Yeah, I know, it's way too early to tell, but isn't this the deepest, most talented Colts team we've seen in years? Considering the premise that they've won the division in 6 of the past 7 years, and they're deeper and better this year than they were in those years, shouldn't it follow that they will at least be the front runner to win this year's AFC South?
The Titans played only 5 games against playoff teams and won 4 of them. Their one loss was meaningless, and they housed the eventual champs; that's what they have going for them. The Colts played 7 such games and won 6, with one meaningless victory. In fact, all three teams in the AFC South played more games against eventual playoff-bound teams than did the Titans. No one had as impressive wins, but the road was tougher for teams like Jacksonville (7 games) and Houston (8 games). The division has been inflated for a few years, and seemed to regress a bit last season, thanks to the top heavy nature last season (one 13 win team and one 12 win team). Assuming the Colts can pull off 12 wins again (which you have to admit, is pretty par for the course, especially considering the relatively easy-looking sched), is it really likely that another team from this division will challenge them?
My predictions (barring season-ending injuries to star players from any team, and only considering "normal" football injuries to key players from every team...for instance, no Peyton Manning exploding bursa sacs, or even MoJo Drew ACL tears)
1. Indianapolis (13-3)-This team's got the best pass rush in the league, the deepest LB corps, the best three-man safety rotation, the best QB, three viable receiving options, and it finally added some size on the interior D-line. The only thing worrisome would be proven O-line depth, but if you believe what you hear on places like this site, guys like Jamie Thomas and Cornelius Lewis are late round/UD gems that could be talented enough to start immediately. Special teams may also be a concern. But all homerism aside, I see no major holes in this squad.
2. Houston (10-6)-Houston played 8 games against playoff teams last year, and will play 7 games this year against teams that made the 2008 playoffs. But they've got four gimmes (vs. Oak, @ Cincy, vs. Sea, @ St. Louis). They managed to throw together a competitive 8-8 record last year, despite major injuries to Schaub. "The Rosencopter" is gone, and it will take a lot of good luck to keep Schaub on the field, but when he's healthy there's not a scarier offensive trio in the league (Schaub+Slaton+Johnson), in my opinion. Add that to an up-and-coming defense featuring one of the most physically intimidating pass rushers in the NFL (Williams), a great MLB (Ryans) and a true shut-down CB (Robinson) who teams don't like to throw at, and a slew of new rookie potential difference-makers like Connor Barwin, and I think you've got the makings of a wildcard competitor.
3. Tennessee (9-7)-The same good luck that could keep Schaub on the field for Houston may swing to bad luck that finally exposes Kerry Collins and how bad the Titans passing attack is. With still no real receiving threats, it could be a long year for the flukish Titans. Yes, they managed to historically shred a few teams combining for over 600 rushing yards against the Chiefs and Lions...but those teams are terrible across the board. The Titans generally disappeared against good defenses, combining for just 163 rushing yards and 20 total points in two meetings with the Ravens (one a choke-job in the playoffs). They netted a COMBINED 141 rushing yards against the Jets, Bears and Vikings. This is all fine and dandy, if you can throw the ball when you need to. But The Titans ranked 27th in passing yards and 28th in passing TDs last year, and teams knew they couldn't throw. By the end of the season when good Ds were finding ways to stack extra help against Chris Johnson and LenDale White, the Ts were exposed. And oh, by the way, they lost one of the better run-stuffers in the league in Albert Haynesworth, and he alone may be worth a three game drop in the "W" column. Don't get me wrong, they're still good, and are stacked with vets (and former Colts!) at several key positions. But mark it here, they'll fall off at least three wins.
4. Jacksonville (7-9)-Not much to say here...Jacksonville is dog poo. Everyone likes their draft, and...whatever. The two rookie O-linemen (Britton and Monroe) fill an immediate need, but MoJo has no reason to try hard now that he's been signed, and will probably not train as hard and could have a mediocre season. Torry Holt is washed-up. David Garrard is as average as ever. Rob Meier is currently a starting DT...need I say more? I think they'll improve by two wins, simply based on their crappy schedule alone. But let's just say I can't wait for the season opener when Indy can let loose it's pass rush on those two rooks, I don't care how good they are...
Any thoughts? I know this is a Colts site, so I doubt there will be many who think the Colts can't win the division. But are they really as good as I say this year, or am I just a complete homer?