NFL Season Preview: AFC South

NFL Analyst CHRIS GUSCOTT previews the AFC South in Fiasco Sports’ 2013-2014 NFL Season Preview.

 

Source: Bob Levey / Getty Images North America

 

The AFC South division is set for another season as one of the AFC’s most intriguing divisions, with powerhouse Houston Texans looking to defend their division title against playoff threats Indianapolis Colts, the emerging Tennessee Titans and the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

But can Houston withstand the challenge from its divisional rivals, or will a new team be crowned the best in the south?

 

Houston Texans: (12-4 in 2012/2013)

Stars: WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster, DE J.J. Watt, FS Ed Reed, LB Brian Cushing

Big Ins: FS Ed Reed (BAL), FB Greg B.Jones (JAC)

Big Outs: SS Glover Quin (DET), LB Connor Barwin (PHI), FB James Casey (PHI)

 

Off-season Storylines:

 

Houston has enjoyed the perfect off-season in regards to pushing for a Superbowl berth, with no significant injuries impacting first team practices or extensive media coverage unsettling the players.

 

The Texans’ biggest headline for the off-season is the tremendous form of rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has reportedly dazzled in practice and looks ready for a solid week one start.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

 

Houston has chosen to leave its offensive unit untouched from last season, apart from the inclusion of Hopkins, which is a major positive after confirming itself as a top five offence on the back of extraordinary performances from stars Andre Johnson and Arian Foster.

 

The only offensive question identifiable, which is heavily significant in a pass-heavy league, is whether Matt Schaub is able to project himself from being a solid quarterback into an elite, Superbowl-winning quarterback with the offensive unit at his disposal.

 

Schaub will have a solid defence to support him as well, led by defensive MVP J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and newly-acquired future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed.

 

Reed may be the final piece to a defensive unit which needs to tighten up its pass defence in the secondary in order to challenge for the Superbowl.

 

Indianapolis Colts: (11-5 in 2012/2013)

Stars: QB Andrew Luck, LB Jerrell Freeman, WR Reggie Wayne

Big Ins: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG), LB Erik Walden (GB), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (OAK), FS LaRon Landry (NYJ), DT Ricky Jean Francois (SF), CB Greg Toler (ARI), DE Aubrayo Franklin (SD)

Big Outs: LB Dwight Freeney (SD), SS Tom Zbikowski (CHI), DT Antonio Johnson (TEN)

 

Off-season Storylines:

 

The Colts surprised everyone last season with an 11-5 record, and they have made a host of off-season signings to legitimise a serious playoff bid.

 

Their biggest signing is Superbowl-winning running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but a foot injury has kept him sidelined, which is a major blow for Indianapolis.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

 

Darrius Heyward-Bey’s inclusion sees a solid passing game, led by rookie superstar Andrew Luck, become even stronger, as Indianapolis already possesses solid receiving talent with Reggie Wayne and T.Y Hilton.

 

However, Bradshaw’s absence fails to address a problematic running game, and even though Vick Ballard can be effective on occasion, the Colts will need a proficient running game to support the heavy load placed on Luck.

 

The off-season signing frenzy has built a substandard defence into a solid unit, with the signings of defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky-Jean Francois, linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry providing a massive boost to the Colts’ playoff hopes.

 

Despite their promising talent, this squad may need time to become cohesive and is yet to be proven as a defensive unit that can win playoff matches, which is essentially the core need of this team.

 

Tennessee Titans: (6-10 in 2012/2013)

Stars: RB Chris Johnson, SS Bernard Pollard

Big Ins: SS Bernard Pollard (BAL), TE Delanie Walker (SF), DT Sammie Lee Hill (DET), LG Andy Levitre (BUF)

Big Outs: DT Sen’Derrick Marks (JAC), LB Will Witherspoon (STL)

 

Off-season Storylines:

 

Tennessee have made big signings in the off-season, such as hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard and tight end Delanie Walker, as the Titans hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

 

The Titans’ offensive line continues to improve, with Andy Levitre and rookie Chance Warmack added to help protect quarterback Jake Locker and to provide running lanes for superstar running back Chris Johnson.

 

Despite the quality of their offensive line and running game, the Titans’ season rests on the fragile shoulders of Locker, who is now overdue for a breakout season in Tennessee and could struggle to emerge with an average receiving group.

 

Tennessee’s major weakness lies largely in their faulty defence, which conceded the most points in the entire league last year, and regardless of signing Pollard, have made no significant changes to improve it.

 

Their terrible defence is matched by their division play, winning just one game out of six against divisional rivals, with their only win coming against minnows Jacksonville – a worrying sign for Titans fans.

 

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: (2-14 in 2012/2013)

Stars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew

Big Ins: DT Sen’Derrick Marks (TEN), DT Roy Miller (TB), LB Geno Hayes (TB), CB Alan Ball (HOU)

Big Outs: LB Daryl Smith (BAL), CB Derek Cox (SD), SS Dawan Landry (NYJ), DT C.J.Mosely (DET), FB Greg B.Jones (HOU)

 

Off-season Storylines:

 

The hapless Jaguars had no choice but to build from the bottom after a 2-14 season, and their draft class provided an exciting preview for the future, with the acquisitions of Luke Joeckel, Jonathan Cyprien, Dwayne Gratz, Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson in their first five rounds.

 

However, the talented rookies were not the main focus point in the Jaguars off-season; struggling quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne were locked in an intriguing battle for starters duty, before Gabbert won out by the tiniest of margins.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

 

One strength that can be taken away from Jacksonville is that their first four draft picks will be getting valuable starting time in 2013/2014, and this will give new energy to a team languishing at the bottom of the league.

 

Offensively, Jacksonville has a tremendous running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, but another interrupted pre-season means that the Jaguars’ only offensive weapon will not be functioning at full efficiency until a few weeks into the season, leaving the offense in the hands of a substandard Gabbert.

 

A new influx of defensive linemen and linebackers created intrigue for a miserable defence, but there has still been very little improvement to the third worst defence in the country.

 

Predictions:

Houston: 12-4

Indianapolis: 12-4

Tennessee: 5-11

Jacksonville: 3-13

 

Written by Chris Guscott – @Chris_Guscott

 

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