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AFC South preview

More shrewd advice from NFL devotee/tragic Ian Steven, @deevo82.

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AFC South

Houston Texans


I was convinced that last year was going to be “the year” for the Texans as they looked balanced on offense and defense and an AFC Title game against the Broncos looked a likely scenario. Much like the ending of The Crying Game – boy, did I get that one wrong.

The Texans finished with the worst record in the NFL which has turned out to be both a good and a bad thing. The drop off in play can be attributed to injuries and most importantly, the loss of mojo of one-time starter Matt Schaub. The former Falcons signal caller suffered from a couple of early interceptions that led to touchdowns and his confidence quickly eroded. As is the way in the NFL – a team is only as good as its quarterback and the Texans endured a 14 game losing streak which prompted owner Bob McNair to give head coach Gary Kubiak his jotters with Bill O’Brien coming in from Penn State to reverse their fortunes.

The good news for Houston was that securing the league’s worst record provided the opportunity to draft the possibly the best defensive player to enter the NFL since the legendary Lawrence Taylor left North Carolina for the Giants.

Jadeveon Clowney is a monster. He has speed, power, instincts, burst and physique that is put together in a once in a lifetime package to form the perfect defensive end. The Texans really needed a quarterback but Clowney was just too good to pass up and will form an awesome tandem with JJ Watt who has just signed a $100 million package contract extension.

Middle linebacker Brian Cushing returns after breaking his leg to provide some leadership with Jonathan Joseph the best player in the secondary. This could be a good defense as Clowney begins to mature.

The Texans will start the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the incumbent quarterback. He is mobile and he's intelligent after graduating from Harvard but doesn't have the biggest arm in the league. He is a very good tutor however and will help Tom Savage make the transition from the college level to the NFL. Ryan Mallett has been brought in in a trade with the Patriots as he is familiar with Bill O'Brien's offense and should duke it out with Savage to see who backs up Fitzpatrick.

The running game of the Texans was the strong point of the offense under Gary Kubiak which had the same zone blocking scheme as the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan. Arian Foster once led the league in rushing but he has been hampered with injuries in recent seasons. Rookie running back Alfred Lewis has had an impressive pre-season and he could well get significant game time and prosper.

At wide receiver the peerless Andre Johnson still takes the field and he looks like he could well earn entry to Canton. DeAndre Hopkins line up beside him for what should be an explosive receiving duo. There's a lot of talent and skill positions for Houston but that is not the main issue.

They are very weak on the offensive line. Duane Brown is a Pro Bowl tackle but the rest of the offensive line has questions. This is very much a team in transition and I do not expect them to challenge for the play-offs this season.

Indianapolis Colts

Whilst the Texans can bemoan their quarterback situation there is no such issue in Indianapolis as the Colts have possibly the best quarterback to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck is simply outstanding, having every measurable and immeasurable needed to compete at the most important position in the sport. The issue for the Colts is has Luck made them too good to soon?

The running back situation still looks to be in flux with the trade with the Cleveland Browns last season for Trent Richardson looking very dubious. The former Alabama standout struggled to get above four yards per carry last season. Veteran Ahmad Bradshaw has been brought in to add some support to a running game that needs to excel.

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne may well be the best route runner in the NFL but it looked like the offense would struggle when the veteran went down with a torn ACL last October. Up stepped TY Hilton to become the comfort blanket for his young quarterback amassing over 1,000 yards receiving despite only starting 10 games last season. The free agency capture of Hakeem Nicks makes wide receiver a position of strength for the AFC South champions.

The offensive line remains mediocre and the Colts do not have a standout left tackle with which to protect their highly valued young quarterback. Anthony Castonzo is the starter but he's not an elite talent. The position could definitely be upgraded.

The defense really surprised last season with the forced transition into a 3-4 system. Robert Mathis was a standout player last year. He amassed 19.5 sacks despite being asked to change from defensive end to outside linebacker to fit into the new system. He has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for performance enhancing substances. He claims that the suspension was due to him taking unapproved fertility drugs. I don't even know where to start with that one. Without Mathis, the defense is merely functional. It looks likely that the Colts will have to outscore their opponents in a lot of matches. Indy still have the potential to win 9-10 matches looking at the schedule so they should be pencilled in as the returning champions.

Tennessee Titans

Do I have to talk about the Titans? They are about as inspiring as an Alan Titchmarsh lecture on Rhododendrons.

Jake Locker has never lived up to his billing as a starting NFL QB and is very much a weak link in the side. Zach Metternburg, the rookie from LSU, is bearing down over his shoulder and with a new head coach, Locker needs to excel in the first four games or he will be yanked quicker than a hot dog platter at a Chippendales show.

The backfield is woeful with Shonn Greene a back-up at best and there is little talent at wide receiver. I simply can’t see how the Titans can put points on the board.

The offensive line is in complete contrast to the skill positions. They may have the most talented unit in the NFL as Michael Roos, Andre Levitre, Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack and Michael Oher are all road-graders and this is before rookie first round draft pick Taylor Lewan fits into the picture.

One defense the Titans are switching to a 3-4 and look like they have the personnel to make this work. They are a bit light on the defensive line but Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimberly should force a lot of plays back into the inside with Zach Brown and Wesley Woodward looking to mop up.

Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard are two experienced Pro Bowl safeties and this could well be a top-ten defense in the making.

It looks very much like the Titans will keep a lot of games close but will struggle to put points on the board and should finish with roughly a .500 record.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jags fans had their heads in their hands last season. As bad as they were, they just weren’t bad enough. 2014 was meant to be the year that Jadeveon Clowney went to Florida but Gus Bradley’s men inexplicably beat the Texans twice late on in the season to assure Houston of the first pick in the draft.

Blake Bortles was their consolation prize. The UCF quarterback was the first signal caller selected and the hopes of a franchise who are persistently linked with a move to London rests on his shoulders. Bortles joins a team very much still in transition and he is going to have a patchy rookie season due to a very weak offensive line coupled with star receiver Justin Blackmon being suspended indefinitely for marijuana possession.

Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have been recruited onto the defense as Bradley attempts to recreate the successful system he had in Seattle. Paul Posluszny is a competent middle linebacker but they are still a long way away from escaping the basement of this division. Expect another high draft pick for the Jaguars in 2015.

Verdict

2 points on the Colts to win the division @1.67 with Coral.

Read Ian's other previews here - AFC East and AFC North.

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