AFC South 2011-2012 Predictions

Who will win the AFC South?
Who will win the AFC South?

In the past decade this division has been mostly dominated by the Indianapolis Colts, and most importantly Peyton Manning. In the eight seasons that the division has been around, the Colts have won the division six times and took the wildcard twice. The Tennessee Titans are the only other team that has won the division since it formed for the 2002 season, the Titans have also managed to win the wildcard twice.. The Jaguars also have won the wildcard twice. The Texans were an expansion team formed before the 2002 season and was also a big reason in the splitting of the AFC Central, sadly the team has not made the playoffs despite making strides as of late.

Will the Texans finally get over the hump and into the playoffs?
Will the Texans finally get over the hump and into the playoffs?

1. Houston Texans (10-6)

It's about time. The Texans have struggled in their first five seasons since changing from the Oilers to the Texans. They have a record of 55-89 with no playoff appearances and only one winning season at 9-7. However, they have managed to get attention due to their high powered offense with Matt Schaub under center and Andre Johnson catching anything thrown in his direction. The weak points to the team have been the running game and defense. The running game seems to be improved with Arian Foster, who was one of the most surprising players of last season. Foster ran the ball for 1,616 yards and 14 touchdowns while also getting 604 receiving yards. The defense looks to improve this season now as it now is led by defensive coordinator Wade Philips. The defense is changing from the 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme. It is a bit of a shock, especially when you factor in the success that Mario Williams has had as a 4-3 defensive end. The move will be tough initially for Williams, but due to his athletic ability he will be able to pull it off. The Texans did a great job of drafting defensive players that fit a 3-4 scheme such as J.J Watt and Brooks Reed. Both players look to produce for them immediately and put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Arian Foster needs to perform like he did last season for the Texans to win the South
Arian Foster needs to perform like he did last season for the Texans to win the South

Player to Watch - Arian Foster

If Foster can continue upon his success from last season then there is no question that the Texans could compete and win the AFC South. The Texans have a great offense but to frequently before the emergence of Foster, they would be slowed down to their lack of a running game. It made things easy on opposing defenses to game plan for them, but now with Foster the offense is a much more difficult team to play against due to their balanced attack. Foster was a do it all kind of running back for the high powered offense. He led the league in all-purpose yards and was arguably the best running back of the season last year. It is even more important for him to continue to play at a high level because the Texans still have a somewhat average offensive line. When the Texans don't have a consistent rushing game, teams are more inclined to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.

The change to the 3-4 could make things easier on Williams to get to the quarterback
The change to the 3-4 could make things easier on Williams to get to the quarterback

Player on the Rise - Mario Williams

Super Mario Williams was the number one pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and has been a terror to opposing quarterbacks ever since. In 77 career games, he has brought the quarterback down 48 times and forced a fumble at least once in each of his seasons. His career high in sacks is only fourteen but he hasn't had someone on the opposite side of him that can get to the quarterback. Now with the change to a 3-4 defense, the entire front seven is designed to make things difficult on the quarterback and the offensive line. The Texans also have players around Williams that can also get to the quarterback and with all that confusion, look for Super Mario to have a fantastic year this season as he leads his team to their first divisional championship since becoming the Houston Texans.

Will the Colts be able to win the South?
Will the Colts be able to win the South?

2. Indianapolis Colts (5-11)

This could very possibly turn out to be one of the most difficult seasons to watch as a Colts fan due to recent new surrounding Peyton Manning's neck injury. It seems as if he will be out for quite sometime and considering how much he means to the Colts. The Colts had a top five offense last season while the defense finished in the bottom half of the majority of the categories. The Colts also will struggle due to the rookie offensive linemen that will be plugged in as the starter at left tackle protecting the blindside of whoever plays quarterback. Anthony Costanzo will struggle at first due to the shortened off-season and missing out out on practices for rookies. Undoubtedly, Costanzo will be a good player down the line but he will struggle at first. The Colts don't have a fantastic running game behind Joseph Addai and Donald Brown or defense to make up for how the offense will struggle without a solid quarterback.

Peyton Manning's neck injury could have a negative impact on his performance
Peyton Manning's neck injury could have a negative impact on his performance

Player to Watch - Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning is the Indianapolis Colts. In his time as the starting quarterback of the Colts, he has only had two losing seasons in his thirteen seasons. Manning's fantastic play and amazing ability to stay away from serious injuries has enabled him to mask many issues that lies within the Colts personnel. It is unknown when Manning will come back from his neck injury. He just recently had his second surgery on the injury and Jim Irsay the owner has stated that Manning will be out for awhile. It is surprising that they haven't placed him on the season-ending injury reserve, while the smart move would be to place him on it. The safer play would be to not play him this season. If Manning were to be rushed back and take an unfortunate rough hit then his career could be in jeopardy. Not only his career would be in jeopardy but his overall quality of life could be. All in all, I think the Colts and Manning will be smart about it and preserve his career and not play him this season.

Collie being healthy is a positive for the Colts offense
Collie being healthy is a positive for the Colts offense

Player on the Rise - Austin Collie

It is hard to say Austin Collie is on the rise due to the unfortunate injury to Manning but it is hard to overlook the fact that Collie progressed significantly last season. Despite the concussions he had and in nine games last season he managed to put up similar numbers to his rookie season when he had sixty catches for six hundred and seventy six yards and seven touchdowns. In his nine games in his sophomore season he managed to be one of the best receivers on the team as he pulled in fifty eight balls for six hundred forty-nine yards and eight touchdowns. It's hard to see Collie putting up better numbers with Kerry Collins being the starter but he is definitely improving upon his game.

Improvements to the defense will help, but does the offense have enough firepower?
Improvements to the defense will help, but does the offense have enough firepower?

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

The Jaguars have significantly improved their defense with additions like Paul Posluszny, Clint Sessions, Dawan Landry and Matt Roth but now the offense is filled with questions. They spent their first round pick on quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who will likely be a good quarterback in the league but will need sometime to develop, and surprisingly they cut David Garrard who could have been that stop gap between now and when Gabbert is ready to start. The Jaguars still have Jones-Drew and will likely have a harder time getting his yards as he will see eight or nine in the box as teams will look to force the Jaguars to pass. The Jags lack talent at the wide receiver position as well, but that has been an all to familiar story during the Garrard era as well. Mike Thomas is a nice player for them, but he is not a number one type receiver.

I have the Jaguars at 4-12 but it is also conceivable to see them be the second best team in the division due to the upgrades to their defense and being a run heavy type of team. The team could also get a boost midway through the season as Gabbert will likely be inserted as the starting quarterback

He is the central piece to an average offense
He is the central piece to an average offense

Player to Watch - Maurice Jones-Drew

Jones-Drew is the Jaguars offense and is a top five running back in the National Football League. In the past two seasons he has reached the 1,300 rushing yard mark but last season he surprisingly only had five touchdowns. He has carried the ball around 300 times a year over the past two seasons as well and will likely repeat that this year seeing how Luke McCown has taken over as the starting quarterback. Teams will stack the box against the Jaguars but that isn't to different from years past. Jones-Drew has seen it before and it shouldn't stop his production as long as he still sees a significant amount of carries per game.

Paul Posluszny will significantly upgrade the defense
Paul Posluszny will significantly upgrade the defense

Player on the Rise - Paul Posluszny

Paul Posluszny has been a great player on a terrible team in his first four seasons. Now he comes to the Jaguars and instantly becomes one of, if not, the best player on the defense. Posluszny has been incredibly productive in Buffalo in his first four seasons as he has put up over 110 tackles per season over the past three years. He is a terrific middle linebacker that stops the run very well and his skills fit better in a 4-3 defensive scheme as opposed to the Bills 3-4 defense. Posluszny is a sure tackler but not flashy, you will hardly see him getting after the quarterback. He is a very technically sound player, kind of in the vein of Tedy Bruschi but better. He is also provides the Jaguars defense with something that they have lacked for quite sometime, a leader.

Likely destination for this team is another top ten pick in the lottery
Likely destination for this team is another top ten pick in the lottery

4. Tennessee Titans (4-12)

Tennessee has a nice team but it still is missing a few pieces here and there to be a really good team. One question is whether or not new starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can stay healthy, and when will they give the keys to rookie quarterback Jake Locker. The defense also lost some pieces on defense as Jason Babin and defensive line coach Jim Washburn departed for Philadelphia. They also lost Stephen Tulloch only to replace him with Barrett Ruud from Tampa Bay. It will be also interesting to see how the Titans will play considering long time head coach Jim Fisher is now replaced with Mike Munchak who has been the team's offensive line coach for sometime now.

CJ is back in Tennessee, but still doesn't have much around him
CJ is back in Tennessee, but still doesn't have much around him

Player to Watch - Chris Johnson

Tennessee fans have to be able to see that Chris Johnson will be back in a Titans uniform this season and in the future seasons. Granted, he isn't your typical running back as he relies so heavily on his speed he is however, one of the running backs that are changing the way the NFL scout the position. Due to the league becoming more of a pass happy league, teams often look for a scat back in the vein of Johnson, Lesean McCoy, Arian Foster, and Jamaal Charles. All of them can catch out of the backfield, all of them can go the distance at any point in a game and all of them can bring fans out to a game. That last point is a reason why Johnson got paid so handsomely.

Kenny Britt could see a significant boost in his stats due to having a pass first quarterback throwing to him
Kenny Britt could see a significant boost in his stats due to having a pass first quarterback throwing to him

Player on the Rise - Kenny Britt

Britt had a nice season has he caught 42 passes for 775 yards and 9 touchdowns all with multiple quarterbacks filling in. He had a three different quarterbacks throwing to him over the course of the season, at first it was Vince Young then Kerry Collins and then Rusty Smith. This season he has Matt Hasselbeck throwing to him, and Hasselbeck is a pass-first type quarterback unlike Young. Young had the ability to run, and wasn't exactly the best quarterback when it came to throwing. Titan fans should see an increase in Kenny Britt's production due to Hasselbeck's ability to be a pocket passer and it helps that Hasselbeck has a good offensive line protecting him unlike what he had in Seattle.

Who will win the AFC South?

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