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Friday, July 25, 2008

On The Brink: AFC South Preview

With all of us thankfully on the brink of the pre-season, I've decided it's time to finally bang out my division previews. I wanted to do them back in late April but felt it was a tad too early. But with the pre-season now a little over a week away -- well, I don't think I need to explain the title anymore. As always, enjoy and feel free to agree with my genius in the comments. Or make fun of me... whichever you'd prefer.

An argument could be made that the AFC South is the best division in football. Granted, such an argument would get completely destroyed by anyone who was aware of the NFC East’s existence, but it’s in the conversation none-the-less. It can be said, though, that it is the best division in the AFC. So there’s that.

The Colts have had the division on lock for what seems like the last century, but it’s becoming clear that the other teams in the division have realistic expectations of one day obtaining the divisional crown. For the first time in a long time, the Colts have a realistic shot of not winning the AFC South. The team with the best shot of toppling the Colts is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have consistently moved closer and closer towards being on the same level as Indianapolis and have now found a capable QB who makes limited mistakes and makes plays when the team needs him to. He’s no Peyton Manning, sure -- well at least not yet.

The Texans showed promise at the start of last year but couldn’t close it out due to injuries to key players on offense and a young (albeit blossoming) defensive unit. Should Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy this year, they have enough firepower to go blow for blow with the Colts if they can stay on their A game.

Then there’s the Titans who everyone seems to write off but are consistently in it when all‘s said and done these past couple years. The offense is absolutely loaded with young talent at each skill position and the unit has the potentially to really evolve this year. Would it have killed the organization to get a legit wide receiver for Vince Young to throw to that isn’t young and still unproven? Muhsin Muhammad? Bernard Berrian? Donte Stallworth? Maybe it’s all overreaction; the Titans front office does do this for a living after all. But then again, that does not guarantee eventual success (see: The New York Knicks).

Although either Houston or Tennessee could surprise everyone and become one of the few teams that has a Cinderella season, the likely battle for the division title will come down to Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Although the Jaguars lost defensive lineman Marcus Stroud to free agency, they focused on the defensive line early on in the draft and should be just fine in that department. Also, don’t be surprised if Quentin Groves turns out to be the best defensive rookie selection by any team in the divisi-- nay, the league.

With Fred Taylor showing no signs of slowing down, his play will eventually start declining as he continues to get up there in age. Luckily for the Jaguars, Maurice Jones-Drew is poised to accept the starting role and could become one of the best running backs in the league should he see even more playing time. Should Garrard be able to prove that last year was not a fluke and continue to play like a top tier QB, the Jaguars have what it takes to finally topple the mighty Colts this year.

The Jaguars have all of the pieces in place to be challenging the Colts for the AFC South crown for many years to come. Not just that, if they continue to plug their weaknesses through smart free agency signings and strong drafting, they’re set up to be a Super Bowl contender for the next couple years as well.

To reluctantly sample a Mercury Morris’ quote, Indianapolis, meet Jacksonville. They got in your neighborhood two years ago, pulled up to your house last year and are now threatening to beat down the door.

Nine days left boys and girls. Stay tuned for the rest of the league.

Division projection:

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Houston Texans (8-8)
Tennessee Titans (8-8)

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