AFC preview: South

Colts have to prove they are still at head of pack

August 29, 2010


Big questions: Can the Colts avoid the curse of the Super Bowl losers? Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning, but will he be affected by the shakeup of his offensive line? Where does returning receiver Anthony Gonzalez fit in now that Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have proved themselves? Is the gap closing in a division that they have dominated for so many years?

Big moves: In drafting defensive end Jerry Hughes, the Colts hope they have found a player who can rotate with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and they also intend to incorporate some three-DE looks. Guard Ryan Lilja, a fixture on the offensive line, was released in the offseason. Pete Metzelaars replaces the legendary Howard Mudd as offensive line coach, and Clyde Christensen is the new offensive coordinator.

Bottom line: As long as Manning stays healthy, the Colts will remain among the NFL's elite teams. Watch that offensive line.


Big questions: Coming off their first winning season, are the Texans ready to break through and make the playoffs? How do they compare to the Colts, whom they open against at home? How will the suspension of linebacker Brian Cushing hurt them? Can they establish a solid ground game to go with their high-flying passing attack?

Big moves: When cornerback Dunta Robinson signed with the Falcons, the Texans lost one of their best defensive players. Kicker Neil Rackers was added to compete with Kris Brown for the job. Houston had hoped rookie Ben Tate could push Steve Slaton for the No. 1 running back job, but now Tate's out for the season with an ankle injury.

Bottom line: As promising as last season was, the Texans have a long way to go. They were 1-5 in the division, and this season face the tough NFC East. They could really use Cushing in that opener against Indy.


Big questions: Can Vince Young pick up where he left off last season, when he directed the Titans to eight victories in the final 10 games? How does Chris Johnson follow his 2,000-yard season? Will losing physical and emotional leader Kyle Vanden Bosch (Lions) shake up the defense?

Big moves: Rookie Derrick Morgan has a golden opportunity to replace Vanden Bosch at defensive end. With playmaking linebacker Keith Bulluck gone to the Giants, veteran Will Witherspoon steps in to the middle of Tennessee's defense. The Titans could use some receiving help, and losing veteran tight end Alge Crumpler ( Patriots) will be an adjustment. The Titans missed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth enough that the club flirted with the idea of bringing him back.

Bottom line: The Titans made a stunning U-turn last season behind the play of Young and Johnson. The key this season will be establishing some offensive balance, and stabilizing a defense that has lost a lot of leaders.


Big questions: Is this Jack Del Rio's last chance to prove he can get the Jaguars to the playoffs? Can David Garrard step up and be more than what his coach described as a "middle-tier" quarterback? How long can Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew hold up, shouldering so much of the offensive load? Can the Jaguars generate some kind of pass rush after finishing last season with a league-low 14 sacks?

Big moves: Upgrading the defensive line was a priority, so the Jaguars drafted Cal's Tyson Alualu 10th, much higher than most pundits predicted. They also signed former Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman, who's coming off a severe knee injury.

Bottom line: Those stadium seats might be cold — selling tickets is a major problem for the Jaguars — but the seats of Del Rio and Garrard couldn't be much hotter.

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