We are under the one month window before the 2012 NFL season, which has all of our writers here at The Waiver Wire gearing up for another year of debates, poorly made bets and trash-talking. This year, we’ve decided to break down the season-to-be division by division. We will preview all eight divisions and pick our division winners, likely wild cards for both the AFC and NFC, and even which teams will be lining up for the Matt Barkley 2013 Draft Sweepstakes.
The AFC South has changed drastically in the past few season. The division was once dominated by the Colts, who now find themselves coming off a season as the worst team in the NFL. The always mediocre Texans finally broke through in 2011 as the division winner and are now the only team in the division not rebuilding with a young QB. Will 2012 be a run away year for the Texans as all other teams in the divisions try to prepare for the future, or will Andrew Luck, Blaine Gabbert, or Jake Locker surprise us all?
1.) Houston Texans
MC: The Texans easily won the South last year and it’s a pretty safe bet to say they’ll repeat. Houston was good enough to advance in the playoffs while starting their 3rd string QB and they finished 10-6 despite starter Matt Schaub missing the final six games with a broken foot. They boast one of the best running back/bow tie combos in the league in Arian Foster (helped mightily by the famous zone-blocking scheme that helped Denver for so many years) and one of the best wide receivers in Andre Johnson. Beyond that they have an elite cornerback in Jonathan Joseph and a reliable tight end in Owen Daniels. The future looks pretty bright for the NFL’s newest team.
So what’s the downside? The Texans are looking at a very tough schedule including road games at Chicago, Detroit, New York, Denver and New England. They are also going to be dealing with the short rest of a game on Thanksgiving. They do have two in division opponents which almost guarantee four free wins as the Colts and Jaguars are among the bottom of the league. Still, injuries were a major factor in Houston’s undoing last year and those issues haven’t totally been resolved. Matt Schaub seems to be totally recovered but Andre Johnson’s health is still in question. After being plagued with hamstring injuries in 2011, Johnson needed off season knee surgery and has now missed camp time with groin issues (insert VD joke here). Houston also has to be worried about the loss of Jason Allen as it weakens their pass coverage unit.
These are tiny gripes in the big picture and the Texans seem set to be among the top teams in the AFC.
AH: The Titans were definitely under the radar last season for a team that finished the year 9-7. Chris Johnson got off to a terrible start, leading many to believe him to be done in only his fourth NFL season. Two years after rushing for over 2,000 yards and 14 TDs, CJ barely eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground with only 4 TDs to back it up. However it’s likely this is the absolute worst that can be expected from him as he has never had less than 10 total TDs before last season.
There is a lot to look forward to on the offensive side of the ball for the Titans besides hoping Chris Johnson actually remembers he can outrun anyone else in the league. For one thing, Kenny Britt got off to an outstanding start last year before going down for the season with an injury. In his first two games, he had 135.5 YPG and 3 total TDs. Nate Washington did a great job stepping up and recording his first 1,000 yard season. Although it’s not clear who the Titans will have under center week 1, they have the choice between the always mediocre but always consistent Matt Hasselbeck who threw for his third highest yardage total last season or sophomore Jake Locker who appeared in five games last season and threw for over 500 yards with 4 TDs and 0 picks.
Yet even with a chance for offensive explosion, Chris Johnson no longer looks like he can compete with the Arian Foster/Ben Tate backfield in Houston and Jake Locker to Kenny Britt doesn’t seem the same as Schaub to Andre Johnson. Look for the Titans to make a run but nothing the Texans shouldn’t be able to handle.
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars
MC: It’s a shame Blaine Gabbert hasn’t given Fantasy Football players a reason to draft him robbing countless leagues of the team name Yo Gabba Gabbert. Gabbert’s horrendous rookie year has to be a big point of concern for Jacksonville but the team is committed to let him to develop and try and live up to his high draft position. On the plus side he wins the contest for “Player Whose Name Sounds Most Like that of a Jerky Rich Teenager in an 80′s Movie.” (That contest is itself prestigious for its “Worst Contest Title Name” award)
The biggest story affecting the Jags right now is there high profile holdout, Maurice Jones-Drew. They recently dealt with their other major holdout, first round draft pick Justin Blackmon but now are at a standstill with their star running back who they refuse to give a new deal to while he has two years left on his current one. Assuming Jones-Drew returns things could be looking up, long term, for the Jags. They have new ownership and a new coaching staff and a surprisingly solid defense to build around. Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove but Blackmon is an exciting new toy for the second year QB and Jones-Drew guarantees a running game.
Aside from the uncertain offense the Jaguars are short on depth. An injury to their O-line would be a major set back and it Jones-Drew is currently holding out and can’t be counted on as part of the team until the hold out ends. We know how well Chris Johnson’s 2011 went after an extended holdout and it’s quite possible MoJo could suffer the same fate.
The Jaguars could be on the upswing but they still have major question marks and could call their season a success by simply beating last year’s 5-11 finish.
AH: OMG Andrew Luck! I may be one of the few people in the country not ready to hand Luck the crown of Rookie of the Year and MVP for 2017 before this season begins but I’ve seen too many overhyped rookies to fall for that trap again. That being said, drafting him and getting rid of Peyton was the right move for the Colts because even with Peyton in his prime, the Colts don’t have the supporting cast to seek the Lombardi Trophy in 2012. That explains why the Colts are listed at the bottom of this division already because I don’t think even the staunchest Luck believers think he’ll be better than Peyton in his rookie year.
The Colts have notoriously been poor at drafting players to help in the running game or on defense, seemingly trying to win entirely around Peyton’s ability to hit perfect passes at the right time and shootout to a higher score than their opponent and to be fair, it did work once. However, this is a problem that still afflicts the Colts in 2012 as they have no real running threats, very few good pieces on defense, and really not too many people for Luck to even throw to. Maybe in 2017, when Andrew Luck has already broken half of Favre’s career records the Colts will put it all together but I would expect the Colts to repeat as worst team in the league before they made a run at the division in 2012.