As I noted previously, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall. Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.
Part III: The AFC South
Projected Record: 14-2 First place
I like the Indianapolis Colts offense very much this year. Andrew Luck is a top 5 QB right now, the WR grouping of T.Y. Hilton and new-comers Andre Johnson (Free agency from Texans) and draftee Phillip Dorsett (Rookie-Miami) has the potential to light up score boards. The removal of Trent Richardson from the offensive backfield is addition by subtraction. Suddenly the guy forgot how to run the ball. In his place I think the Colts might try a 3-back rotation. Before he was hurt last year Vick Ballard seemed to show some promise, Dan (Boom) Herron from Ohio State or Josh Robinson from Mississippi State could provide some young legs, and the Colts picked up veteran Frank Gore from the 49er's large pile of discards who is a back that I still think can provide some value if used properly. He's always been excellent at short yardage and he can catch almost anything out of the backfield.
Yes, the defense is a problem, but the good news is that the Colt's play in a division where strong offensive play is their exclusive domain. Plus, they start the season against 4 teams who don't have much in terms of QB's (Jets, Bills, Titans and Texans) and a team with an OK QB but nothing else (Jaguars)
As a matter of fact, I don't see the Colts losing until they get an angry New England team in Week 6.
The biggest problem with the Colts defense is that it is inexperienced. After the gift they've been given schedule-wise I think they'll have a lot of that sorted out by the time they get to the tougher games in the 2nd half of the season.
Despite the questions on defense, the Colts are in zero danger of being caught by the......
Projected Record: 8-8 Second place
For the past 5 years now my season prediction for the Texans has been between 7-9 and 9-7. While two years I was proven wrong, I see no reason, with this team, to change that trend now.
The main reason that I consider the team to be mediocre is that you are really only evaluating 1/2 a team. The defense, if everyone stays healthy, should be incredible. Baltimore Ravens historically incredible. With a defensive line anchored by JJ Watt and Vince Wilfork, two decent, if not spectacular, corners in Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, and a LB group that (again, if healthy) should be improved, this could be the best defensive unit in the AFC.
The problem with the Texans lies on the offensive side of the ball. How is this team going to score?
Quarterback has always been a problem for this team, since it's inception they've never seemed to get it right (although what passes for media in Houston insisted for years that Schaub was "OK" it takes more than "OK" to win at this level). That trend will continue this year as the team is trying to decide whether Browns cast-off Brian Hoyer or Patriots cast-off Ryan Mallett will take the reigns and try and get the ball to a questionable receiving unit. With the departure of Andre Johnson the WR corps now has depth and quality issues as well. While the fan base is in love with new No. 1 WR DeAndre Hopkins I'm not sold he can be near the receiver Andre was, and the 1st round draft pick of Jaelen Strong feels like just another "safe" Rick Smith draft pick, a character guy with limited upside.
Unlike most, I'm not sold that running back Arian Foster is a viable solution going forward. He's already shown himself to be fragile and his work-load is likely to increase in 2015 because there's no one on the outside to catch the balls the QB's are trying to throw. This means either a steady diet of hand-offs or dump passes to Foster in the flat, and offensive scheme that should remind fans of the David Carr/Joe Pendry era. All of that and I still haven't mentioned what I think is a shaky offensive line, tight ends that serve no purpose, and a general manager who seems clueless.
It's a good thing this team plays in the AFC South in front of the.......
Projected Record: 5-11 Third place
It almost feels hollow, as a Houston resident, to laugh at the Titans now that they are struggling. Their offense is a work in progress. Maybe we see Marcus Mariota under center maybe we don't. It won't matter though because the top WR target is the uneven ex-Giant Hakeem Nicks. Add to that a group of running backs with no punch (Bishop is named after and old decaf coffee brand fittingly) and an offensive line with the potency of a wet paper towel and you have the makings of a long season.
The defense should be OK. Not great, not bad, just OK. I think that Brian Orakpo and DaQuan Jones might be something to build on. Jason McCourty is a good veteran to try and hold together a young defensive backfield, and Michael Griffin is a very good safety in a league that's suddenly devalued them.
I'm not too inspired by the recycling of NFL average coach Ken Whisenhunt, but I'm not too sure whether EVP and General Manager Ruston Webster is getting clear direction from the management team on the heels of the passing of long-time team owner K.S. "Bud" Adams. This team will need to find a permanent management structure and sort some things out before making marked improvement.
Fortunately for them, they share a division with........
Projected Record: 4-12 Fourth place
Let's get this out of the way. The Jaguars are terrible and they're going to be for the foreseeable future until they can find a way out of Jacksonville Florida.
That said, the new ownership group has done some unique things with the stadium experience and seem to be embracing the crazy London experiment that Roger Goodell seems intent to saddle the league with.
Offensively I like Blake Bortles and I thought the 1st round pick of TJ Yeldon was a good fit for the team. At WR I'm not as thrilled considering they lost Cecil Shorts III (who I thought was their best receiver not on suspension) and don't have a current receive on the 2-deep with more than 5 years experience. To top it off, their best receiver is one Justin Blackmon, who is a great talent with a two-cent head. At RB I thought the Bernard Pierce FA signing was smart, but I'm not sure what the team plans to do with former Michigan QB Denard Robinson. The guy has some physical skills, but very little football IQ.
Defensively this team is a shambles. They have questions at defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, both safety positions and cornerback. Other than that, things seem OK. There are smatterings of potential talent, but the veterans they have are more locker-room guys than impact players, so their young 'uns are going to have to grow up rapidly for them to beat my prediction.
This is, by far, the weakest division in the AFC, possibly within the entire NFL. Last year there was a credible argument to be made for the NFC South, but I see some improvement there so this group takes the crown. Because of this, I only see one playoff team, the Colts, and I predict they will get the one seed and (importantly) home field throughout the playoffs.