Share this article

print logo

AFC South Preview: Evolving Colts retain high-caliber weapons / Division rating 15

1. Indianapolis Colts

(16.5)

Offense: QB Peyton Manning is still ringleader of passing circus. Marvin Harrison is gone, but Manning has other great receiving targets in Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and TE Dallas Clark. If RB Joseph Addai stays healthy, he and first-round draft pick Donald Brown should be effective 1-2 punch. Rating: 5.0.

Defense: DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are disruptive pass rushers. Despite numerous injuries last year, secondary set NFL record for fewest TD passes allowed. SS Bob Sanders, who spent most of summer on PUP list, is as valuable to defense as Manning is to offense. Rating: 4.0.

Special teams: K Adam Vinatieri is still reliable, but rookie P Pat McAfee is a question mark. If T.J. Rushing bounces back from season-ending knee injury, return game should be solid. Rating: 4.0.

Coaching: Not much will change under first-year head man Jim Caldwell, who retained most of Tony Dungy's staff. Rating: 3.5.

On the spot: Caldwell. Can he step out of Dungy's large shadow?

Prediction: Colts return to familiar place -- atop division standings. Record: 11-5.

***

2. Tennessee Titans

(16.0)

Offense: Titans rely on a strong running game that features Chris Johnson's speed, LenDale White's power and a physical offensive line. When QB Kerry Collins does pass, he has receiving corps that's full of questions. Titans hope free agent addition Nate Washington and first-round pick Kenny Britt will improve situation. Rating: 3.5.

Defense: Losing dominating DT Albert Haynesworth hurts, but Titans use an extensive rotation up front to make up for his departure. With or without Haynesworth, LB Keith Bulluck remains tone-setter of unit. Pro Bowlers Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope hold solid secondary together. Rating: 4.0.

Special teams: K Rob Bironas has a strong, accurate leg. Entering 16th year, P Craig Hentrich is still one of league's best. Mark Jones' release leaves team without an experienced return man. Rating: 4.0.

Coaching: Jeff Fisher, NFL's longest-tenured head coach, always finds a way to maximize talent on his roster. Rating: 4.5.

On the spot: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. After injury-riddled season, Titans' top pass rusher must regain 2007 form.

Prediction: Won't relinquish division title without a fight. Record: 10-6.

***

3. Houston Texans

(14.5)

Offense: If healthy, QB Matt Schaub should put up big numbers throwing to physically gifted All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, who was virtually indefensible while leading NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,575) last year. RB Steve Slaton, who was a rookie surprise with 1,282 yards and 9 TDs, gives Texans balance. Rating: 4.0.

Defense: Texans have budding superstars in DE Mario Williams, MLB DeMeco Ryans, DT Amobi Okoye and CB Dunta Robinson, but their supporting cast must step up for unit to turn corner.Rating: 3.0

Special teams: Texans possess two tremendous return men in Jacoby Jones (punts) and Andre Davis (kickoffs). K Kris Brown and P Matt Turk are steady. Rating:4.0.

Coaching:Team has gotten progressively better under Gary Kubiak, who overhauled defensive staff after a horrible showing in '08. Rating: 3.5.

On the spot:Schaub. It would be nice if Texans can get at least one injury-free season from him.

Prediction: No playoffs, but Texans finally achieve first winning season. Record: 9-7.

***

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

(13.5)

Offense: With franchise rushing leader Fred Taylor gone, all-purpose threat Maurice Jones-Drew becomes offensive centerpiece. His running and receiving ability should complement QB David Garrard, whose wildly inconsistent receiving corps gets needed help with signing of Torry Holt. Rating: 3.5.

Defense: This unit woefully underachieved as Jags underestimated how much they'd miss DT Marcus Stroud, who was traded to Buffalo. D-line can improve if DT John Henderson regains Pro Bowl form and DE Derrick Harvey can build off promising rookie year. But back seven is full of question marks. Rating: 3.0.

Special teams: K Josh Scobee is usually pretty accurate and has strong leg on kickoffs. P Adam Podlesh should improve on rookie year. Brian Witherspoon had decent year returning kicks, but he might share duties with rookie WR Mike Thomas. Rating: 3.5.

Coaching: Jack Del Rio is trying to restore toughness and character that was lacking last season. Rating: 3.5.

On the spot: Jones-Drew. Can he thrive as featured back?

Prediction: Jags might surprise if they get a few breaks. Record: 7-9.

There are no comments - be the first to comment