2010 NFL Preview Part 4: AFC South

Team                                                         Projected Wins – Losses (Range)

1. Indianapolis Colts                               11-5 – 14-2

The Colts will have another very good season this year mostly because they are returning 21 starters from their Super Bowl team. There is no question in my mind that Indianapolis is the best team in the AFC.  Peyton Manning is also probably the best QB in the league. RB Joseph Addai is a pretty good player, not a great runner though.  2nd year man Donald Brown is a better runner than Addai, but Addai is a much better receiver and pass blocker, so he is a perfect fit for this offense. Peyton Manning has a wide variety of options to throw to including All-Pros Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, rising stars Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, and even Anthony Gonzalez might sneak a few catches in there. The Colts have a good offensive line, but it has been better in recent years. DE’s Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are two of the best in the NFL, the Colts also drafted Jerry Hughes to adding even more pass rushing depth. The starters at DT are Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir, both are average players. Linebackers Gary Bracket and Clint Session are solid, proven players, but OLB Phillip Wheeler needs to become more consistent. Indianapolis has an excellent secondary with one of the best free safeties in the league, Antoine Bethea, 2 very good corners in Kelvin Hayden and Jerraud Powers. SS Bob Sanders, when healthy is one of the best in the league, but has never been healthy for a full 16 games. I’m guessing at some point this year Melvin Bullit will be starting for Sanders for at least a couple games. With only making small changes to their Super Bowl team, the Colts could very well make it back again this season.

2. Houston Texans                                   8-8 – 11-5

The Texans have been knocking at the door of the playoffs for a couple years now, this could be the season where they’re finally let in. When QB Matt Schaub is healthy, he has proven he is an elite player. Schaub’s favorite target is Andre Johnson who could very well be the best receiver in the league. TE Owen Daniels was great for the first half of the season before tearing his ACL and missing the remaining 8 games. Daniels return will take a lot of pressure off of Johnson.  Other than Daniels and Johnson, Matt Schaub does not have a lot of dependable targets. Kevin Walter is average and would be a 3rd receiver on most teams. Jacoby Jones did flash some potential last year, but he won’t become a starter until he is more consistent. Houston had a horrendous rushing attack last season and they are hoping Arian Foster can develop into a good RB. If Steve Slaton can control his fumbling and durability issues, Texans could have a very good combo. Houston has a decent o-line, but none of their starter will make the Pro Bowl. Defensively, the Texans have some amazing players, but most of them are fairly average. DE Mario Williams is a proven pass rusher, but unless last year’s free agent pickup Antonio Smith can get to the quarterback more often, Williams will be double teamed. DT Amobi Okoye has not been very good since his rookie season, if he could play up to his potential, it would make Williams’ job much easier. LB’s DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, are both very good players, but Cushing is suspended for 4 games, leaving unproven Xavier Adibi in his place. Opposite Cushing/Adibi is 4th year player Zac Diles, who hasn’t shown anything to suggest he should be a starter. Houston secondary is on the rise with young players, such as corners Glover Quin and rookie Kareem Jackson. SS Bernard Pollard plays like a linebacker and is very underrated. FS Eugene Wilson has not been productive for quite a while, and I think it’s time for them to move on. Overall the Texans have a playoff caliber team, the only thing holding them back is a tough schedule.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars                        4-12 – 7-9

Jacksonville are trying to rebuild a team that has been, quite frankly not very good or entertaining in the past couple of years. I’m giving the Jaguars the slight edge over the Titans because of a better defense, a better throwing QB, and because of them having a number 1 receiver in Mike Sims-Walker. QB David Garrard has been quietly very consistent. I’m not saying Garrard is elite, but he gets the job done. RB Maurice Jones-Drew is easily one of the best in the league and he will carry this team as far as it can go. WR Mike Sims-Walker does need to be more consistent but should keep improving.  2nd year wideout Mike Thomas showed his potential in a few games last year, but on most teams he would be in the slot. The rest of Jacksonville’s WR’s are very young and might not be ready to step up to the NFL level. The Jags have an improving, young offensive line with players like LT Eugene Monroe, RT Eben Britton, and LG Uche Nwaneri. The Jaguars made a surprising move by drafting DT Tyson Alualu. Although it was a bit of a reach drafting Alualu at the 10th pick, pairing him with 2nd year DT Terrance Knighton will strengthen the defensive line for years to come. Jacksonville also added veteran DE Aaron Kampman from the Green Bay Packers. With Kampman switching back to his natural position, it will help not only underachieving DE Derrick Harvey break out, but he will also return to his form of 10 plus sacks (the Jags had only 14 last year). I also really like Jacksonville’s LB’s with Daryl Smith, Justin Durant and free agent addition Kirk Morrison. Jacksonville would have a much improved defense this season if not for their weak secondary. If Rashean Mathis stays healthy, he and 2nd year player Derek Cox could make a nice combination. Other than Mathis and Cox no one in this secondary is even decent. I don’t think trading underachieving FS Reggie Nelson to the Bengals was the right move. If Jacksonville’s young players continue to develop, they could contend for the division in a couple of years. For right now they are a sub 500 team, but will beat out the Titans.

4. Tennessee Titans                             4-12 – 7-9

The Titans have an average football team. QB Vince Young is an up and down player and he doesn’t have a clear cut number 1 receiver. Kenny Britt will eventually develop into a number 1, but isn’t quite there yet. Nate Washington and Justin Gage are decent veterans, but by no means great. RB Chris Johnson is the most electrifying player in the league. One concern with Johnson is his heavy workload. The Titans are hoping Javon Ringer can be a change of pace back. If Johnson goes down, Ringer is the only other RB on the roster. Tennessee has one of the best offensive lines in football, lead by Michael Roos. Just 2 years ago, Tennessee had one of the best defenses in the league, now they could have one of the worst. Other than Tony Brown, the Titans have no other impact players in the front seven. Rookie Derrick Morgan will one day be very good, but is currently listed as 3rd on the depth chart. LB’s Will Weatherspoon and Stephen Tulloch are decent players, but are not great. LB David Thornton is alright, but will miss at least 6 games, if not the entire season with a hip injury. Other than Cortland Finnegan, the Titans have absolutely no proven CB’s. Safety Michael Griffin struggled last year after a stellar ’08 campaign. SS Chris Hope is a good player but is on the decline. Tennessee could be a decent team, but they will have to rely on Chris Johnson to carry them past a difficult schedule.

Check back soon for the NFC East preview

This is also posted on ESPN.com

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