Afc South

September 05, 2002|By KEN MURRAY

Houston Texans

Last season: 0-0.

Coach: Dom Capers (30-34), first year with Texans, fifth in NFL.

Story line: Is David Carr ready to quarterback an expansion team as a rookie?

Power game: The Texans went for established starters with big contracts in the expansion draft, then selectively attacked a diluted free-agent market. Among the starters they pulled out of the expansion draft were former Ravens LB Jamie Sharper, CBs Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman and DLs Gary Walker and Seth Payne.

Achilles' heel: The Texans thought they put in the cornerstones of the offensive line when they took tackles Tony Boselli and Ryan Young with the first two picks of the expansion draft. But neither player will make the opener because of injuries. After three shoulder surgeries since November, there's no telling when Boselli will return.

Pressure's on: Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Coming off his fiasco in Cleveland, Palmer needs to show he hasn't lost his touch with quarterbacks.

Ticket to San Diego: Although the Texans wanted to replace the Ravens in the AFC North, they have a better chance to rise more quickly in the AFC South.

Indianapolis Colts

Last season: 6-10, fourth place, AFC East.

Coach: Tony Dungy (54-42), first year with Colts, seventh in NFL.

Story line: How fast can Dungy get the Colts' tepid defense up to playoff speed?

Power game: The Colts will still lean heavily on QB Peyton Manning, who took a beating last season and threw 23 interceptions, second most in the league. It wasn't for lack of a running game, either, once RB Edgerrin James went down. Dominic Rhodes -- lost for this season with knee injury -- still gained 1,104 yards.

Achilles' heel: The Colts' defense ranked 29th overall, 27th against the pass, 25th against the run and gave up the most points in the league. Dungy's cover-two scheme should keep them in games, but they need more bodies.

Pressure's on: Owner Jim Irsay. He's talking quietly about expanding revenues and a new stadium. So far, the city of Indianapolis is only listening. Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles carrot is out there dangling in front of Irsay, should he look for other solutions.

Ticket to San Diego: In an era of quick turnarounds, the Colts make an intriguing study. But they probably are a year and another draft away from being a real threat.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Last season: 6-10, fifth place, AFC Central.

Coach: Tom Coughlin (62-50), eighth year with Jaguars.

Story line: Have the Jaguars bottomed out yet or are they still in free-fall?

Power game: With QB Mark Brunell, the Jaguars still have potential to have one of the league's best passing attacks. They have to replace WR Keenan McCardell, who was cut. Former Raven Patrick Johnson and ex-Steeler Bobby Shaw will try to complement Jimmy Smith, who missed the preseason in a contract dispute. If RB Fred Taylor can stay healthy, the Jaguars have enough weapons on offense to win.

Achilles' heel: This is a team that is perilously thin. Injuries can decimate the Jaguars, as they have the past two years. Coughlin copied the Patriots' blueprint in the off-season and went after second-tier free agents. He needs to hit on several of them if the Jaguars are to contend.

Pressure's on: Coughlin. The team has fallen hard since its 14-2 season in 1999 and even though the coach signed a one-year extension, he can't afford another futile campaign.

Ticket to San Diego: The bigger question is, can they hold off the Texans?

Tennessee Titans

Last season: 7-9, fourth place AFC Central.

Coach: Jeff Fisher (65-53), ninth year with Titans.

Story line: Is RB Eddie George finished or can he make it back as an elite runner?

Power game: With their running game diminished, the Titans became a passing team last year. Some of that was playing from behind, but a lot of it was the maturation of QB Steve McNair, who played through elbow problems. A return to prominence by the injured George would balance the offense.

Achilles' heel: The Titans' secondary was a shambles last year and the team finished 31st in pass defense. The pass-rushing combination of Jevon Kearse (10 sacks) and Kevin Carter (two) never came close to expectations, and injuries made the defense a glaring weakness.

Pressure's on: Second-year defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. After the defense plummeted from first in the league to 25th, injuries notwithstanding, the Titans need to make a statement.

Ticket to San Diego: Not as far-fetched as you might think, playing in this division. If George is healthy and the defense comes back, a good playoff run is a possibility.

-- Team previews by Ken Murray

MVP candidate -- QB Peyton Manning, Colts

Impact rookie -- QB David Carr Texans

Best pickup -- FS Lance Schilters, Titans

Biggest Loss -- WR Keenan McCardell, Jaguars

Most Vulnerable -- Coach Tom Coughlin, Jaguars

Best comback -- RB Eddie George, Titans

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Jamison Hensley

Titans

Colts*

Jaguars

Texans

Ed Lee

TITANS

Colts

Texans

Jaguars

Brent Jones

Colts

Titans

Jaguars

Texans

Ken Murray

Titans

Colts

Jaguars

Texans

Mike Preston

Colts

Titans

Jaguars

Texans

* -- Wild Cards, ALL CAPS -- AFC Champ

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