Today we kick off our 2013 NFL Division Preview series with a look at the AFC South. The teams will be listed in the order of their projected final standings in the division.
Houston Texans – The addition of Ed Reed and the drafting of rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins highlight a successful offseason for Houston. Reed gives the Texans veteran leadership and championship experience that should resonate well with throughout the lockerroom.
Hopkins appears to be the real deal, as he is the first true No. 2 receiver the Texans have had in camp since Matt Schaub has been there. With Andre Johnson, Hopkins’ addition should elevate the Houston passing game toward the top third of the league.
Ben Tate is back, healthy and ready to spell Arian Foster and keep both sets of legs fresh for a long season. Houston’s offense starts and stops with Foster. He’ll play an instrumental role in any championship run Houston will make and they need Tate healthy to keep Foster fresh and focused.
The return of Brian Cushing cannot be understated. He is the heart and soul of an already respectable defense that features the best defender in the NFL in J.J. Watt. Keep an eye on Joe Mays, a quiet little addition Houston made at inside linebacker. Mays has the talent to rejuvenate his career in Houston and help the Texan defense rise to the ranks of the league’s elite.
I see Houston as the clear cut favorite in the division, which come as a surprise to no one. They have the talent and schedule that sets them up for a 12-win season. That should put them in contention for the No. 2 overall seed in the AFC Playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts – The departure of Bruce Arians means two things: Chuck Pagano will get his first real chance to be the head coach of this team for an entire season and the bulk of his offense will be learning their third scheme in three years.
I don’t know if the Colts will take a step back or not, but I have to think it will be tough for them to improve. Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener should pick up new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s offense quickly, as he was their OC in college. The rest of the team will need time to adapt. That could cost them a few games early in the season.
The addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey from Oakland gives Luck another viable target to compliment Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. The biggest addition to the offense, in my opinion is the acquisition of Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. He adds both depth and experience to a unit that needs both badly.
The defensive side of the ball is where I see things potentially going wrong for the Colts. They ranked No. 26 overall in total defense in 2012 and did nothing impactful in the offseason to change that.
I see the Colts reaching the 9 or 10 win mark and possibly fighting for the sixth seed in the AFC Playoffs with one or two other teams.
Tennessee Titans – There appears to be more bad than good going on in Nashville these days. Know It All Football has a staffer who had attended nearly every session of Titans training camp and the reviews aren’t great.
Tennessee’s quarterback situation appears to be in dire straits. Jake Locker has no accuracy on his deep balls, Ryan Fitzpatrick looks lost and Rusty Smith – who might not make the team – looks like the best quarterback in camp.
There does seem to be an improvement in the run game. Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene are both having great camps. Much of that can be attributed to the addition of guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack. Both are elite run-blockers and should help Chris Johnson continue his streak of 1,000 yard seasons.
Wide Receiver Kendall Wright has looked good in camp, while Kenny Britt still appears to be shaking off some rust. Once Delanie Walker can start practicing, he’ll add another versatile option to the offense and could help the struggling quarterbacks find their way by providing a legitimate safety net.
Defensively, nothing really stands out about this unit. They have struggled in camp and don’t really have a true leader. The secondary has potential, but without an effective front seven, 2013 could prove to be a long season for the young defensive back unit.
The Titans could scrape together eight wins at best in 2013 if the ball bounces their way every time, but I think 5-6 wins is much more realistic.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Death, Taxes and the Jaguars at the bottom of the AFC South. I don’t see much changing in 2013. Blaine Gabbert appears to be the guy the Jags want running the team, regardless of the fact the Chad Henne looks better almost every time out. Now Gabbert has a sprained thumb, which should make things…interesting…I guess.
Maurice Jones-Drew appears to be healthy again and should turn out his annual thankless productive season. The addition of Denard Robinson creates some interesting possibilities out of the backfield but could also be the source of some distraction. I can see the Jags staff focusing too much attention and energy figuring out creative ways to get him the ball as opposed to just focusing on improving the team as a whole.
Cecil Shorts is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL and should see a bump in targets during the first four games of the season while Justin Blackmon is serving a four-game suspension. Look for rooke Ace Sanders to step up and be a viable target for either Gabbert of Henne out of the slot.
Defensively, the only real bright spot for the Jags is rookie safety Jonathan Cyprien. He has all the tools to be a great one in the league, but for now he is relegated to being just another number on one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. Hopefully new Head Coach Gus Bradley can bring some of that Seattle swagger to his new squad.
Realistically, the Jaguars will have a hard time reaching the 5-win mark. This, however, is the NFL where any given Sunday anything can happen. Given the young and explosive talent on the offensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t shock me to see Jacksonville somehow win half of their games.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON AUGUST 19, 2013
Follow @JPScottSports on Twitter.