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Sunday, July 15, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South

For the first time in over a decade Peyton Manning will no longer be the focal point of the AFC South preview.  The Houston Texans are now the undisputed top dogs of this division, but what can we expect for an encore?  Was Tennessee's 9 win season an aberration or sign of things to come?   Jacksonville is on nobody's wish-list and Luck is the least of the Colts problems.

Houston Texans

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South Houston Texans
2011 Review: Highlights from last year include top ranks in rushing O and D, pass D, and D-line.  Their passing game took an obvious hit with injuries to Schaub and AJ and a lack of red zone efficiency soon followed. 

The Texans were far and away the creap of the crop in this division last year.  Sporting a 10-5-1 record ATS, they were a popular choice in most weeks. Wade Phillips proved his mettle as a D coordinator once again and I expect another bump up in production this year. 

2012 Offseason: The primary problem here is the loss of Mario Williams, but the pain didn't end there. Losing Winston at tackle was a big blow, and losing Brisiel at guard didn't help either. This opens up key camp battles on the line. There are other big questions on special teams, too. What is going on in the return game and how will a rookie kicker work out? Shipping out Ryans at linebacker was as much a scheme decision as it was a cost-saving move.  Dreessen and Vickers were under-the-radar cogs of a well-oiled machine. 

The good news? Their stars will enter the year healthy. They added an explosive pass rusher in Mercilus on day 1 of the draft. WR DeVier Posey could be a surprise contributor on offense. And best of all, they have continuity in all the right places. 

Looking ahead: Houston open with a season win total of 10 and thus far we've seen steady action on the over.

I think this team will survive the offseason losses and once again be a playoff contender once again. The important areas that I'll be looking at closely in September are special teams and offensive line. The margin of error is razor thin in this league so these overlooked areas could make or break their games. Cautious optimism is the Texans tagline for 2012.

Tennessee Titans

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South Tennessee Titans
2011 Review: The Titans were one of my biggest surprises last season. They were 1-3 in their tough matchups, but a combined 8-3 against everybody else. Most of this success came from above-average O-line play, fantastic special teams, and a top ranked red zone offense. 

The primary problem areas included the rushing game and the D-line.

2012 Offseason: All eyes are fixated on the QB position and with good reason.  Hasselbeck is a capable guy when healthy, but they also need to turn the page with Locker to move this franchise forward. Personally I would go with Locker from the get-go regardless of how his camp/preseason goes. Hasselbeck is much more valuable as a healthy backup than an injured starter. 

Hutchinson is going to go a long way in solidifying the interior O-line. Britt returns healthy and is joined by 1st round pick Kendall Wright.

On defense, Kamerion Winbley was brought in to boost the pass rush. Zack Brown enters the fold as a 2nd round pick, but he appears to be a wild-card.  The secondary enters the season with questions thanks to the loss of Finnegan. Campbell, McCourty, and Verner have their work cut out for them. 

Looking ahead:
There are a nice array of options on offense though and on paper this should be a competent group. CJ should have a much better year with a more threatening passin game. Munchak is loved by his players and should get the most out of them once again.

My concerns come on defense. Their pass-rush is average, they have a hole at middle linebacker, and the secondary is unproven. 

The Titans opened with a season win total of 7 and we've seen an optimistic move towards the over.  There could be some value here depending on their schedule.  It definatly helps having 4 combined games against the Jaguars and Colts.

Indianapolis Colts

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South Indianapolis Colts
2011 Review: The second that Peyton Manning was ruled out for the year the entire 2011 season was a write-off. Therefore, anything we look at from last season must be taken with a large grain of salt.  The only statistical area that was a positive was their penalties per game ranking.  Let's move on.

2012 Offseason: Holding onto Reggie Wayne was unbelievably important for the development of Andrew Luck. It was also a nice move to pick up his college tight end  Coby Fleener in the draft.

With Garcon, Saturday, Clark, Tamme, Addai, Brackett, Bullitt, and Gonzalez moving on, it is truly a new era in Indianapolis. On the downside, it's possible that this team is even worse than the 2011 version. The current roster resembles an expansion team.

On the bright side it's always nice to turn the page with a franchise QB under center.  And he might have every opportunity to air it out given the huge problems they have in their secondary. Winston Justice at RT is also a big concern I have.
Looking Ahead: The lineup is filled with rookies, youngsters, free agent castoffs, and project players.

They have nowhere to go but up, but even with a 5.5 season win total, money has come in on the under.  Expecting 6 wins from this group is asking a lot, but much of it will come down to how quickly the new coaching staff can get these guys organized on the same page. Historically, teams with a win total of under 6 are usually a good bet to go over. Preseason could give us some clues.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2012 NFL Preview: AFC South Jacksonville Jaguars
2011 Review: The good?  MJD. A solid defense. 4-4 at home.  The bad? A lot..including 2-8 against the top half of the league, 1-7 on the road, the entire pass offense, a suspect O-line, and subpar special teams. Ouch.

2012 Offseason: No key losses and a ton of money to spend is always a good position for a team looking to improve. The question is--did they? 

There's reason for optimism on defense right off the bat as their secondary will start the year healthy and Aaron Ross can't hurt either. Inserting Andre Branch on the D-line from round 2 addressed an important need. 

Bringing in Henne to buffer Gabbert was decent given the weak options at QB around the league. Adding Blackmon in the 1st round will boost the WR position and give Gabbert a fighting chance if he's the starter. The jury is out on guys like Robinson and Evans. Lewis was supposed to be a major part of the offense in 2011, but apparently he had personal problems that affected him. We'll see how that works out.

Taking a punter in round 3 was a joke, but if he could be the most active player on the field if this offense is as lackluster as we expect.

My biggest issue here is the O-line. This is always important, but when you are breaking in a young QB he needs all the help he can get.  There is not a lot of quality depth here so injuries could completely derail things here.

Looking ahead: The Jags have been one of the more heavily faded teams this summer. A season win total of 5.5 has been juiced to the under.  I never feel great about going under on a team with such a low win total, so I'd have to see a significant cause for concern along with a tough schedule.  At this point, there could be some value on the over if Gabbert can get over his first year jitters. The schedule analysis will tell us the rest.

Up Next: AFC North
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24-26 (+1.5u)
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124-132 (+34.13u)
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1-3 (+5u)

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