And...we're back. Our sincerest apologies to our tens of loyal readers. We've been lazy bastards this week. Who would have guessed that we'd actually have to do work at our jobs? In any event, it's time for more NFL dumpage--AFC South style.
1.) Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Ok, so the defending Super Bowl champs lost both starting corners in free agency and stud LT Tarik Glenn to retirement. Big deal. They have Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden ready to step in at CB, and rookie T Tony Ugoh is more than capable of protecting Peyton's blindside in Glenn's absence. The Colts offense will be as potent as ever, with rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez as a sleeper Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. The guy has busted his ass this summer working to get on the same page as Manning, and is going to be deadly in the slot. With RB Joseph Addai primed for a breakout season, the Colts are going to score more than enough points to make up for any defensive liabilities. We'll see what happens when they get to the postseason. Last year, their much maligned D stepped up big time, and they took home the Lombardi trophy. I'm not predicting a repeat of that performance, but they are still the class of this division. They should cruise to a top 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs, and after that, all bets are off. I've accepted the fact that Peyton Manning is going to break most of Dan Marino's passing records. I've also accepted the fact that he has now won a championship, something that Marino never managed to do. These two facts make me very, very bitter, and I will never concede that Manning is a better QB than Marino in his prime. I won't. I can't. But he is the best QB playing today, and he's going to take the Colts deep into the playoffs once again.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Over the past few seasons, the Jags have quietly put together one of the top defenses in the NFL. They are a young, fast and nasty group who have gotten better year by year. This year they will continue to establish themselves as a top-5 unit, but it's going to be on the Offense to get this team to the playoffs. Jack Del Rio has handled his QB situation pretty poorly of late, fueding with Byron Leftwich, finding out that David Garrard isn't all that good and flirting with signing Daunte Culpepper. I'm a big Leftwich fan, and feel that given a little time to develop chemistry with a talented but extremely raw set of receievers, he could put up big time numbers. RB Maurice Jones-Drew was a revelation last year--he and a healthy Fred Taylor could make for a devastating 1-2 punch on the ground. I like the Jags quite a bit this year. They'll experience some growing pains on offense early in the season as Leftwich gets back up to speed, but if WR's Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams can live up to their massive potential, the Jags will feature a deadly combination of defensive intensity and offensive firepower. They might still be a year away, especially in the loaded AFC, but they are close. Unfortunately for Del Rio, this might be a make or break year. Jacksonville's dozens of fans are in for an exciting season.
3) Houston Texans (7-9)
I really don't know what to expect from the Texans this year. Their fans sure as shit haven't had much to cheer about since the team's inception. From David Carr being demolished to passing on Reggie Bush in the draft, it's been a rough few years. Enter the hope of salvation in the form of QB Matt Schaub. Ookie's former backup has been one of the most highly valued second string QB's in the NFL for the past few seasons. The Texans gave up a bunch of draft picks and threw a ton of money at Schaub, who is largely untested in the NFL. Well, he's going to be tested this year. The O-Line is still shaky at best, and the offense is devoid of weapons outside of WR Andre Johnson. Long, long season in store for young Mr. Schaub. He's going to be a good one eventually, but Texans fans looking for a miracle are going to be disapointed. Luckily, they've grown used to that down in Houston. Defensively, the Texans actually figure to be pretty good. Dunta Robinson is an up and coming shutdown corner, LB DeMeco Ryans might have been the steal of last year's draft, and DE Mario Williams is still a physical specimen. The question will be whether he can learn to play his position or not. Amobi Okeye could very well develop into the best DT in the league, and he's only 19 years old. So things are looking up in Houston. They still need a viable answer at RB--because it sure as shit is not Ahman Green. He'll be on IR by week 6. Schaub will show flashes this season, but the Texans are a year or two away from making any serious noise in the division.
4. Tennesse Titans (5-11)
When Bill Cowher retired, he made the Jeff Fisher the longest tenured active NFL coach. Fisher has been roaming the Titans' sideline for 13 seasons now. Last year was one of his most impressive seasons, as he somehow got 8 wins out of a decidedly mediocre roster. QB Vince Young is going to be a good one, but I think he'll regress a little this year. Teams will be able to completely gameplan against him, especially since he has total scrubs at WR. The offensive line is young and talented, which will help Young escape a complete beating this season. RB LenDale White is still tubby and apparently unmotivated. I really thought that guy was going to be a stud coming out of USC, but he has been a bust so far. If he steps up, the Titans' chances at a decent season will be bolstered considerably. Of course, Tennessee will greatly miss Pac Man Jones in their defensive backfield and on special teams. For all his bullshit, the guy is a phenomenal cover corner. Rookie DB Michael Griffin will be expected to help pick up the slack, but he might be playing out of position, as it isn't quite clear whether he is going to end up as a CB or a Safety. Fisher has always gotten an amazing amount of mileage out of the talent he is given to work with. For the Titans to go .500 this year, he'll have to do his best coaching job to date. Fisher is one of the best in the game, but it's too tall an order this year. I will say this-with a promising young QB and Fisher on the sidelines, the Titans are one solid offseason from jumping right back into AFC contention. This is a good franchise with a lot of pride, and I expect just that. Keep an eye towards 2008 as you take your lumps this year, Titans fans.
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