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Predicting the 2012 NFL Season: the AFC South

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bill-swift - September 7, 2012

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants were able to treat us to a pretty decent game Wednesday night (how 'bout that Queen Latifah?). It actually looked like the Cowboys might be looking to finish a few games off this season rather than watch them slip away in the fourth quarter (like last season).

It's too soon to say anything about the Super Bowl hopes for either the 'Boys or Giants, but whomever makes it the Super Bowl from the NFC is going to need an opponent. According to my crystal football that team could very well come from the AFC South.

Houston Texans:

Last season the Texans finally broke through the barrier that was holding them back and won the division, a playoff game, and was pretty darn close to playing in the AFC Championship. This season they will be among the favorites to make it to the conference championship and possibly even the Super Bowl.

The big question mark will be whether they can keep the play makers on offense healthy. MattSchaub may be interception prone at times, but he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. That is partially due to his partner in crime, wide receiver Andre Johnson. Kevin Walter is a capable No. 2. but the team knew it needed help at wide receiver so they picked up a couple more in the draft (DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin). Both have potential, but they need time to develop before they can be counted on.

Passing will be secondary in Houston anyway with the tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield. Foster went from the practice squad to the top of the NFL in no time and appears ready to stay there. The problem will be the slightly revamped offensive line. Losing two of five starters hurts, but with the passing game that Houston can bring might ease up the pressure on Schaub.

One of the most dominant defenses in the game will help keep the pressure off as well. Thanks to them he will not have to score a whole lot of points either (17.4 pts/game allowed in '11; 4th). The list of play makers the unit has is endless; you could practically list the entire starting group along with some of the back-ups. The real star is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips; bad head coach, but an awesome DC.

Indianapolis Colts:

The great thing about being a part of the Colts this season is that no one will expect anything. So if they suck, everyone will say they thought so, but if they don't the Colts will be a welcome surprise. It may seem strange to say considering how bad the team was last season, but I don't think they will be half bad this year.

Andrew Luck is the obvious key on offense. He has been called the greatest QB coming out of college since John Elway, and from the look of the preseason he just might live up to that. Luck has shown all the poise, command, and maturity that it takes to be a leader on the field, and he has the physical attributes to make the plays as well. What has been most impressive is that he doesn't let mistakes linger (which is good since he'll have many this season).

He still has Reggie Wayne to throw to and fellow rookie Coby Fleener will be a solid safety valve for him this year. There pre-existing relationship from their Stanford days will come in handy early on as Luck gets acclimated to the pro game and needs to  get rid of the ball quick.

Where the team will hurt is in the running game and offensive line. Luck will have to work from the run a lot and be quick to release the ball. He simply will not have time. The poor line will make the running game hard to develop, but having an average runner like Donald Brown will not help. Look for Mewelde Moore to get more carries as the season goes on.

Defensively the team still has Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. They've actually added a few solid players in free agency this past off-season as well. The biggest addition of course is a defensive minded coach in new head man Chuck Pagano. His mark will be seen the most on defense, but he'll have his hands full getting a largely new group of players to gel.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

If a team could be awarded a comeback award like the players get it would go to the Jaguars this season. The team has really suffered at quarterback ever since Mark Brunell departed, and it suffered more last season under rookie Blaine Gabbert. In all fairness, it wasn't entirely his fault. The team did not have a single wide receiver that belonged on an NFL roster for him to throw to.

That has changed. Once he got into camp rookie Justin Blackmon started to live up to the hype. Laurent Robinson didn't really do so during preseason play, but the team is hoping that he will liven up for them (like he did for Dallas last season) once Maurice Jones-Drew starts distracting defenders. If they can do that and take some pressure off of MJD the Jags might actually have a decent offense this season.

With a little help from the offense the Jags defense could possibly be a top 5 group. As much as they were on the field last season they still managed to be the No. 11 defense in the league. Give them a little more rest during the games (by keeping the offense on the field longer) and they'll be even better.

Linebackers Paul Poslunzy and Daryl Smith both had stellar seasons in '11, but the secondary will need to step it up for the Jags to be able to win a few games (not likely).

Tennessee Titans:

Tennessee will not be a competitor this season, but the Texans will have to watch out for them in a couple years. Jake Locker will be the starter going forward, and while he looked okay during the preseason when defenses start to throw everything but the kitchen sink at him, it's not easy to say he'll be able to handle the pressure.

If the Titans have a dependable running game that could all change. The problem going forward is that it is anything but dependable. Chris Johnson went from one of the best in the game two seasons ago to become purely pedestrian last season. He claims that he is back and better than ever, but there was precious little evidence of that in the preseason.

Should Locker get the time to throw he'll have a pretty solid trio of guys ready to catch in Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Nate Washington. It remains to be seen how good Britt will be coming off a major knee injury, but if he is anything like the guy he was before the injury last season the Titans could make it interesting in the AFC South.

The defense is going to make it harder for Locker to develop. Anytime that four of your top five tacklers is in the secondary that is not good. Their best defender, Cortland Finnegan, was lost to free agency so the Titans will be desperate for someone to step up and assume a leadership/resident play maker role this season.

Prediction:

Like the NFC North this one is easy--the Houston Texans. No one else has close to the talent needed to compete. Indianapolis will surprise the NFL by coming in second in the division followed by a much improved Jaguars team while the Titans will flounder once Chris Johnson fails to produce again.

Division Winner: Houston

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