-227, but lost in the second round. The Texans managed 10 wins despite playing without arguably its three best players in QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster for part of the year. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips worked wonders, leading a stop unit that came out of nowhere to finish No. 2 in the league in total defense (286 yards/game). I believe the defense is the real deal, and the Texans will be a Super Bowl contender in ’12 provided their talented trio on offense stays healthy.
2. Tennessee Titan (6-10) – The Titans went 9-7 last year and missed out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker. They certainly exceeded expectations, beating Baltimore, Denver and Houston last year. However, the win over the Broncos was pre-Tebow, and their victory over the Texans came when they were resting their starters. The other six wins came against teams that averaged 4.5 wins last season. The schedule gets tougher this year, especially at home where I have the Titans as underdogs in up to six games against the Patriots, Lions, Steelers, Bears, Texans and Jets. They have a stronger roster, but will see a decrease in wins due to the schedule.
3. Indianapolis Colts (5-11) – The Colts had won 10 or more games for nine consecutive years from 2002 to ’10 under Manning. He proved he was the most valuable player in the league last year as Indianapolis went 2-14 with him sidelined with a neck injury for the entire season. Shockingly, owner Jim Irsay decided to let him go this offseason. The Colts will now undergo one of the biggest rebuilding jobs in NFL history. It starts with the No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck. He’s already an upgrade over what they had last year at the quarterback position. The Colts were pretty unfortunate with 75 starts lost to injury last year. They have a bunch of winnable games in the first half of the season, but the schedule gets much tougher after that. I’ll call for five wins and a third-place finish in the South.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12) – The Jaguars finished just 5-11 last season despite a stop unit that ranked No. 6 in the league in total defense (313 yards/game). They had the No. 32 offense (259 yards/game) that simply could not move the chains with any consistency. First-round pick Blaine Gabbert struggled all year, and the Jaguars will be going with him again in 2012, which is not good news. They did get him a weapon by drafting WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) in the first round, but did little in free agency to improve the roster. Jacksonville had 31 players on the IR to end the year in 2011, so it should receive better health. I just don’t believe the offense will improve enough under Gabbert to see an increase in wins, and the defense likely won’t hold up as well as it did a year ago.
Individual Team NFL Season Predictions