2011 AFC South Division Preview and Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
One down, five more days of previews to go. Welcome to day two of the Ultimate Capper NFL preview, where today we take a look at both the AFC and NFC South division, where two years ago the Super Bowl featured teams from both of those divisions. Can the Saints and Colts make it back to that level, or will they both fall short again this season? I have my thoughts, and thatâs why this column exists, so letâs get to it.
1) Houston Texans
Despite that optimism from the Houston side, the main reason I’m taking the Texans has nothing to do with their team at all (see: Manning, Peyton, neck). That said, this is a talented team that should benefit from opening the season against Indianapolis, because even if Manning is able to play on Sunday, he will do so without a single preseason snap. If they can navigate their first six weeks, which also includes trips to New Orleans and Baltimore and a visit from the Steelers, then the Texans have to feel much more comfortable with their chances to dethrone the Colts. Houston has a rather nice lead up to their second game against Indianapolis as well, with Cincinnati and Carolina â arguably the two worst teams â immediately preceding their December 22 trip to the Hoosier state. Circle that pre-Christmas, Thursday night matchup, because there’s a better than 50/50 chance that game could be for the division title and, if the North and East divisions are as strong as last season, also determine which team goes to the postseason and which team watches on television.
2) Indianapolis Colts
So, in a sense, it makes it almost ridiculous to predict the Colts season without knowing the status of the best player in the game’s most important position. It would be kind of like trying to guess the Yankees postseason chances without Mariano Rivera â there’s simply no way to determine the effect of a loss like that, because it’s never had to be done. But as mentioned above, the Colts don’t ease into this season, and they could in essence be a game and a half behind in Houston in the division after just week one, and that’s probably going to happen even if Manning is under center. And making up ground won’t be easy late in the season, as the Colts open December with back-to-back road games in Foxboro and Baltimore. One interesting note is that both Houston and Indy have a very late bye (week 11) so there’s not really a chance for either team to catch their breath until the week before Thanksgiving. It might help one or both clubs if they make the postseason, but to giveaway maybe a little bit of Friday’s playoff edition, I think this division is too strong and draws a bad NFC crossover (South) to produce more than one playoff team, so winning the division is the way to go for both the Texans and Colts, and it all rests on the neckâ¦ errâ¦ shoulders of #18 in Indianapolis.
3) Tennessee Titans
Like their fellow division foes, the Titans draw the short end of the AFC-NFC crossover stick with the Falcons, Saints, and Bucs, the toughest top-three in any NFC division. But the first of those three games doesn’t arrive until November 20 (at Atlanta), so the Titans can try to build some confidence and momentum early against the likes of Jacksonville, Denver, and Cleveland. If Tennessee can manage to post a 3-2 mark heading into their week six bye, suddenly there might be a third contender in this division. But unlike situations last year, where the Jets lost to Miami and Baltimore lost to the Bengals, the Titans can’t afford to lose games to teams at their level or below. So without at least that 3-2 start, this probably isn’t a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have an impact on the postseason. They will have that NFC South trio late in the season, and then they wrap up with three straight inter-division games â Colts, Jaguars, and Texans â so it’s highly likely that Tennessee will have a say on which team represents the AFC South in the postseason, even if it won’t be the Titans.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars
What I will do in this section is wax poetic on one of my favorite discussions in any sport â drafting. Now in hockey, baseball, and basketball, the theory of drafting is usually the same: take the best player possible whenever your turn to pick arrives. In basketball, there are only two rounds, and impact players are few and far between, so unless you have one of those bonafide superstars at the same position as the best player available, it’s usually wise to defer to the BPA theory. Same with hockey, where all 20 players more or less contribute evenly â just take the best player still on the board and work him into the system. With baseball, teams will usually lean towards either hitting or pitching in a given draft, but it’s not as if the players being drafted will even have an impact on the major league team that season, so take the player with the biggest upside and move on. But football is a totally different beast. First round rookies are expected not only to just make the team, but usually provide significant contribution. With only seven rounds, it’s hard to address every need in the draft, so teams really need to be prudent with the players they choose, which says to me â if I were a general manager â that the best approach to the NFL draft is to draft the best player available to fill the team’s biggest need!
And that, right there, is why I don’t understand Jacksonville. Is David Garrard a top 10 quarterback? No, but the necessary follow-up question comes, is Blaine Gabbert a future top 10 quarterback? Once again, I believe the answer to be no, so even if he might be better than Garrard, why use a first-round pick on a guy who doesn’t make your team better immediately, and might not make it better in the future? The teams that win in the NFL are the teams that have the most players out of their own drafts make the biggest impact. Think of the four teams that have been the most successful over the past decade in the AFC â Pittsburgh, New England, Baltimore, and Indianapolis. All four of those teams have built a majority of their roster from the draft, and while only the Patriots sport a late-round QB, all four of those teams have drafted stars at other positions with very high draft picks as well. It’s the same reason why teams like the Packers, Jets, Saints, Falcons, and Giants have also seen success lately â they have all had more productive draft classes, with more impact players and less busts. So if you root for a team that has holes at defensive end, wide receiver, and linebacker and selects a quarterback with their first-round pick, just prepare yourself for a losing season and it will be much less painful.
Monday, September 5: AFC North