2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: AFC South (Hanson)
Here are my 2013 preseason predictions for the AFC South with full-season records:
1. Houston Texans (schedule): 11-5
In each of the past two seasons, the Texans have won a playoff game before their postseason exit. Heading into the 2013 season, making it to — and winning just one game — is clearly not the (full) goal of this Texans' squad.
The Texans have one of the league's best rushing attacks with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Some may worry about Foster's cumulative workload over the past three seasons, his career-low 4.1 yards-per-carry average last year and an offensive line that isn't as elite as it once was. That said, Tate has shown that he can carry the load when Foster does miss a game or two and Foster leads the NFL over the past three seasons in yards from scrimmage (5,702) and touchdowns (47).
In addition, the team finally drafted a first-round receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, for the first time since they selected Andre Johnson in Round 1 in 2003. Johnson set a career high and franchise record last year with 1,598 yards, his third 1,500-yard season in the past five years.
On defense, the Texans added future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed, who helped lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl last year. While Reed is recovering from offseason hip surgery and nearing the end of his illustrious career, he provides veteran leadership. In addition to getting back Brian Cushing, one of the league's best inside linebackers, the Texans have one of the freakiest of athletic freaks in defensive end J.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has set his goal on becoming the founding member of "the 20-20-20 club: 20 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 20 batted balls."
With the bounce-back season of the Colts last year, they may have a real threat to their reign as the AFC South division champ, but I expect to Texans to hold them off for at least one more year.
2. Indianapolis Colts (schedule): 10-6
Despite a season where they faced what others might have perceived to be insurmountable obstacles, the Colts overcame those challenges to post a nine-game improvement and make the postseason.
Not only did the team have a first-year head coach, but he was absent from the sidelines for most of the year as he fought a more important battle against Leukemia — and won (at least up to this point). Even though they won the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes and landed one of the most highly-touted quarterbacks in draft history, they odds were stacked against them.
While my projections have them winning one game less than they had last season, I still believe this team is better.
Not only do they have Andrew Luck, who led the league with seven game-winning drives, but they added reinforcements to their offensive line and defense in general. In addition, 34-year-old Reggie Wayne had one of the best seasons of his career and should be in store for another highly productive year. Provided he can stay healthy, Ahmad Bradshaw is an excellent fit in Pep Hamilton's west-coast offense.
For a second year in a row, the Colts will win double-digit games and advance to the postseason.
3. Tennessee Titans (schedule): 6-10
The Titans had their share of issues last year, but they took one of their biggest weaknesses, their interior offensive line, and turned it into a strength. That improvement should allow the Titans to run the ball more consistently in 2013.
Earlier this preseason, SI's Peter King projected a season of 320 carries for Chris Johnson despite the offseason addition of Shonn Greene. As an indecisive runner that seemed to always look to hit the home run, CJ2K had his share of big games (four 100-yard games) and flops (five games with less than 30 yards) as well in 2012.
For the team to take a step forward, however, they will rely on their young and inaccurate quarterback to make significant strides. Except for his lack of accuracy, which of course is as important as any other attribute for a signal-caller, Jake Locker has the physical tools and intangibles to be successful. Improving (in)accuracy can be extremely challenging, though.
For a completely different view than I have, both Steve Woodhull (see his predictions) and Sean Beazley (see his predictions) have the Titans winning the division ... but I think they're wrong, obviously.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (schedule): 4-12
The Jaguars are clearly the bottom-feeders of this division and one of the league's worst teams. We have seen with the Colts how a franchise can be turned around with an elite quarterback and the Jaguars could easily find themselves in position to select Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, a potential franchise-changing quarterback, in 2014.
For 2013, however, they will hope that Maurice Jones-Drew can return to the form that he showed two years ago when he led the NFL in rushing. Considering he's entering the final year of his contract, MJD will be highly motivated to produce although he has always played with a chip on his shoulder.
Even though Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games of the season, Blackmon and Cecil Shorts form a talented young duo of receivers and Blaine Gabbert looked better early in the preseason than in he has looked early in his career.
No team had fewer sacks than the Jaguars (20.0) and the team ranked 30th in the league in rushing defense (141.0 yards allowed per game) last year. The team used five of its eight draft picks on the secondary in the draft and FIU's Jonathan Cyprien has the tools to be special. Eventually Gus Bradley will improve the team's defense, but there is a lot of work to be done on that side of the ball.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.