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Schultz: Look to AFC South to finish in same order as 2012

Chris Schultz
8/28/2013 4:52:23 PM
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HOUSTON TEXANS

Reason for pessimism: You wonder if they will always be a playoff team and never a championship team. They do have individual great players in J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Brian Cushing, but something hard to identify is still missing. An indicator of that was late in the year when Houston had the division lead with a 12-2 record but failed to clinch it early by losing to Minnesota and Indianapolis. At quarterback it's hard to criticize Matt Schaub. He made the Pro Bowl last year passing for 4,008 yards, and 22 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Yet, in his head-to-head competition with the best quarterbacks it isn't always Schaub that wins the battle.

Reason for optimism: They have too many good players not to come together and have a great year. Wade Philips' defence didn't dominate in 2012 as it did in 2011 but that will change this year for the better. Arian Foster is as good as any NFL running back with a top left tackle in Duane Brown. If the Texans can find a compliment to Andre Johnson the offence will take another step forward. Is it DeAndre Hopkins, the team's first-round draft pick? The Texans are a team that needs little to improve upon. Watt, Cushing, and hopefully a healthy Ed Reed down the middle is perhaps the best combo in the league. They just need all 22 starters to play 16 games.

Reality: This is a playoff team that if the ball bounces the right way can be a championship team. The two key dates are November 3rd and December 16th; home and away against the Indianapolis Colts. A repeat of last year's +22 take away/giveaway is also a top priority.                                  

Prediction: First in AFC South.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Reason for pessimism: Yes, the Colts had a year to remember. From 2-14 to 11-5, last year's team was special. But this year it starts all over again. When you look at the Colts wins from last year it was remarkable how many were close scores that could have gone either way.  Against Minnesota, they won by three points. Green Bay, same thing. They beat Cleveland by 4 and Tennessee by six in overtime. They got by Miami by three, Detroit by 2 and Tennessee again, this time by four. That is seven games that were dependent on Andrew Luck playing either come from behind football to win or "kill the clock" football to preserve the win. Remarkable! It is unrealistic however to think it can happen again. Also Luck took an immense amount of punishment last year: 41 quarterbacks sacks and an incalculable number of hits. That can't happen again this year or a 16-game experience from the sophomore QB is unrealistic.

Reason for optimism: Luck threw 627 passes in his rookie year. He saw every possible coverage and combination of coverages there are in pro football. The organization threw him in and said you will be tested, and he passed. All the Colts have to do is protect Luck better by finding better players. Gosder Cherilus will be the new right tackle and the Colts' third and fourth picks were interior lineman. Another 41 sack total for this year is unlikely. Also, in what can be classified as a logical yet brilliant move, the team's new offensive coordinator is Pep Hamilton, who coached Luck at Stanford. Excellent move! Former OC Bruce Arians was remarkable and will probably do remarkable things in Arizona, but the Colts can overcome that with head coach Chuck Pagano back fulltime. The Colts know trying to duplicate what they did last year will be difficult, but their schedule is pretty good and so is their quarterback.                     
Reality: This year will be harder than last with two games against Houston and San Francisco right away, then Denver in late October and Cincinnati in early December. But the rest of the schedule has very winnable games.

Prediction: 2nd in the AFC South.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Reason for pessimism: Nobody gave up more points than the Tennessee Titans did last year. They allowed 30 or more points eight times and allowed Chicago to score 51 on them and Green Bay 55. Realistically, it is going to take more than one football season to change that. At quarterback, Jake Locker will have to make a quantum leap forward to offset the logical point total opposition teams may score. Locker can make the spectacular play from time to time, but his completion percentage has been just 56 and 51 his first two years. As for talented but troubled receiver Kenny Britt it is now or never time to turn around his career.          

Reason for optimism: The Titans made some major moves in free agency, signing RB Shone Green, OG Andy Levitre, TE Delanie Walker, and a good strong safety in Bernard Pollard. Three of the four will start and the fourth, Green, will have a significant role filling in for Chris Johnson. Locker is the team's No. 1 guy and he knows it. Logic says he takes over the job and improves. With an improved offensive line and Johnson carrying the rock, it may be easier to improve than anticipated. Last year Johnson had touchdown runs of 80, 83, and 94 yards.                          

Reality: With so many points allowed last year, how fast can the starting 12 on defence improve even with the addition of Pollard at safety? When you look at the starting defensive roster there are very few names that you recognize as impact players. Too think the Titans will go from most points allowed to top 10 in fewest is unrealistic.            

Prediction: Third in AFC South.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Reason for pessimism: When you look over the last five years of Jaguars football it has been difficult to accept. Win totals of five, seven, eight, five, and only two last year. And now in 2013 a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and new defensive coordinator . They have not been to the playoffs since 2007 and since 1999 the Jaguars have only been to the playoffs three times. And what is even more significant is that there best player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, does not seem satisfied playing in Jacksonville. Whether it is an injury issue or a contract issue, Jones -Drew is the reason the Jaguars can or cannot run the ball. I understand why Jacksonville drafted Luke Joeckel at tackle second overall. He was very consistent and played good competition at Texas A&M. But they need a quarterback. Now there are some good ones to come out in the 2O14 draft and perhaps getting one then is their plan. Still, Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are in make or break years. If either does not improve in a big way, the Jaguars will have another difficult season. When you consider this team plays four of their first six games on the road and one in London, England against San Francisco in Week 8, they could hit "re-building mentality” by November.

Reason for optimism: Gus Bradley, the new head coach for Jacksonville, was a main reason for the Seattle Seahawks defensive success last year. He know the type of player he needs and how to use him. It is more of duplication than re-creation for Jacksonville to be special without the ball. And they already have a solid middle linebacker in Paul Posluszny, so Step One is accomplished. At wide receiver, you would have to think first-round pick Justin Blackmon knows this is it for him. He's a great player that can't seem to stay out of trouble . There is another Blackmon out there if the first one does not live up to expectations and new General Manager David Caldwell will find him. The Jaguars do have players and pieces to develop but it will take time.        

Reality: Another last place finish in the AFC South. The team is unknown at quarterback, offensive line, and pass rush. Last year Jacksonville had six games of 10 points or less. There's a long way to go.

Prediction: Fourth in the AFC South.

Chris Schultz

Chris Schultz

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