Third day into my NFL preview article and today I focus on a division that has flipped in recent years. The Colts are no longer the heavy favorites to win the division every year but the once lowly Houston Texans are now the best team in this division. So let’s get it started!
4th- Jacksonville Jaguars
I love the trade up for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. I don’t think he is Calvin JOhnson good, but I think he can be a better version of Hakeem Nicks. The combination of Blackmon and the addition of Laurent Robinson should help Blaine Gabbert improve. Gabbert never lost the deer in the headlights look at all last season. For this offense to improve Gabbert needs to learn how to hang in the pocket and take a hit. The big question mark for this team is the hold out of Maurice Jones-Drew. I just read an article on espn.com earlier today that Jones will NOT be traded. However the longer he holds out, the worse. Remember CJ2K and his struggles last year?
When I was doing research on the Jags, I was shocked with how good their defensive ratings were last year, 8th against the pass and 9th against the run. Jeremy Mincey had a break out year with eight sacks so look for him to continue that success this year. I loved the addition of Paul Posluszny who led the defense in tackles and tied for interceptions. What was more important was the fact he played all sixteen games for only the second time. If he plays in all sixteen again this year this defense will have someone to rely on. Where they can improve though is the turnovers. They had only seventeen interceptions.
Win meter- 4-6. Jones-Drew will suffer CJ2K syndrome.
Biggest question- Can Blaine Gabbert lose the deer in headlights look?
The Colts have had more reconstructive surgery in the past year than Joan Rivers has. Gone- Peyton, Clark, Addai and bring in Luck, Fleener and other vets such as Donnie Avery and Mewelde Moore. While the Colts will not compete for the division this year, their return to success will not be a long one. Andrew Luck is the real deal and seems like a great kid. With Luck at the helm this team will be competitive but not good enough to take out the Texans or pass the Titans. Reggie Wayne gets a lot of props in my book for staying with the Colts when everyone knows they are in a transition phase. He will be a nice veteran presence for a young offense. I am also excited to see Coby Fleener continue his success with his college QB at the NFL level. My concern for this offense is the offensive line and can any of their backs carry the load.
The defense is in a transition to a 3-4 defense so it will be interesting to see guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis standing up on defense instead of having their hands planted in the ground. Head coach Chuck Pagano had a few of his former Raven players join him including safety Tom Zbikowski and defensive lineman Cory Redding. The trade of Vontae Davis for next year’s second round pick and a conditional pick show owner Jim Irsay’s commitment to speed up the rebuilding process. However I think this team experiences too many hiccups to overcome along the way.
Win meter- 4-6. Too much transition this year.
Biggest question- Will Andrew Luck have a Cam Newton like impact in his first year? According to my buddy Cole, he will.
2nd- Tennessee Titans
The youth movement at quarterback is alive in the NFL and the Titans are jumping on board going with last year’s number eight overall pick Jake Locker to start the season over teammate and mentor Matt Hasselbeck. I think Locker will bring a lot of excitement to this offense but like most teams with young QB’s will make some mistakes that will cost their team. I think Chris Johnson will be closer to his pre-2011 form than the performance he put on last year. Johnson has had a nice preseason and with a whole offseason of workouts looks ready to go. Crazy how being their the whole offseason helps eh? The receivers are young and inexperienced but I see guys such as Damian Williams and Kendall Wright building a nice relationship with the young Locker. I think the big question mark is, will Kenny Britt get healthy and stay out of trouble?
The Titans need to get better on defense, especially against the pass (24th ranked). A big part of that could have been from a lack of pass rush and the paltry 28 sacks the defense put up. It is time for Derrick Morgan to step up and prove why he was a first round pick. The signing of Kamerion Wimbley will shoot energy into this defense that is desperate for a legit pass rusher off the edge. I also like the pick of linebacker Zach Brown out of North Carolina in the second round. Jason McCourty has played well and was awarded with a nice contract extension earlier this summer. He will need to keep playing at a high level to fill the shoes of the departed Cortland Finnegan. This defense needs to get pressure and get more than the eleven interceptions they got last season.
Win meter- 7-9
Biggest Question- Can the defense improve and help relieve some pressure off the young offense?
The Texans might be the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Yes I said, the Texans. You might ask, Ryan how the hell did you come to this conclusion? Well let’s talk about it. Matt Schaub might not be an elite quarterback but he is definitely in the top half of the league and when healthy is a smart QB with a good arm. Andre Johnson is still one of the best receivers in the game and Owen Daniels is a very underrated tight end. Also the Texans boast one of the top three running back duos in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. My one concern for this offense is who will be the number two and three receivers? Kevin Walter has had more chances to capitalize on the number 2 spot than Sam and Ron from Jersey Shore have made up, then broken up again. Will draft picks Keshawn Martin or Devier Posey be able to step up into this role?
If I wrote this next sentence a couple years ago I would have been ridiculed without mercy. The Texans have one of the league’s top defenses. Yes that same Texans team that had not one recognizable name in their secondary a couple years ago. With the addition of Jonathan Joseph and the drafting of J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed to the breakout year for Connor Barwin, the Texans have an extremely fast and furious defense. However this defense lost some key players with Mario Williams leaving in free agency and the surprise trade of Demeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles. Having Brian Cushing as one of the middle linebackers and the progress of Brooks Reed will help this defense absorb those losses. I also want to see former first round pick Kareem Jackson get his hands on a few more footballs this year.
Win meter- 10-12. Well rounded team will not allow a slip up this season.
Biggest Question- Who will step up as another playmaker for this offense?