The 2012 Divisional Outlook and You: Is Houston Leaving Us All Behind?

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 01: Running back Ben Tate #44 of the Houston Texans rushes against middle linebacker Colin McCarthy #52 of the Tennessee Titans on January 1, 2012 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Titans won 23 to 22. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

Sit back down MCM, take deep breaths, try to contain your emotions. Just remember, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. I feel like I might take a bit of heat for the title, so let me explain. No, I don't mean that because Houston won the division this year that they automatically are set up to continue to do so for the next several years. However, there are a number of other factors that lead me to believe that this might be the case. Is this a guarantee? For those that read MCM on the reg, you should know by now that nothing I say is ever a guarantee, I just throw stuff at the wall until something sticks, and in this case I'm going to try to take an objective look at our biggest rivals (time to finally admit it) and their newfound success.

The 2011 Texans are admittedly a very well put together football team. Not just the players either, it's unreal the impact that coordinator Wade Phillips has made on their defense. I remember doing a piece on how the Texans defense would still be terrible in 2011 no matter who was calling the shots because they were just that bad in the secondary, but look at this, they sign Jonathan Joseph and Wade Phillips starts running things, all of a sudden things begin changing.

It's not just Phillips either, there are some really talented players on that defense. Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt in back to back picks was genius. Putting pass rush at a premium is something I wish the Titans would commit to this year. This doesn't mean just keep drafting defensive linemen with our top pick over and over again, this leads to us becoming the Buccaneers who have used seven picks in the first three rounds over the last four years on defensive linemen. I guess one could argue that they're just bad drafters, but the strategy still makes me nervous. Back on topic: Watt may end up pushing Mario Williams for best (see: most impactful/valuable) player on that defense next year and Reed is a rare example of a work in progress that made an early impact. Some guys just have all the luck. Right there, you have three potential double-digit sack players. Throw in Connor Barwin who finally broke out this year and that's a really scary, young, foursome of players who can get to the quarterback. This, in turn, can make Wade's job a whole lot easier. The 2008 Titans are a prime example of how a great pass rush can hide some of the inconsistencies of a mediocre secondary. Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan were still playing at a high level, but it's no coincidence that Michael Griffin's best year came when other quarterbacks had a lot less time to look him off with pump fakes and play action. Much like 08, the Texans have a truly talented player in Joseph, but I'd say the rest of their unit is pretty average, below average in some respects.

That's basically my observations on their defense. Not a whole lot of groundbreaking stuff, but remember when we used to say "They'll never have an offense good enough to drag that D into the playoffs!", well don't look now, but this unit is set up to be pretty good for a long time.

The offense isn't a mystery: there's a lot of firepower there, especially when Schaub is healthy. Andre Johnson may start to decline in a couple of years, but he's still a nightmare. Arian Foster is a stud, no questions asked. Moreover, their run game is built around a good offensive line and a very capable backup in Ben Tate. Take note Tennessee, this is doing it right.

Compare this to Jacksonville, a team that's an absolute disaster right now, and Indianapolis, whose future rests on the shoulders of a guy who's yet to make his first dollar in the NFL. This is kind of oversimplifying the issue, and I apologize to Jags and Colts fans for that, but I'm just not familiar enough with either of them to go off of anything other than a judgement call and popular perception. But if you can prove to me that Jacksonville isn't a total wreck, more power to you, I don't think I could argue for them if my life depended on it. There's only one thing standing in the way of Houston and total divisional domination for the next several years, barring a new Peyton Manning in Andrew Luck and/or a horrifying injury to a number of Houston's impact makers. That'd be us, folks. I genuinely think Tennessee has the best chance to trade power with Houston over the next few years. A lot of this rides on Jake Locker and how good he becomes, but what can I say, I like the cut of the Locker's jib, at least a lot more so than Gabbert's, and Luck is inheriting a disastrous situation in Indy, that is not an overnight fix.

If I were to project the standings for 2012 right now, I'd probably go with Houston, Tennessee, Indy, Jacksonville. I don't think it's impossible to compete with these guys by a longshot, but it's very evident to me right now that Houston fields, by far, the most complete team in the division.

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