We will be kicking off this years preseason power rankings in the AFC South. I believe that this division will have a different look than what we've seen in the past. There's been a lot of new additions, possible rookie QB's that may have an impact on their teams success, and arguably one of the best running backs in the league holding out because he wants Tom Brady money.
Based on these observations and some research, I've ranked the South division as follows:
4. Tennessee Titans - After losing the longest tenured coach in the NFL, you automatically have to think there will be some type of drop off. This usually indicates the start of a rebuilding process, and they backed that theory up by drafting QB Jake Locker in the first round. They also brought in veteran Matt Hasselback to start the season and mentor the young Locker, who looked good in the preseason opener against the Vikings.
Mike Munchak already has his work cut out for him as a first time head coach and a shortened off season, but the Chris Johnson contract drama is not what he needed. Does Johnson deserve a new contract? Absolutely! Does he deserve to be paid as a top running back in the league? No doubt about it! This apparently is not enough for Johnson. He wants top play maker money like the Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's of the NFL. There's a reason that QB's get paid more than any other position on the field. They have the most difficult job mentally. They also touch the ball on every single down. A QB can dictate the game and be the reason the team wins or loses each week. Just look at Manning in Indianapolis last season. Running backs don't have this affect on the game. For example, two years ago Chris Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards and the Titans went 8-8. Word of advice, take your top running back pay, report to camp, and start helping your team get better.
Add the drama with Kenny Britt and the loss of Jason Babin, I see the Titans finishing 5-11 this year with their schedule.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - If the Jaguars do end up finishing in this position, you will have seen the last of Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville. He has somehow held onto his job through much adversity over the past few years. I see him as one of the early season coaches on the hot seat.
Looking at the offense, I like the addition of Blaine Gabbert in the draft. It will take time, but I think he can be groomed into a decent starter in the NFL. He's had a preseason with some ups and downs so far, but adding more weapons would have helped the young QB. The Jags did manage to resign pro bowl TE Mercedes Lewis, who will provide a nice big target over the middle. Jones-Drew is coming off of knee surgery but should be healthy going into the season, so we expect to see a 1300 yard, 10 TD season out of him. The lack of size and depth at the receiver position is a concern. I think adding a Terrell Owens when he becomes healthy would be a good move for the Jags.
Defensively, I like the additions of Clint Session, Paul Posluszny, and Aaron Kampman. They also acquired LB Matt Roth from Cleveland, who should provide some depth at that position. The defense did look better last night against the Falcons than they did in the opener against New England. With a difficult schedule this year, I see the Jaguars sitting Gerrard midway through the season and going to the rookie. If this happens, Del Rio will be blowing his whistle somewhere else next season. Projected record....6-10.
2. Indianapolis Colts - This is the year, unfortunately, the Colts will lose the division and not make the playoffs. Peyton Manning has yet to take a snap in practice. The team has been throttled two weeks in a row in the preseason without Manning. Now granted, the Colts are never a strong preseason team, but they haven't even looked competitive yet.
They lost some key defensive players in Clint Session, Kelvin Hayden, and Bob Sanders. They also made very little effort to get bigger in their front seven, which showed last night as the Redskins racked up over 160 yards in the first half on the ground. This is a huge disadvantage when you face Jones-Drew, Arian Foster, and Chris Johnson each twice a year.
Offensively, Manning will be back under center for the start of the season, but there is no doubt that he will be rusty. The Colts offense is all timing routes, and with virtually no off season work and now no preseason work for Manning, it's going to take a while for him to get back on the same page as his receivers. Colts fans can only hope Manning will be ready to go, because we've seen Curtis Painter, and we do not have a lot of faith in his abilities. Indianapolis has continued to struggle running the ball in the preseason, which was a huge problem for them last year. They will have a healthy line up of receivers, but how many hits will it take before Collie is out with another concussion? With one of the toughest schedules in the league this year, I have the Colts finishing 10-6 and possibly missing the playoffs.
1. Houston Texans - This is the year that the Texans will finally make an impact on this division and make the playoffs. One man will be responsible for this...Wade Phillips. Phillips is one of the better defensive minds in the NFL and will have this defense playing well four or five games into the season. We already know how explosive they are on offense with Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster. They did lose fullback Vonte Leach in free agency, but picked up Lawrence Vickers from the Browns, so Foster's production should not decrease too much from a year ago. They will score 28 points a game, it's just a matter if the defense can only give up 27.
Wade Phillips and Gary Kubiak were able to bring in some key pieces on defense to shore up the secondary that struggled last season. Jonathon Joseph came over from the Bengals at corner and safety Danieal Manning from Chicago, each will start week one and should provide some stability for the Texans.
As with Del Rio, Kubiak is on the hot seat this year if he cannot produce a playoff team this year. If it's going to happen, this year is better than any other with the Colts fading and Johnson holding out in Tennessee. With that being said, I see Houston winning 11 games this year and making their first playoff appearance.