By Eric Williams
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Having said that, I fully expect the Indianapolis Colts to be the cream of this division – although the Jags are quickly closing the gap on Indy’s division dominance of the last few seasons. Whether the Colts will be the only playoff team from this division remains to be seen, but their window of opportunity is slowly closing, while everyone else’s is beginning to open.
Here’s the skinny on the AFC South for 2006.
The Colts took a huge blow when thy decided to let starting running back, Edgerrin James bolt for the truckload of money that the Arizona Cardinals offered him this offseason.
Nevertheless, as long as the Colts have Peyton Manning and Dungy at the helm, they should still be one of the best teams in the entire AFC. If the Colts, who started last season 13-0 can’t find enough motivation after their dismal playoff pasting at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then they could be in real trouble this season.
However, I believe the Colts, even without James, will once again, find ways to put plenty of points on the board. Now, whether their offensive line, which put on one of the most pitiful displays I have ever seen against the Steelers in the playoffs, can figure how to stop the blitz – or at least slow it down, remains the Colts’ biggest question.
Blitz blocking or not, I like Indianapolis to win four division games this season and once again, be one of the main Super Bowl contenders in the AFC.
The Colts did sign one player who could be crucial in helping them to achieve their Super Bowl dreams – “Mr. Clutch,” former New England Patriots kicker, Adam Vinateri.
I really like what head coach Jack Del Rio has done in his brief tenure in Jacksonville. The Jags may have taken advantage of their weak schedule last season, finishing with a 12-4 record, but they will be hard pressed to repeat that performance in 2006 with one of the toughest schedules in the league this season.
The Jags’ first four games this season are absolutely treacherous (Dallas, Pittsburgh, at Indianapolis, at Washington) and later in the season they have several other tough games, both at home and on the road.
Much of their success this season will probably once again, ride on the right arm of quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who has improved steadily each season. If Leftwich can continue his growth and the Jags can help with some competent rushing – and the defense, which has been excellent under Del Rio, can continue to improve, the Jags could be a legitimate contender in the AFC.
I think it’s more likely that Jacksonville will probably be somewhere around .500 this season and win three division games. Anything more than that, and Del Rio should win the Coach of the Year award.
I am already on record as saying that the Tennessee Titans ownership and front office are the most despicable and idiotic employers in all of professional sports (okay next to the Philadelphia Phillies, Sixers and Flyers) but I will say that the monetary plan they created a couple of years ago seems to be working to perfection, no matter how bad they screwed over franchise player, Steve McNair.
I’ve always been a huge supporter of Titans head coach, Jeff Fisher, even when his hands were tied the last two years because of salary-cap related issues.
However, it would appear that the Titans are quickly on their way back to respectability.
Not only did Tennessee end up with former Texas quarterback Vince Young, with their first round draft pick, but they also added three competent players from winning teams in free agency.
When the Titans went out and signed, former Colts linebacker David Thornton, former Patriots receiver clutch wide receiver, David Givens and ex- Pittsburgh Steelers safety Chris Hope, they served notice that they do indeed expect themselves to once again become a Super Bowl caliber contender within the next couple of seasons.
Quarterback Billy Volek will open the season as Young learns the nuances of the NFL game. Volek has played well when given the opportunity, but this is clearly going to be Young’s team at some point in the near future.
I expect Tennessee to go through some growing pains this season, but they will certainly be better for it in 2007 and 2008.
I like the Titans to win thee division games this season and I wouldn’t necessarily say it is unrealistic that they could possibly win four.
The Texans’ loss is the Titans gain here. I have absolutely nothing against Mario Williams – and I think he’s going to turn out to be a fine player for many years – but for the life of me, I still can’t see why Houston didn’t select running back Reggie Bush with the first overall selection of this year’s draft.
Not only is new head coach, Gary Kubiak and a new general manager in Rick Smith, going to have to deal with the normal pressure associated with winning and losing, but each week, they may have to deal with being inundated with questions from the media about their decision not to select Bush.
However, the Texans have nowhere to go but up and in addition to selecting Williams, they fervently tried to upgrade their offensive line by drafting tackles Charles Spencer and Eric Winston with back-to-back picks in the third round.
The Texans also added veterans, wide receiver, Eric Moulds and defensive end Anthony Weaver.
The Texans will certainly have their work cut out for them and should experience a lot of growing pains this season. However, Kubiak is an excellent offensive mind who should help quarterback, David Carr maximize his potential.
Now, if the Texans can learn to keep Carr off of his back and get some competent defensive play this season, those are the main questions the Texans face as they enter the first year of the Kubiak era.
Personally, I think the former backup to John Elway is going to have to keep a bottle of Maalox on hand at all times this season. Look for the Texans to win a maximum of two division games this season.