Suddenly, a challenger appears. The Jaguars were never a team that I considered a threat. Their D-line is stout with the always disruptive Tyson Alualu, the laughingstock of the first round a couple of years ago, and Terrence Knighton leading the way, but everything else on the defensive side is iffy at best. The offense that had been receiving bumps in the right direction from time to time from David Garrard seems like it might actually be close to what it was last year. That is to say, a great running game and terrible passing game, similar to what we might see a bit of this year.
The Manningless Colts are about as dangerous as the Panthers to the rest of this division. Like Gramsey has said, people are about to see why Manning should win the Most Valuable Player award every single year. The rest of that team is a total disaster outside of its tight end and number one receiver. The line stinks, the backs stink, and the defense outside of two excellent defensive ends pretty much stinks.
This leaves one team: Houston. Houston is a tough one because they're everybody's next year team. "Just wait 'til next year when the defensive play makers finish developing." "Just wait 'til they're completely healthy." "Just wait 'til they sign a few veterans to tighten up that secondary." So much hype. So much promise. So few playoff appearances to show for it. I wouldn't say I expect that trend to continue, but I'd be pretty comfortable saying that they'll just miss out in 2011. Again. Wade Phillips runs a 3-4. Mario Williams is the teams' best defensive player. He's a great defensive end, one of the best in the business to be sure, but now that he's been moved to outside linebacker, who's going to rush the passer?
Even with all of the misfortune and hilarity circulating the division, the Titans are not a team without flaws. I'm not sure how much weight I care to put in Mike Munchak being a first year head coach, but I can't imagine that a lack of prior experience is something that helps a young team develop. The passing game is a total mystery. Hasselbeck is pretty much done if past performance is any indicator and many of our hopes for the aerial attack lie in the hands of a massive unknown at tight end. I recognize the talents of Craig Stevens and Daniel Graham, but I'd be lying if I said that I thought either will end up making a bigger impact than our boy Jared here. What's sad is that even if he does break out this year, he might still be the worst tight end in the division. Think about it.
However, even if Hasselbeck is more or less washed up, I'd take him over Luke McCown and Kerry Collins behind Indy's line in a heartbeat. The fact remains that he'll have the divisions best running game backing him up. That's a fact by the way. The Tennessee Titans will have the best running game in the AFC South. Better than Jacksonville, better than Houston's, and as if it wasn't completely obvious in the first place, better than Indianapolis. He will also be throwing behind the division's best offensive line. Even with all of its inconsistencies and issues, Tennessee's defense might even be tops in the division as well.
As you can see, I'm starting to believe some of the hype. It's really a shame that all of our hopes ride on one of my favorite players of all time being injured, but that's the reality of it. If Peyton Manning's injury is severe enough that it can cause him to miss significant time, it's anyone's game. The Colts will be a cupcake for everyone on the schedule without him. I'd wager they'll be one of the five worst teams in football. I think that most would agree that the Titans are better than a Luke McCown led Jaguars, and with the Texans' propensity for big massive choke artists, who knows where this thing can go? I can't see a wild-card winner coming out of this division. I just can't. Without a clear-cut favorite and dark horse contender, there's just no way to think that there are two playoff teams in there. The AFC South is now the NFC West. While there aren't any really good teams in it right now, someone has to win it. And while the team that does probably isn't going anywhere in the playoffs, the beauty of the post season is that it's condensed into small,
48 60 (edit: got 12 minute quarters in my mind from HS football.) minute games where anything can happen.