AFC SOUTH: Enthralling quarterbacks and poor geography highlight a division of southern-fried excitement smothered in the gravy of unpredictability.
Dan "The Guru Doctor" notorizes the AFC South:
1. Indianapolis Colts
Already the crème de la AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts picked up Corey Simon during the preseason, but it's unclear where they'll use him in their offense, at least until they've decided which offensive position Dwight Freeney is going to be converted to. Tony Dungy also plans on using nine-receiver formations and dealing with the constant irreversible penalties that will result, or, alternatively, Dungy may just start receivers on the offensive line in case any balls get tipped in their direction. Reggie Wayne took off last year and may even surpass Marvin Harrison this season, plus with the improving Dallas Clark at tight end and the inexplicably unwanted 1500-yard monster Edgerrin James in a contract year, the Colts will continue to make NFL defenses look like they belong in the WAC Conference. The Colts are a lock to make the playoffs, but until Peyton Manning shoots a commercial which somehow defeats the Patriots, the Colts will continue to spend Superbowl Sunday in their respective living rooms, racking up hundreds of offensive yards catching passes from their other family members.
The Colts' third down receiver package
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Every four years or so, the NFL's salary cap bends a franchise over and just relentlessly reams it, leaving that team to stagger away weary and bleeding into three seasons of high draft picks. By 2004, the Jaguars' sphincter had finally recovered, and in '05, they hope to be the ones doing the reaming to the rest of the NFL. QB Byron Leftwich is considered an extremely athletic quarterback, a euphemism so transparent, the media might as well just call him "urban." Fred Taylor can still be a threat in the open field, but he just got hurt twice as I was typing this sentence, I think my words scarred cartilage in his knee. Yes, Jimmy Smith is back, but he was there and not 40 when this team went 14-2 in 1999 and they still didn't get to the Superbowl. Jack Del Rio's new-era Jaguars are tougher and more balanced than the Coughlin/Brunell teams who consistently collapsed under the weight of their own gaudy stats once the playoffs came. This year, if Reggie Williams bursts out as a legit deep threat, the Jags could scrape another win out of their schedule, reach the playoffs, and Del Rio will be dancing in the sand.
The cover of Fred Taylor's playbook
3. Houston Texans
Now that they're in their fourth season, if the Texans are unable to post a winning record, expect Dom Capers to be fired and to lobby the NFL to add another expansion team so that he can land another coaching job ("I'm serious - the Portland Tealsharks! It rolls of the tongue!") Evaluating the Texans' club is tricky, as most of their players haven't gone through puberty yet, but if QB David Carr realizes there are other receivers on his team other than the act of getting sacked, this offense could take a Texas-sized leap forward. Running back Domanick Davis... or Andre Davis? Andre Johnson. Domanick Johnson? Anyway, running back Johnsonson Davis is an up-and-comer, and former first-round-pick Davejons Andre is blossoming as one of the NFL's premier deep threats, while just plain Andre is still a seal. I don't think this team has the personnel to hit the playoffs, though, partly because adding Phillip Buchanon doesn't address their weaknesses on their defensive front, but mostly because I still cannot fathom that this is an actual, viable NFL franchise. What is that logo? They're the Texans! Are they saying that the residents of Texas are bulls with stars for their eyes?
This team doesn't exist yet, but Dom Capers will be their first head coach.
4. Tennessee Titans
Steve McNair's injury-riddled body may resemble the gameboard from "Operation," but the Titans have to overcome bigger problems this season than butterflies and wishbones. With Derrick Mason gone, Tennessee's receiving duo of Drew "Garbage Yards" Bennett and Youngie McDraftpick is probably the league's weakest, except for whoever the 49ers have. (Maybe Irving Fryar? What ever happened to Tai Streets?) The Titans do have some building blocks: the running back tandem of Chris Brown and Travis Henry will adequately overcompensate for the 1.3 yards per carry that Eddie George supplied his last couple seasons, and rookie Adam "Pac Man" Jones is the team's most intriguing defensive playmaker since Samari "Dig Dug" Rolle and Jevon "Ship From Galaga" Kearse. The youngsters are in good hands with Jeff Fisher, now in his 12th season, and first-year offensive coordinator Norman Chow from USC, but it might be another year before the Titans can chow down on a playoff spot. This year, they'll have to chow down on some rebuilding sandwiches, which should still taste better than the everyone’s-injured salads this team had to eat in 2004.
Steve McNair has been medically cleared to start the Titans' opener.