1. Indianapolis Colts OTC Projected Record: 13-3
Calling Card: Passing Game
Weakness: Offensive Line and Running Game
Franchise Player: Peyton Manning
Seven straight years winning at least 12 games. 4 MVP awards. Personified class. The best quarterback to ever live by the time all is said and done. I cannot say enough about Peyton Manning and the Colts. Even when they have flaws (last in rushing last two years), they are exquisite and nearly unbeatable when they try to win. There are plenty of things to talk about on this team, but not all of them are great, so we will try to focus on some of the more controversial areas of the 2010-11 Indianapolis Colts.
Peyton Manning. That is all you need to know to be sure that the offense will be just fine this year. However, there are several things worth looking at for the Colts on offense. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown struggled to get the running game going, but still did an oustanding job both catching the ball and blocking for Manning. This year the Colts would like to establish a running game like they had in the past, but it is unclear whether or not they will be able to successfully do so. Much of that lies on the offensive line, which lacks brawn (though not brains) in its blocking. The Colts struggled to run it inside as a result, and teams knew this so they did not have to defend the run so much inside. Really, given the one-dimensional nature of the Colts offense, it is incredible what Peyton Manning did last year. Given his expertise and the fact that the running game should only get better, the Colts should be fine.
The only thing I can really nitpick about here is the offensive line. The Colts have proven they really don’t need a consistent running game, but they do need that offensive line, and injuries to Jeff Saturday and rotating doors at tackle leave some questions about the offense. I assume Saturday will be back in time, but this tackle problem has been a problem for a while, but the Colts have worked around it. If Tony Ugoh can step up while Charlie Johnson is hurt, things will be ok, but the injuries are really piling up.
Oh, and the Colts are loaded at receiver too with Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark.
This defense was sneaky-good last year. They had far more success stopping the run under Larry Coyer and their pass defense, while it did give up more big plays, was still very solid. The Colts even addressed the defense in the draft with the (awesome) draft pick of Jerry Hughes. He should be able to spell Freeney and Mathis, and that should hopefully keep them healthy for much of the year. Speaking of staying healthy, imagine how good this defense would be if the had Bob Sanders. I personally think they should sit him for the first 12 weeks, play him 1, rest him 1, play him 1, and then rest him the week before the playoffs, insuring that he stay healthy. Even without him, Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt are very solid safeties, and with Jacob Lacey, Jerraud Powers, and Kelvin Hayden on the edges, the Colts are more than solid in the secondary. We all know about the front 4, but the linebackers are really good too with the underrated Gary Brackett, Clint Sessions and potentially 2nd round pick Pat Angerer. They are all fast and good tacklers and while they have had issues against the run in the past, those problems seem to be under control as this very underrated unit moves forward.
The return game is always a weakness of the Colts, but it looks like they have some guys in camp capable of giving Peyton Manning better field position. Pat McAfee is a beast punting, Adam Vinatieri/Matt Stover will be good kicking, and kick coverage seems to be solid most of the time.
If the offensive line stays healthy, they should make it 8 seasons in a row with 12 wins. In Manning We Trust.
2. Houston Texans OTC Projected Record: 9-7
Calling Card: Offense
Weakness: Defense and Turnovers
Franchise Player: Andre Johnson
Everyone’s darling once again, but what has changed. We know they have an elite offense and that their defense is decent, but they lack mental toughness still. Last year they lost many close games, and it was not a fluke. Where teams like the Colts found a way to win, the Texans found a way to lose. I am not sold that has changed with this team. There is no questioning their talent level, and I have no intention of doing so, but I am simply questioning their credentials as winners.
Schaub is excellent. Andre Johnson is the best WR in football. Owen Daniels is a very solid receiving TE, and Jacoby Jones is a deep threat. Arian Foster and Steve Slaton make up a very good running back tandem. The offensive line is good too. Kind of boring when you list it out like that, but I’m not sure how else to put it. The Texans are just straight up talented. I am still not sure if Schaub’s injury problems are behind him, but if they are, then I see little reason the Texans can’t repeat their performance as an offense. The only thing of interest I can really say about it is that Arian Foster has what it takes to be this team’s main man at RB. He is a tough runner much like Domanick Davis was and doesn’t have the fumble problems of Steve Slaton. I like him a lot.
This defense was actually pretty respectable last year, but is still probably the weakness of the team. Kareem Jackson, the rookie 1st rounder out of Alabama should step in and be an effective in-your-face corner and give a secondary in need of some help a serious boost. Mario Williams is validating being picked above Reggie Bush every year, and though Brian Cushing will miss some time due to lame steroids excuses, they still have Xavier Adibi and plenty of solid LBs to fill in. They are not as talented as the offense, but are not lacking in talent, they just are a decent unit instead of being elite. However, much of that “mental toughness” knock falls on them as they never seem to make plays when they really matter. If the Texans are to make that playoff jump everyone expects of them, this will be the unit that improves to get them there.
Jacoby Jones is a very good return man and while Kris Brown missed some key kicks last year, he was solid when it was not crunch time. Once again, you see mental toughness being an issue here, but the Texans special teams have seemed decent to me.
Gary Kubiak’s men need to step it up in the mental toughness category in order to make the jump to the playoffs. However, I do not see it happening in time for it to matter and the Texans fall just short again.
3. Tennessee Titans OTC Projected Record: 9-7
Calling Card: Running Game
Weakness: QB Consistency
Franchise Player: Chris Johnson
This team showed a ton of growth last year after its 0-6 start, finally fighting back to 8-8 behind Vince Young, Chris Johnson and a healthy defense. This year, the Titans hope to keep their secondary healthy and find someone to replace Keith Bulluck, who left in the offseason. If they had kept him, I might have even bumped them a win, but that was a key loss, both on the field and in the locker room. A lot of pressure will be on Stephen Tulloch to step up and take over a very tough defense. Kyle VandenBosch left as well, so Derrick Morgan must step up in his rookie year to get pressure on the quarterback. Things will be interesting with the Titans this year.
To say the offense needs Chris Johnson is to say that Mel Kiper needs hair gel. It is an understatement. Without him, they are completely sunk, but lucky for them, they have him. They also have Vince Young coming into this season as the starter for the first time in two years and brimming with confidence. Kenny Britt and Nate Washington might not be the most consistent receiving options, but the Titans did just fine with them last year as Young did what he had to through the air and let Johnson gash teams on the ground. The offense will not be flashy, but Chris Johnson will be flashy and productive enough for everyone. Oh, and if he isn’t? Crash and burn.
This is unquestionably a defense in flux. They lost the two most prominent players in Keith Bulluck and Kyle VandedBosch, and are coming off a very up and down year in which they oscillated between horrid and solid. If there are more injuries, they are doomed
(much like the start of last year), but if they stay healthy, I could see this defense being very respectable and holding opponents down enough to keep the length of the field reasonable for the offense. Like the offense, not flashy, but solid enough.
Really, the Texans and Titans are polar opposites. The Texans are wildly talented and lack mental toughness, and the Titans have mediocre talent and more mental toughness than a contestant on Fear Factor. I’d personally rather have the latter.
Always good, and usually wins them at least two games.
What Jeff Fisher’s squad lacks in talent, they make up for in guts. However, guts alone do not make the playoffs and the Titans will find themselves just short like last year.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars OTC Projected Record: 6-10
Calling Card: Running Game
Franchise Player: Maurice Jones-Drew
Every year, the Jags seem a lot like the Titans. Tough, solid running the ball, play the Colts close, and just not quite enough to make it over the hump. However, this year the Titans have Chris Johnson, Vince Young and a solid defense, and the Jags have MoJo Drew, David Garrard, and a very mediocre defense. The first two are almost a wash, but the final one is the difference between 9-7 and 6-10 in this very tough division.
David Garrard usually puts up solid numbers, it seems like he gets them as the result of being behind more than anything. However, Mike Sims-Walker was very good at the beginning of last year and opened things up for the offense. Unfortunately, the defense was so bad that it didn’t really matter too much. MoJo Drew is still their main weapon, but the offensive line has seen better days, so not all is simply solved by this bowling ball of a back. He is by far their best player; the biggest issue is that their second best is so far below MoJo. The running game should be solid, but not enough to keep this team in the playoff race in a very competitive division.
Not a fan. Not a fan of their draft pick in Tyson Alualu. Not a fan of most of their secondary. Not a fan in general. In most divisions they would be fine, but when you have to face the Texans and Colts twice, te secondary should really be a focal point. They were 23rd in total yards per game, and while part of that has to do with the quality in their division, they were not really able to stop anyone last year. The defense forced the offense to try and outgun their opponents, and that just does not work for the Jags.
Solid but unspectacular. Moving on.
The Jaguars are stuck in a very good division with teams that just happen to be built perfectly to beat them. It will not be too ugly for the Jags this year and they will compete like always, but it will not be enough.