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2011 AFC South Preview
by Lenny Del Genio

1. Houston Texans

Prediction: 9-7, AFC South Champs

Odds: O/U 8 wins | +150 to win AFC South | +1200 to win AFC | +2900 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: Stop when you’ve heard this one before. This could (finally) be the Texans season. Last year, we weren’t the only ones that fell into the hype surrounding this team and got let down with another losing year (6-10). It should be noted they did open with a big home win opening week vs. Indianapolis, but a horrific loss to Jacksonville on a Hail Mary led to a mid-season swoon that the team never recovered from. They were 4-2 before losing eight of nine. 2009 was the only winning season in franchise history. The problem is clear in Houston and that’s the defense, which was historically bad vs. the pass in 2010. In comes Wade Phillips, who did wonders for San Diego in his last stint as a defensive coordinator (improved that unit from 31st to 11th in one season). The offense is more than fine here as they have the best WR in the game in Andre Johnson. It’s interesting to look at the Texans’ division/conference odds compared to the Colts, then look at how far apart the respective Super Bowl odds are. It’s also interesting to wonder how head coach Gary Kubiak still has his job. He may have been saved by the lockout. If the Texans don’t make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, you have to think he’s gone. I will go on a limb and predict the Texans to win the division as the Colts seem vulnerable with QB Manning’s health in question.

2. Indianapolis Colts

Prediction: 9-7

Odds: O/U 10 wins | -150 to win AFC South | +875 to win AFC | +1000 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: What the Colts have been able to do in this era of free agency is truly remarkable. Last year’s 10-6 campaign snapped a string of seven straight seasons with at least 12 victories, but at least they were able to become only the fourth Super Bowl loser in the L12 years to come back & make the playoffs the following year. It was also their seventh division title in eight years. However, there are signs pointing towards a downward trend. First off, they can’t do this forever. Also, Jim Caldwell was badly outcoached in last year’s home Wild Card loss to the Jets. In regards to Indianapolis’ season, you will probably hear a lot of “as long as they have Peyton Manning” from the Mike Golic’s of the world, but the QB is coming off neck surgery and his supporting cast at the skill positions has greatly weakened through the years. As of press, it is unclear whether or not Manning will be ready for the regular season opener against Houston. As a contingency plan, the team went out and signed the “ageless” Kerry Collins. Needless to say, Manning must be healthy in order for the Colts to have a chance. The non-division schedule is rated as the most difficult in the league with opponents combining for a 93-67 SU mark last season. Incredible as it may seem, I will predict the Colts to miss the playoffs in a year where the Super Bowl is being held on their home field.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

Prediction: 6-10

Odds: O/U 8 Wins | +900 to win AFC South | +3250 to win AFC | +6600 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: The Jags have largely overachieved each of the last two seasons. Both years they were actually in good position to make the playoffs, but failed each time despite respective records of 7-5 and 8-5. The have been a terrible in the month of December, ending ’09 on a 0-4 SU/ATS run and last year 0-3 SU/ATS. Overall, the Jags have lost 11 of their previous 15 December games. This looks like a clear transition year from incumbent David Garrard à 1st round draft choice Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) at QB and I have to wonder if that will cost HC Jack Del Rio his job. There has been a ton of roster turnover in two years of Gene Smith as General Manager. The defense was absolutely terrible last season, ranking dead last against the pass, 28th overall and 27th in points allowed. Signifcant moves were made in the offseason with LB’s Paul Posluzny and Clint Sessions being brought in along with safety Dawan Landry. Obviously, ranking dead last against the pass, means your secondary was horrible, so was enough done to address the issue? No.

4. Tennessee Titans

Prediction: 5-11

Odds: O/U 6.5 wins | +900 to win AFC South | +3500 to win AFC | +7000 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: The Titans are case in point in how the NFL is a QB driven league. They have the best running back in football in Chris Johnson, yet have not even sniffed the playoffs in either of the last two seasons. Johnson deciding to hold out for the start of training camp does not help this team in the least, particularly considering their state of transition with first year head coach Mike Munchak. Two years ago, the team started 0-6 before switching to Vince Young at QB and going 8-2 down the stretch. I pretty much saw them as obviously better than the poor start would indicate, but not as good as the strong finish would indicate. Sure enough, they went 6-10 in 2010 with an awful 1-8 finish. But the real story came off the field as there was a clear “him or me” decision between Young and HC Jeff Fisher and shockingly, owner Bud Adams chose “neither” as both are now gone. With the lockout impacting all teams, starting over is recipe for disaster. Top draft choice Jake Locker is the future, but isn’t likely to play much, if at all this season. Some feel he was a real reach at #8 overall in April’s Draft. Therefore, they went out and got Matt Hasselbeck, but he hasn’t really been good in three years. Interesting to note that half of Tennessee’s losses the last two years have come by eight points or less, including six last year.

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