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Fearless Rick's 2009 NFL Preview - AFC SOUTH

Rick Gagliano | 8/9/2009

AFC SOUTH - Predicted order of finish and (predicted record)

Indianapolis Colts (12-4): With Peyton Manning not really himself until about mid-season in 2008, the Colts were a sub-par unit until that point, but finished the regular season on a 9-game win streak before being bumped out of the playoffs in the wild card game at San Diego, 23-17.

With head coach Tony Dungy headed for retirement, the on-field management of the team belongs to Jim Caldwell, who should thrive under the system, since he's been an assistant to Dungy for many years.

Also among the departed is Manning's longtime #1 target, Marvin Harrison, who was granted his unconditional release following the 2008 season. That puts Reggie Wayne into the role of #1 option and sure-handed Anthony Gonzalez as the #2, possession receiver. With the younger guys stepping up, the Colt's probably won't lose anything, and may, in fact, be even better, since harrison was out part of last season.

Joseph Addai will be spelled in the backfield by rookie Donald Brown, drafted in the first round out of Connecticut. Ranked all the way down at #13 in 2008, the Colts' offense will seek to return to the top of its game.

Defensively, Indy didn't make any wholesale changes; arguably a good idea with the 6th-best defense in the league in 2008 (18.6 ppg). The front will once again feature Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at the end positions, the very capable Bob Sanders at safety. Gary Brackett leads a trio of talented linebackers in the Colts' 4-3 defense.

The schedule doesn't appear too daunting, with games against the NFC West and AFC East outside the division. The Cardinals (week 3) and the Patriots (week 10), look like premier games, but the Colts will close out the regular season at home against Denver, at Jacksonville, home with the Jets and at Buffalo, which should ensure a strong finish and entry into the playoffs.

Peyton Manning already has one Super Bowl ring and he'd surely like another. He'll be shooting it out with Pittsburgh and New England for supremacy in the AFC.

Tennessee Titans (10-6): Kerry Collins turns 37 in late December, and there's a question as to whether he'll still be the starter at that point with Vince Young returning to the team and champing at the bit to get back into his starting role. Young is 26, and obviously is the future for Tennessee. How he progresses in preseason and how well Collins plays will determine who will lead the Titans in 2009.

Clouding the picture even more is the situation at wide receiver, where as many as 6 players will be vying for the starting jobs. Nate Washington and Justin Gage are the starters for now, but the team will give close looks to Lavelle Hawkins, Kenny Britt, Chris Davis and Paul Williams. Britt is a rookie out of Rutgers, taken in the first round, and should stick and maybe become the regular slot receiver, but he'll have to leapfrog the other three to make it.

The running game should be dynamic again with Chris Johnson and a slimmed down LenDale White, possibly the best 1-2 tandem in the league.

The defense with miss Albert Haynesworth, gone to the Redskins via free agency, but will remain one of the pre-eminent defenses in the league. They were a stingy bunch in 2008, allowing just 293.6 yards of offense per game. They'll be nearly as good if not better in 2009.

The Titans went 13-3 in the regular season but were unceremoniously dumped by the Ravens, 13-10, in their only playoff appearance. Tennessee has plenty of talent and Jeff Fisher is one of the best coaches around, but the AFC is stacked with teams capable of simply outgunning the Titans and one wonders how long the defense will stand up of forced to play long stretches if the offense stumbles. The situation at QB and wide receiver need to be addressed. The Titans are a playoff team, for sure, but they may suffer the fate of New England in 2008: finishing with an excellent record, only to lose all the tie-breakers and miss out on the post-season.

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Houston Texans (9-7): The Texans finally got things going in 2008, utilizing the combination of Matt Shaub to Andre Johnson effectively and finishing at 8-8, their second straight season with a .500 record. Whether they can take the next step and make the playoffs is a question of whether or not the defense makes strides in 2009.

The offense will be more than adequate with Kevin Walter on the opposite side from Johnson. Steve Slaton will only get better in his second year as the featured running back and Chris Brown is a capable quantity in his own right.

Adding Mario Williams at defensive end has allowed the Houston linebackers to freelance more and there will be even more of that in 2009. But because of the 4-3 setup, teams liked to run on the Texans last year in order to set up deep passing routes. The secondary struggled at times and that is the area which needs the most help. The Texans didn't draft any defensive backs, opting to allow their young troops to grow and improve together, which could be a wise strategy. The team was gaining confidence down the stretch in 2008, winning five of their last six.

If that momentum carries over into this season, the Titans better beware, because the Texans may be capable of overtaking them for a wild card spot. Houston beat the Titans in week 15 last year, 13-12, and their two games in 2009 will prove critical to both teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Jack del Rio may be out of a job by week 7 or 8 if the Jags stumble out of the gate. With Indy, Arizona, Houston and Tennessee as their first four opponents, it's possible that the Jags could start out 0-4. Softer games at Seattle and home against St. Louis should help them get back on track, but after a bye in week 7, they face the Titans again, who whipped them twice in 2008.

A 2-5 or 1-6 start could prove to be Del Rio's undoing after many good years with the Jags.

The trouble with Jacksonville is that their offense just doesn't match up well in the division, and the defense has fallen to a notch below the usually-high standards. David Garrard is better running the football than throwing it, but Maurice Jones-Drew is a bona fide star at running back. Fred Taylor left for New England in the off-season, so it's Jones-Drew's show now. The offensive line is being retooled and that usually takes more than a pre-season and a couple of games to begin to jell. The wideouts are inedequate, with aging Tory Holt on one side and an untested Troy Williamson on the other.

The defense allowed 22.9 points and 330.9 yards per game in '08, not good enough. Jacksonville finished 5-11 last year and a repeat performance could be in the cards. Finishing at .500 would be a major feat for this undermanned crew.

Copyright 2009, 2010, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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