AFC SOUTH (with teams in predicted order of finish)
Strengths: The Colts’ offense has been near the top of the league for many of Peyton Manning’s seasons their. With Marvin Harrison returning from injury and second year man Anthony Gonzalez becoming more familiar with the offense, the Colts’ attack could be even better in 2008. The defense was outstanding last season, finishing 3rd in the league in yards allowed and holding teams to under 20 points on 9 occasions....all while Dwight Freeney missed 7 games due to injury and LB Rob Morris saw action in just two games.
Weaknesses: The health of Peyton Manning means everything to this team as back up Jim Sorgi is a very inexperienced QB. It will be interesting to watch Manning recover from a major injury for the first time in his career. Under Manning and Dungy the offense has always been in sync, whether number 18's absence from training camp disrupts that will also be an interesting story line to follow.
Strengths: The Jags have the best 1-2 punch at running back in the game. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for nearly 2,000 yards in 2007 with Jones also being a very good receiver coming out of the backfield. David Gerrard more than adequately took over for Byron Leftwich and ended the season with the third best QB rating in the NFL. Should he continue his progression the Jags could open up the passing attack and take advantage of the newly acquired speedster, Jerry Porter. Jacksonville also returns the 12th ranked defense with only Marcus Stroud being the most notable departure.
Weaknesses: Not much of a weakness, but the Jags looked to improve their pass rush from a season ago by moving up in the draft and taking Florida DE Derrick Harvey–however, Harvey has yet to sign meaning they will again have to find ways to get to the QB without a pure rusher. While they return most of their regulars from a year ago, the Jags will be without defensive coordinator Mike Smith who left to take the head coaching position in Atlanta.
Strengths: The Titans return the key players to their defense that finished 5th in the league and added Jevon Kearse. Kearse returns after spending the last 4, relatively unproductive seasons with the Eagles. Barring injury, the Titans should again have one of the NFL’s premier defensive units....
Weaknesses: ....which is good because Tennessee returns one of the weakest offenses in the league. The Titans ranked 21st in total offense, but the true weakness was that under the direction of Vince Young the Titans mustered under 200 yards a game through the air as he threw just 9 TD to 17 picks and the offense broke the 30 point mark just twice. If the Titans are going to go anywhere in the tough AFC South, VY and the offense need to find the end zone on more than just 26 occasions.
Strengths: The Texans’ offense, despite the injuries to Matt Schaub, played fairly well in 2007 finishing 14th in total yardage. The arrival of Alex Gibbs means the Texans should see even better line play and allow for their running game to top the 99 yards/game average of a year ago. Full seasons from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson could put the Texans among the top 10 passing offenses in the league.
Weaknesses: Despite the play of Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans, Houston has some concerns on D. They brought in pass rushing specialist Rosevelt Colvin from the Patriots, but starting corner Dunta Robinson will be out for the first half of the season. The secondary got torched for 230 yards/game last season and finished last in the league with just 11 picks. While there are some high expectations in Houston, those could come crashing down very early as they open the season against the Steelers, Ravens, Titans, Jaguars and Colts, with just two of those games at home. Even 2 wins during that stretch would be respectable, but if 0-5 were to happen it would sink their season before they get to the bye week.
The Colts will struggle without Peyton Manning under center and would hand the division to the Jags. However, even with a healthy Manning, the Colts are going to be in a battle as the Jags are poised to make 2008 the year the Colts are finally dethroned. These two meet in week 3 in Indy. Meanwhile, given the lack of offense, it was quite surprising that the Titans were able to finish 10-6 last year. This season they will have one of the tougher schedules in the NFL (thanks to the schedule rotation giving them the AFC and NFC North) and without improved play from VY and the offense, the Titans could easily miss the playoffs. The Houston Texans are the darkhorse pick for a lot of people, but they are still a fairly young team with a bad defense and unless the secondary can somehow be shored up, teams will continue to throw at them and be successful. A problem the Texans can do nothing about is the 4 playoff teams they will face by week 5, meaning this team will not get much of an opportunity to iron out their problems.
Look for the Colts and Jags to battle it out for the AFC South crown, while the Titans and Texans struggle to get above .500.