NFL Preview Part Two: AFC South

Houston Texans

Strengths: Very solid passing attack, with Matt Schaub distributing to stud Andre Johnson and reliable options Kevin Walter, TE Owen Daniels and Andre’ Davis. At this point in there careers, is anybody going to argue that the Texans should have drafted Reggie Bush over Mario Williams and his 14 sacks last year? MLB DeMeco Ryans is the heart of the defense, and Morlon Greenwood is solid. Second year DT Amobi Okoye has a ton of potential.

Weaknesses: The running attack averaged 99.1 yards per game last year, 22nd in the NFL. The running back situation is still murky at this point, with Ahman Green and Steve Slaton the two likely to receive the most carries. The O-line was a question all of last year, and though first round pick Duane Brown has looked good so far, he’s just a youngster. Defensively, can they stop the pass? It doesn’t look like anyone on this unit will be able to generate a pass rush other than Mario Williams. That doesn’t bode well for the secondary, especially with Dunta Robinson out for at least six games. Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves aren’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of WR’s far and wide. They haven’t exactly been stout against the run, either – they need Okoye and Travis Johnson to suck up blockers so Ryans and Greenwood can roam unblocked.

The question marks: Who will step up at RB, and can somebody please help Super Mario? The zone running scheme seems to fit Slaton’s skill set, but the question with him is the same you ask of Green: can he stay healthy? And as for that rush – they brought in Roosevelt Colvin, likely for third down situations, but he has less than impressed. (Editor’s note: Whoops, he just got cut. Uh oh). Anybody seen Luigi? (Editor’s note: Maybe they could get some mushrooms to make them bigger from Jameel Cook).

Fantasy forecast: I have Andre Johnson ranked as my 5th best receiver. Pray for health. Matt Schaub is an excellent number two, and could put up good enough numbers to be your starter by the end of the year. Keep an eye on Walter, Daniels and Davis – all were viable options at different times last season. The running backs should be selected later and scoured for on the waiver wire – somebody is going to claim starter status.

Overview: It is hard to imagine the Texans being much better the 8-8 mark they posted last year. They’ll score points, especially if they stay healthy, but the defense has a lot of question marks. If the defensive line can improve its play, establish a pass rush and keep blockers off of the LB’s, they should slow opposing offenses just enough for the Houston offense to win games. But if the D falters, they may find themselves as the 4th best team in this division again.

Indianapolis Colts

Strengths: Yeah, they’re good. On offense, they attack you with Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark, plus a reliable offensive line. Bob Sanders leads a unit that finished second in passing defense and third in total defense last year. All of that without having Dwight Freeney in the lineup for 7 games. If they can generate more of a pass rush this year (28 sacks last year was tied for 26th in the NFL), they’ll be even more dangerous.

Weaknesses: They weren’t stellar against the run last year (15th in yards allowed, 10 TD’s), but it certainly isn’t a glaring weakness. The health of Manning, Harrison, Sanders and Freeney is not guaranteed. The offensive line depth will be truly tested due to the departure of Jake Scott and the injury to Jeff Saturday (Editor’s note: Boy, he’s reaching).

The question marks: It’s all about staying healthy. They cannot afford injuries to Manning, Freeney or Sanders, all of whom have either recently been injured (Mr. Manning), are coming off a season in which they were injured (Mr. Freeney), or an offseason in which they had surgery (Mr. Sanders). If one of them goes down, they’re in trouble.

Fantasy forecast: I have Peyton Manning ranked as my 3rd QB, Addai as my 3rd RB, Reggie Wayne as my 4th WR, and Dallas Clark as a top 5 TE. Harrison is a mid-round pick, and Gonzalez should go late. Their D is not a bad option. Colts are always pretty safe fantasy bets.

Overview: I mean, the Colts are consistent. Peyton Manning runs the offense so efficiently, and they have such talented skill position players, its hard to imagine that they won’t be a top team again in 2008. The best way to attack them is to find creative ways to put pressure on Manning and to run the ball, chewing up clock. Or, you could just outscore them. Good luck with that. I consider them to be one of the four legitimate Superbowl contenders in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Strengths: Their running game is top notch, and was the second best in the NFL last year. Expect Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and the solid offense line to keep jugging. David Garrard had a break-out season last year, and if he stays healthy, should improve. He threw 18 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions last year! That’s game management, people,  and he’s an above average scrambler to boot (Editor’s note: Ugggghhhh). Their defense will miss Marcus Stroud, but new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and excellent secondary depth should go a long way to keeping their defense effective. If they can pressure the QB and accumulate turnovers, the running game can grind it out and eat clock. That is, in a nutshell (Editor’s note: Did you ever wonder what kind of nut people have in mind when they use that phrase? I’ll say pistachio, but only because they’re underrated), their recipe for success.

Weaknesses: They will miss Marcus Stroud, though its not their biggest concern. That would be the wide receivers, where they’re hoping (Editor’s note: Um, I think “praying” would be more appropriate) that additions Jerry Porter (Raiders) and Troy Williamson (Editor’s note: I believe South Carolina was the last place he actually showed up) can bolster a fairly weak corps, though Williamson is looking like a possible cut. The jury is still out on whether or not Reggie Williams and Matt Jones can become consistent players. If the receivers struggle to get open, Garrard will be forced to do to much on his own, which is how QB’s end up on the sideline.

The question marks: The WR’s and the defensive line. We’ve gone over the WR’s already, but the defensive line? Isn’t that one of the strength of this team? It will be, if Rob Meier can adequately replace Marcus Stroud and rookies Derrick Harvey (Editor’s note: Yes, he finally signed) and Quentin Groves can contribute to the Jaguars pass rush. If Meier can’t keep blockers off of the linebackers and get penetration in the gaps, the run defense will suffer. And if the young guys can’t help generate front four pressure, Peyton Manning will do his thing against them. Again.

Fantasy forecast: Maurice Jones-Drew is a top 25 fantasy player. Fred Taylor will probably stay in your fantasy starting lineup all year. Garrard is worth a second QB pick for now, though he may quickly ascend to starter status. Be cautious selecting their receivers; they’re all bench guys for now. Not a bad defense pick.

Overview: They want the Colts and the division title. Bad. The running game is excellent, and they’re going to control clock. The defense may end up being a 3-4 by season’s end, which will mean QB’s are going to have to get used to brand new blitz schemes. Their secondary is solid, and Rashean Mathis is a very, very good corner. I think they are one of the four Superbowl contenders in the AFC (Editor’s note: He doesn’t want to reveal it here, but I do: this is the year they catch the Colts. Just a gut feeling).

Tennessee Titans

Strengths: Vince Young’s legs. Their running game was very good last year (5th best in the league) and will get better with the addition of Jake Scott and burner Chris Johnson, who has seemed to impress everyone so far. Albert Haynesworth is a beast in the middle, Kyle Vanden Bosch had 12 sacks last season, and they have a very good stable of LB’s led by Keith Bullock and David Thornton. They are stingy against the run and picked off opposing QB’s 22 times last year. Their defense will keep them close all year long.

Weaknesses: Vince Young’s arm. 8 TD’s to 17 INT’s is brutal. Alge Crumpler should help, but the receiving corps is probably this team’s weakest unit. And can they score in the red zone?

The question marks: It’s Vince Young. Without a doubt, the entire season hinges on the arm of number 10. He doesn’t have to carry the load of this team, but can he at least be more accurate with his throws and make better decisions? If he can manage the game and mix in big runs, the Titans, though not flashy, will have an effective offense. Though don’t expect his WR’s to make his life easy.

Fantasy forecast: Yeah, right. This is not a team conducive to fantasy football points. LenDale White isn’t a bad third to fourth option in your running back stable. Chris Johnson is worth stockpiling – he has big play potential. Alge Crumpler will probably be VY’s favorite target, so don’t be afraid of using him as a first TE if you’re up at the end of a TE run. Their defense will keep the games lower scoring and get some turnovers, so they aren’t a terrible option.

Overview: Boy, its really hard to predict this flashy but inconsistent team. (Editor’s note: Riiiiiiight). Defensively, they’ll be stout. Haynesworth is a stud, maybe the best DT is football. I don’t think anybody would say he has to step it up. (Editor’s note: Uggggghhhhh. That wasn’t even good. The Pundit really stuck his foot on his mouth with that one. Sorry, couldn’t resist). Offensively, they’ll run the ball well and pass it poorly. Really, the question is how poorly? Because if it’s better than last year, they’ll probably be in the playoff hunt again this year. If it doesn’t improve at all, they’ll finish 4th in the AFC’s deepest division.

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