By Tony McClean
Updated: September 1, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct.
— Another day and another division preview as BASN continues to take a look at the 2006 NFL season over the next six days. Today, we look at the battle for supremacy in the AFC South.
Since being formed, the division has known only one champion — the Indianapolis Colts. Last year they finished with the AFC’s best record, but still weren’t able to reach the Super Bowl.
Will they have enough to repeat as champs? Or will the Jaguars find a way to dethrone the Horseshoes? Are either the Texans or Titans ready for prime time yet? Lets take a peek.
Last year, I picked the Jags to dethrone the Colts as division champs. While they finished 12-4, the Colts still owned the division from day one and took another crown. I will again tab Jacksonville as the team to win this division. Yes, I know they lost both games against Indy and yes, I saw the playoff meltdown at Foxboro. However, I feel that they will learn from that loss and take it to another level. Since Jack Del Rio took over in 2003, the team has gone from five wins, to nine wins, and to last year’s 12. It’s incumbent upon the offense to show the consistency that the defense has more that done over the last three years.
What To Look For: With the retirement of WR Jimmy Smith, someone from the Jags’ receiving corps must step up. Especially since the offense must always brace itself for the seemingly annual Fred Taylor injury of the month slot. Speedster Ernest Wilford (41 catches, 7 TDs) and 2005′s top pick Matt Jones (36 catches, 5 TDs) are the likely candidates to be Bryon Leftwich’s new best friends.
Outlook: The early part of Jacksonville’s schedule features an opening stretch that includes three 2005 playoff teams — two on the road — in the first four weeks. For them to become an elite team, they’ll need to be at least 2-2 during that stretch. I think Coach Del Rio will have them ready for that and beyond.
The window of opportunity has slammed shut on this team for winning a Super Bowl. There, I’ve said it. After having everything out there for the taking last year (i.e. home-field advantage, not having to meet the Pats), the Horseshoes failed miserably. I’ll say what I said when Edgerrin James signed with the Cardinals, as far as I’m concerned he took the heart of the offense with him. If Tony Dungy was going to get to a Super Bowl, last year was the year. I just don’t think a rookie, James Mungro (who’s already injured), or Dominic Rhodes can replace what the Edge gave this team. Call me silly, but they’ll be either 8-8 or 9-7 at best. And please, if I’m wrong (and I hope for TD’s sake I am), I’ll be the first to say “My bad”.
What To Look For: Is it me or am I seeing way too much of Peyton Manning on commercials? Between his “audible” ads for NFL Sunday Ticket, the one with his porn star mustache, or the one with his dad and Lil’ Eli, No. 18 has become more overexposed than T.O. on ESPN. Shouldn’t he be trying to find a way to get out of his own way in the postseason? And for that matter, don’t guys that win Super Bowls get to do those ads.
Outlook: I can’t state it any clearer than what I’ve already said. I know they’ll probably be fun to watch at times, but so were the Dan Fouts-led Chargers of the 1980′s. And we all know just how many Super Bowls they reached don’t we?
In a year when some thought the Texans were ready to take off the expansion team moniker (7-9 in 2004), Houston was jolted back to a 2-14 reality. Say goodbye to Dom Capers and say hello to Gary Kubiak. The former Bronco assistant came in with a expertise in offense. However, many of the main moves by the team were on the other side of the line. While some fans are still muttering to themselves why the team didn’t go after either Reggie Bush or hometown hero Vince Young, the selection of Mario Williams may turn out to be a greater long-term move for the franchise. They’ll still struggle and aren’t ready to sit at the big kids table quite yet, but one gets the feeling that they’re headed in the right direction again.
What To Look For: This could be the season that QB David Carr reintroduces himself to the football world. After absorbing 208 sacks in 60 career games (including 68 last season), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft may finally get a chance to show why Houston made him the face of their franchise. Even his most harshest critics have to realize that you can’t be the main man in the huddle when your always in the fetal position.
Outlook: Like many teams around the league, the Texans are a major work in progress. Adding guys like WR Eric Moulds and C Mike Flanigan should help the offense. However, the faster that the team adjusts to the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 will have much more of a long term effect again. Note: When the term “long term” is used more than once in a preview, don’t go out and buy playoff tickets.
Over 10 years ago, then Oiler fans asked “When will he be ready?”. Over a decade later, now Titan fans are asking the same question. While Steve McNair sits in Baltimore, Tennessee folks are hoping that Vince Young can carve his own niche in franchise history. Coach Jeff Fisher has said (much like he did years ago) that the team will be patience with Young’s growing pains. However with the club already not showing much faith in Billy Volek and add to that the signing of Kerry Collins, cousin Vince may be thrown to the wolves at bit sooner than later.
What To Look For: For the franchise that gave you Earl Campbell, Mike Rozier, Eddie George, and others, last year’s running game was a horror show. The rushing attack was ranked 23rd in the league last season, and no Titan rushed for 100 yards in a game. If surprise 2nd round pick Lendale White can stop spitting at teammates in practice, he may be able to unseat either Chris Brown or Travis Henry as the starter.
Outlook: Whoever is under center, they play behind a slightly improved offensive line with ex-Jet Kevin Mawae. They’ll also have some decent offense weapons in ex-Patriot David Givens and tight end Ben Troupe. However, this team is realistically still trying to get back to respectability. I didn’t even bother to mention the defense, so that should tell you something right there.
Predictions 1. Jaguars 2. Colts 3. Texans 4. Titans Tommorrow: The AFC West.