2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: AFC South (Woodhull)
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Here are my 2013 AFC South preseason predictions:
1. Tennessee Titans (schedule): 11-5
Last year, I wrote about the Titans that I “made a last-minute change to drop them by two wins and into second place in the division.”
The good news is Tennessee clearly did not win the division. The bad news, they were still nowhere near the nine wins I had predicted. At the time, I said this is a team that is a year away and I’ll stick with that plan – making it the Titans year.
They continued to make huge upgrades to the offensive line drafting Chance Warmack from Alabama – the man plays like a human bulldozer. They also grabbed Andy Levitre in free agency, to replace the retiring Steve Hutchinson. I expect to see a resurgent Chris Johnson, now that he will have holes to run through.
Defensively, they have two good pass rushing ends, Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, and they added veteran leadership, Bernard Pollard at safety, and Moises Fouku at linebacker, so we should see an improved defense.
Ultimately, and it will come as no surprise that success, rests on the development of Jake Locker. They don’t need him to be great, just good enough and mistake-free.
2. Houston Texans (schedule): 10-6
The Texans could still be the best team in the AFC this year and yet struggle to the make the playoffs at the same time. They have arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL and it would come as no surprise to see them sub-.500 heading into their Week 8 bye.
They play at Baltimore, at San Francisco, and at Kansas City (always tough to play in Arrowhead and I think the Chiefs are better this year – more to come on that). Not to mention home bouts with Tennessee, Seattle, and St. Louis (more to come on those Rams, too). In my eyes, the easiest game in the opening stretch is at San Diego week 1. Close to even after that stretch should be an accomplishment.
The other challenge Houston faces this year is a roster that is aging out. Much of their core has been together for five years now, and we’ve also seen some attrition in the talent via free agency (i.e., Connor Barwin). Fortunately they still have super-talented players like J.J. Watt, Arian Foster, Duane Brown, Andre Johnson, etc. to carry them to another successful season.
3. Indianapolis Colts (schedule): 7-9
The Colts are an interesting case this year. They are a year improved and probably a better overall squad, but their record will fall a few games shy of the amazing run last year. They play the same tough NFC West as the Texans. Plus last year they benefited from the easiest schedule in the NFL and a won a few games courtesy of last-minute Andrew Luck heroics.
Although losing Bruce Arians in the offseason to Arizona could be a setback, bringing in Pep Hamilton was a great move to continue to develop the growth of Andrew Luck. Hamilton was the offensive coordinator at Stanford and early word from camp is that the offense is clicking.
This team is still young, and getting better. They’ll challenge every opponent week in and week out, but they will be looking up at both the Texans and Titans in the division this year.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (schedule): 2-14
Typically, I wouldn’t read too much into the first pre-season game, but in this case it illustrates what I expect out of Jacksonville this year. In the Jags first three possessions (a.k.a. when starters actually play) of their loss to the Dolphins, they accumulated 14 yards of offense over their 14 plays. Now it doesn’t take much skill in analyzing football to know that a yard per play does not lead to much success.
Drafting Luke Joeckel will help immediately on a bad offensive line, but I haven’t seen anything out of Blaine Gabbert that would imply a starting quarterback in the NFL. (Editor's note: C'mon, Steve. Blaine is the "Real American.") They have Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’s on the wrong side of the career arc and Justin Blackmon hasn’t spent enough time on the field to prove he can be an elite wide receiver in the NFL.
Overall the Jags are so thin across both sides of the ball – we are looking at years to rebuild. I originally slotted four wins for the Jags, but in looking at the team and a very tough division, I knocked them down a couple to forecast a repeat of last year's two wins.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.