There’s not a whole lot that’s complicated about the AFC South. You have one team that’s a lock for first place, two teams that right now earn little more than a never-mind, and then you have a real mystery to unravel.
The Indianapolis Colts are expected to be the class of the division. As long as Andrew Luck stays off his backside and that offensive line does its job (hardly a foregone conclusion), they’ll be fine. The Colts are loaded with offensive talent but will face a schedule to challenge them in every way. Thus far, head coach Chuck Pagano has been adept at getting them prepared.
You can’t help but be full of questions regarding Trent Richardson, but it’s now or never for this guy and the Big Sayonara is waiting for him just around the corner so there’s no questioning his motivation. The return of Reggie Wayne means the Colts have to expand the playbook, stack some routes and make the most of Luck’s talent with this stable chock-full of quality receivers.
On the defense, Robert Mathis’ suspension will hurt them early when the schedule has them facing Denver and Philly, the types of foes where you desperately need a pass rush. Defensive secondary is going to be a huge concern with the loss of Antoine Bethea to free agency. The upside to these questions is the great benefit they gain from playing in such a weak division.
The Tennessee Titans are one of two teams in the division reconfiguring things under a new coaching regime. Ken Whisenhunt has a solid history of reviving quarterbacks with productive times spent in Pittsburgh, Arizona and San Diego. But none of those situations were complete rebuild jobs like Tennessee is going to be.
So is Jake Locker durable enough to play quarterback through a situation like this? He’s missed 14 games in two seasons. Whis’ first priority is to get that offensive line in order. Years of reliance on Chris Johnson for a few yards when needed are now over, so how is Locker going to make it past the bye week without enough reliable options?
The offensive line of the Jacksonville Jaguars may be the weakest in the division and the impending doom of a quarterback situation could be as ugly as it comes. Chad Henne doesn’t stretch the defense. There is no signature back to run the ball. (Ugh!) Six years in a row below .500, so no experience winning. (Double-Ugh!)
Things are looking up on the defense with the addition of talent with experience. This means the Jaguars will be deeper and may not wear down as much as they did last year, but they are still not going to be far from the bottom in the league when it comes to sacks and interceptions, or other sorts of game-changing types of plays. On top of that, the schedule will likely get more than the best of them (that is, take it from them, not bring it out in them).
Neither the Titans nor the Jaguars are any better than third and fourth in probably the worst division in the NFL. Toss a coin, but the guess here is that Jacksonville ekes out a few more wins.
The mystery is what will happen with the Houston Texans. Of all the teams in the league, this one has the best chance to play out one of those worst-to-first scenarios. New coaches often light a fire under talented but under-performing teams. Last year, Houston was the textbook definition of having the wheels fall off.
Still, major questions abound, from the signing of pedestrian talent at quarterback to a defensive secondary that has all the allure of mismatched tile. But that defensive front seven…Whew! They’re smoking and the fire’s not even lit yet.
With Andre Johnson (still a big doubtful maybe), they even have a chance to get their mojo back. Even without him, they still have a playoff shot if their offense doesn’t make the mistakes that utterly destroyed them a mere season ago.