A conference once noted for it's gun slingers has now moved to a league of premier runners. Three of the best runners in the league reside in this conference and make no mistake about it, they are all game changers. Lets see how the division breaks down
Coming off a division title and their first ever playoff appearance, the Texans are in the enviable position of not having any glaring needs. Injuries kept this team from becoming a true contender for the Super Bowl in 2011. While they may not have any huge areas of concern, the Texans do have a few positions where they might look to add depth or replace a departing player.
This offseason, in an attempt to save salary cap space, the Texans released right tackle Eric Winston. Matt Shaub’s health will be their number one priority and getting a replacement for Mario Williams who opted to sign with the Bills this off season.
The Texans have two of the best players in the league in Arian Foster, at running back, and Andre Johnson, at wide receiver. They have to have growing concerns about Johnson as he hasn’t been healthy an entire season in the past two years. If they can stay healthy with the talent that they have the Texans can make some real noise in 2012.
Prediction – 1st
The Colts are feeling Lucky as they have drafted Andrew Luck and see him stepping in and picking up where Peyton Manning left off. The Colts have made wholesale changes and are in full rebuilding mode letting pro bowler Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai go.
The Colts defense will have the most stability and they are likely to need all of it with aging pass rushers and a linebacking core that has been stressed and taxed to oblivion. Guys like Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney will have to work incredible magic to make this team come together but I wouldn’t expect miracles right away. They will be loaded with young talent, but the problem will be that the talent is young. So don’t expect too much this season but the future is bright.
Prediction – Last Place
The Jaguars are probably the worst offensive team in the NFL. They have one weapon that they over use and under pay. Maurice Jones-Drew will probably hold out for more money and the fact that the Jaguars invested so much time into Blaine Gabbert he will probably get all the money he needs.
The Jags did try to get better at wide receiver as they drafted a playmaker in Justin Blackmon. Blackmon however is probably going to miss a few games early as he has been arrested a couple of times in the offseason and the fact that he blew a 2.4 (no that’s not a typo) during an earlier arrest, he probably needs to go to get some counseling on alcohol abuse.
Defensively the Jags really aren’t that bad. The Jaguars were fifth in both run defense (3.9 YPC) and pass defense (6.7 YPA), but they struggled to generate pressure on the quarterback, accumulating only 31 sacks in 2011. Leading pass-rusher Jeremy Mincey (8 sacks) was a free agent this offseason, so even though he was a one-year wonder, Gene Smith almost had to re-sign him to a 4-year, $27.2 million deal in March.
Expect the Jags to stay in the middle of the pack again this year.
Prediction – 3rd Place
The Titans will be the most improved team in the division this year. It’s just a matter of time before Chris Johnson returns to form and also a matter of time before the Titans hand the keys to the franchise to Jake Locker. Hasselbeck will not go away easily but if he holds up to form, he will get hurt around week 8 and Locker will have to be what the Texans thought he would be drafting him in the first round.
The Titans are also going to get Chad Hutchinson back this year and nobody should be smiling more than Chris Johnson. Johnson may finally flirt with 2000 yards again and his all-purpose yards will definitely go up with Locker at the helm as check downs will be the call of the day.
Defensively the Titans are going to be pretty solid as well. The key to Tennessee's defensive front will be left end Derrick Morgan. The 16th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Morgan missed most of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. He returned last season, but wasn't very effective. Now two years removed from that injury, Morgan is expected to step up. There are no excuses, as he'll be playing across from Wimbley. Meanwhile, Tennessee will be hoping that third-round rookie Mike Martin will be able to pass the pedestrian Sen'Derrick Marks and crack the starting lineup next to stud run-stuffer Jurrell Casey.
Prediction – 2nd Place
1st – Houston Texans
2nd – Tennessee Titans
3rd – Jacksonville Jaguars
4th – Indianapolis Colts