Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

NFL Preview: AFC South

2004 Standings:

Indianapolis: 12-4
Jacksonville: 9-7
Houston: 7-9
Tennessee: 5-11

Overview:
This division is the story of the Colts, a team that destroys everyone else in the regular season only to, by clockwork, lose to New England in the playoffs. In fact, this division got a little easier for the Colts with the fire sale by Tennessee and the continuing injury problems of Fred Taylor.

Indianapolis:
Can Peyton Manning have an encore for his record-setting performance of a year ago? Can the defense continue their improvement they showed towards the end of last year? Can Manning finally, finally overcome the curse of Bill Belichick?

Key Losses: TE Marcus Pollard, G Rick DeMulling

Key Additions: CB Marlin Jackson, CB Kelvin Hayden

Offense: The offense is back and ready for another year to shine. The Edge has something to prove to all those teams that refused to trade for him (remind you of someone?). Marvin Harrison shows NO signs of slowing down, while Reggie Wayne has all the attributes of a proven playmaker. The injury to Brandon Stokely will hurt, as he had turned into a 3rd #1 receiver for Manning. My guess is that Dallas Clark will play a bigger role, turning into the mid-range target that Stokely provided. Enjoy watching this offense, NFL fans. Offenses like these come once a decade. Of course, Belichick has already shown how to stop this offense several times, so we will see if another defense steps up (perhaps Jacksonville?).

Gavin: Can the Peyton Manning Experience get any better this season? Probably not... Manning was out of his mind at times, and I think we should expect a little regression. Still, he has far too many weapons not to have an amazing offensive season. I think Reggie Wayne will just catch more balls with Stokely out. Props, by the way, to this offensive line, which is the protection for Manning and the blocking for James.

Defense: Believe it or not, the defense did not lose that playoff game against New England. They actually played above their talent level, but it still wasn't enough, as the offense predictably stumbled. However, their regular season production was atrocious. It almost seemed like their strategy was to let the other team score as quickly as possible to let the offense get back on the field. There are a few bright spots. Dwight Freeney is a stud at DE, the secondary should be improved with the rookie cornerbacks (symbolizing how terrible the defense was) plus former CB Joseph Jefferson to SS. Honestly, though, does it even matter? The offense is good enough to get to the postseason. After that, it's anyone's game. The defense will not cause the team to lose 7 games.

Gavin: This defense got lucky quite a bit last year with turnovers, which helped them give up fewer points than they deserved. While Freeney continues to improve into one of the best rushers in the league, they still have a weak linebacking corps, rookie secondary, and lack bulk up front. Still don't see it as enough to challenge New England for the AFC crown.

Overhyped Myth: As stated earlier, the defense does not need to be much improved at all for the Colts to win. From NFL.com, the Colts defense were the easiest team to complete a pass against in 2004, allowing opponents to hit 65.4 percent, and only Arizona allowed more yards per rush than Indianapolis' 4.6. And yet the Colts won 12 games and was, arguably, the best team heading into the postseason. The defense is completely secondary to the Colts winning percentage.

Understated Reality: Well, definitely not that Peyton Manning is really good. How about the fact that Brandon Stokely was an extremely important cog in the Colts offense, and it will be interesting to see how they manage without him for the near future.

General Prognosis: If they miss the playoffs, they will be the most underachieving team in NFL history. They will make the playoffs, and they will win the division. The real question will be when they inevitably face the Patriots in the playoffs.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 vs. Jacksonville. This is the only team in the division that might, MIGHT, give Indy some problems. It also might be the best defense outside of Pittsburgh and New England in the conference.

Jacksonville:
They barely missed the postseason last year, getting squashed by Houston 21-0 late in the season to miss the cut. Jack Del Rio might have even more fire in his belly to make it to the promised land, and this team will scare a lot of opponents with a young offense and strong defense.

Key Losses: CB Dewayne Washington, CB Juran Bolden, FB Marc Edwards

Key Additions: DE Reggie Hayward, DE Marcellus Wiley, T Khalif Barnes

Offense: I'm not completely sold on Byron Leftwich as a great NFL quarterback. In fact, ESPN's new football stathead found that Leftwich was one of the two least accurate quarterbacks in the league. This seems to be especially true when he is operating under center. He is also brittle, so it is extremely probable that he might miss a few games again this season. Much will depend on the health of Fred Taylor, who is coming off some big surgeries. Jacksonville swears up and down that he will be healthy and ready to contribute by opening weekend (against Seattle), but I would be skeptical of that if I were a Jaguars fan. The wide receiving corps must step it up, led by Jimmy Smith and ex-Husky Reggie Williams. All in all, pretty unimpressive. The offense might step it up for one or two games, but Jacksonville better not be planning to depend on the O to get to the postseason.

Gavin: Interesting that this division gave Colin two underachieving quarterbacks, Carr and Leftwich. Byron Leftwich needs to take a step forward this year, and much of it will depend on Reggie Williams. Is he that big of a disappointment? With no backup runner, with a shaky offensive line, and with an aging Jimmy Smith this is an offense that is going to struggle to score anything.

Defense: Amazing. Henderson is an absolute beast, and the D-Line got even better with the addition of Hayward, who Denver replaced with the entire Browns D-Line. Donovan Darius is back to deliver huge hits at his SS position. Basically, this defense is loaded at all lines of attack, and should win several games for the Jaguars. This will be where Del Rio will expect the fire to come from his team, and is the only way they stand a chance in hell against the Colts. They just might be good enough to handle the Colts offense, but that remains to be seen. Expect a lot of 13-9 games.

Gavin: Man, is anyone going to be able to score consistently against these guys? The only way I see is through the air with quick passes, because any delay means dealing with Henderson and company. Any running backs will have to hit the outside, because inside means dealing with Henderson and company. Am not happy about the Hawks going up against this in Week 1.

Overhyped Myth: Byron Leftwich will be a Pro-Bowl quarterback. I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. His accuracy really needs to improve, and he needs to learn how to operate under center. He only seems comfortable out of the shotgun, which is what he did at Marshall. The shotgun doesn't work for a reputable running game, and Fred Taylor is the best offensive player on this team (if healthy).

Understated Reality: WR Matt Jones needs a year or two, but he will turn into an exceptional player. I didn't put him into the key additions because he won't matter this year, but I loved this draft pick when it happened. His pure athleticism plus experience at the quarterback position will lend itself well to becoming a stud. Should step in when Smith inevitably slows down.

General Prognosis: Mediocre offense + Exceptional defense = 9-7, or some such record. They will be a borderline playoff team, and might sneak in as one of the wildcard winners. I do expect them to beat the Colts at least once, if the defense stays healthy. Too many "ifs" to predict much more than that.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Week 1 vs Seattle. They will make us wear our dark home uniforms to take advantage of the heat, which is stupid. If Fred Taylor isn't ready, this might be a solid 1st game for Seattle.

Houston:
Q: Is David Carr ready to lead the Texans to the promised land? A: He might be, but the rest of the team and the coaching staff isn't. Honestly, outside of Paul Hackett, I have never seen as conservative an offense as Houston threw out last year.

Key Losses: CB Aaron Glenn, LB Jamie Sharper, LB Jay Foreman

Key Additions: CB Phillip Buchanon, LB Marlon Greenword, DE Travis Johnson

Offense: The problem here does not lie with the talent. You have Carr, Davis at RB, and two excellent receivers in Bradford and Johnson. The offensive line has had another year to gel and, while not being worldbeaters, should be decent, though they have to improve on sacks, having given up 49 last season. To me, the problem lies with the conversatism drilled into this offense. Maybe that conversatism is necessary with the sack problem, but, wow, it seemed impossible for this offense to score more than 21 points last year. Carr was one of my fantasy quarterbacks, so I cursed this conservatism many a time. What will happen with this unit? Only..... the Shadow knows.

Gavin: This on paper should be an explosive offense. David Carr is an above-average quarterback. Dominack Davis is an above-average running back. Andre Johnson (as Colin noted) is one of the top-five receivers in the league. They should have no problem scoring points. Yet why did they? I think Carr still needs some work... he holds on to the ball too long and has problems with tunnel vision for Johnson. He also throws at least one retarded ball a game. When he improves, I think they open the offense up.

Defense: If you thought the Seahawks had a terrible pass-rush, let me introduce you to the Texans defense, last in the league with only 24 sacks all of last season. Buchanon should improve the secondary, though he has been known to be maddingly inconsistent. By the way, completely off the subject, but have you seen that horrible goatee that Sean Salisbury is now sporting? That looks absolutely hideous, and is way more interesting than the Texans' defense. You know what? This is an ok defense that will stop people every now and then, but will end up in the bottom half of the league. End of story.

Gavin: Good news? Playmakers at both corners (Dante Robinson is a stud). Bad news? Losing Jamie Sharper (thanks!). Houston had a pretty mediocre defense and stayed pat. When you are in a division with the Colts staying pat is probably not a good idea. Yet another reason why this team misses the playoffs yet again. It's too bad, because they started off so well... but they end up looking like the Seahawks in the Dennis Erickson era.

Overhyped Myth: Is there any hype surrounding this team? How about the myth that the Texans are only a step away from the playoffs? Looking at that defense, they are several steps away from qualifying for the postseason, especially in this division. They will be stuck in the 6-10 or 7-9 range for the next couple of years.

Understated Reality: Andre Johnson could be one of the five best wide-receivers in the NFL. He has explosive ability, but the Texans can't seem to get him the football. In my opinion, they should run the offense around him much like the Vikings used to run the offense around Randy Moss. No, he's not as good as Moss, but he's pretty darn good.

General Prognosis: See above. They should end up with 9 or 10 losses, with a possible few upsets under their belt. I expect this to be Capers' last year, as it just seems like this franchise needs another kick-start to reach the next level.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Sept. 18 vs. Pittsburgh. This will show us exactly where the Texans stand this year. Can the offense move the ball against the Steelers top-rated D of a year ago? A genuine "show me" game.

Tennessee:
A team that perhaps had the absolute worst off-season of anyone in the NFL. This team is a lot younger, Steve McNair is a year older and is still fragile, but Norm Chow brings a little excitement as the new offensive coordinator while Jeff Fisher is still a quality head coach.

Key Losses: Wow. WR Derrick Mason (ouch), CB Samari Rolle (ouch), CB Andre Dyson (ouch), DE Kevin Carter (ouch), FB Robert Holcombe, K Joe Nedney (ouch), S Lance Schulters (ouch), T Fred Miller

Key Additions: Salary cap room, CB Pacman Jones, RB Travis Henry (what?), Norm Chow

Offense: Steve McNair does not have a normal injury problem. You can guarantee that he will be injured, maybe life-threateningly, by Week 3. Backup Volek will play a few games, and he proved himself to be decent at the very least. Drew Bennett turned into a gamebreaker last year, but he will need to continue that improvement to make up for the departure of Mason. My main question is why in the world the Titans went after Travis Henry. I guess that they must think that Chris Brown will continue to have injury problems, but they have created a situation where one proven running back will be unhappy and probably demand to be traded, kind of like, I don't know..... BUFFALO!! Anyhoo, nothing really to see here. McNair's MVP days are over, and the weapons are decreasing around him.

Gavin: The trade for Travis Henry didn't make any sense to me. When healthy, Chris Brown was a very productive runner. Getting a real backup is important, but getting a malcontent backup is inviting disaster. This is an offense filled with questions. Can McNair stay healthy? Probably not. Can Drew Bennett be a #1 receiver? Probably not. Just a mediocre offense on what is going to be a terrible team.

Defense: Woof. Um, Bullock is still around, but, well, everyone else was cut. Seriously. Their big addition, Pacman Jones, is a head case before playing a down. Absolutely ridiculous. This defense might challenge San Francisco for the absolute worst of the NFL. The bile is rising in my mouth. There's nothing more I can say about this defense. Read the departure list again. I feel sorry for the poor citizens of Nashville.

Gavin: When you lose both starting corners you will suffer (remember this Arizona). When you combine that with a playmaking safety you will suffer more. When you combine that with a playmaking defensive end it starts to get silly. If I were Keith Bullock I'd fake an injury just to sit out the second half of the season to stay fresh for next year.

Overhyped Myth: Norm Chow will immediately cause a massive improvement with the offense. Um, have you looked at that offense? Chow does not have the cream of the crop like he had with USC. He will see improvement over time, but it is stupid to think that this offense will challenge anyone seriously this year.

Understated Reality: I don't think people are really seeing how bad this team is. They, honestly, should struggle to win 4-5 games. They are that young, and their best player, McNair, is that injury prone. They should be improved by the end of the season, thanks to Jeff Fisher, but they could easily be the worst team in the AFC. By far.

General Prognosis: See above. Worst team in the AFC. By far.

Early Season Game I'm Looking Forward To: Um, nothing? I don't ever want to watch this team? How about Sept. 25 against St. Louis? St. Louis seems to stumble versus horrible teams, so this could be a win for Tennessee, giving the rest of us a step on St. Louis.

Conclusion:
The Colts should ROCK, OWN, ANNIHILATE this division. Jacksonville should make some noise, but expect Houston and Tennessee to whimper through this season. A pretty boring division to be completely honest.

Gavin: Who is going to be able to touch the Colts? Jacksonville can't score. Houston can't do anything well. Tennessee is just going to be awful. Look for the Colts to rack up wins and stats against bad opponents only to suck yet again in the playoffs.

posted by colin_hesse @ 2:10 PM  0 comments

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