The AFC South is the Lost Division. The Indianapolis Colts, who used to play in Baltimore, are farther north than Cincinnati or Baltimore of the AFC North.
The Tennessee Titans used to be the Houston Oilers. The Houston Texans have now filled the void as the latest expansion team. The Jacksonville Jaguars used to be an expansion team but never acted like it until now.
When realignment was being discussed, this division was referred to as the "Super Bowl" division because Tennessee had just been there, Jacksonville was in the AFC title game and Indianapolis was knocking on the door with young quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Edgerrin James.
Now it's considered the AFC's weakest division, the only division in the NFL with all losing teams from a year ago, plus a brand new one.
If the Texans win the Super Bowl, this parity thing will have gone too far.
The Titans were once the pride of Adelphia Coliseum. Adelphia was once the pride of Nashville. Both fell on hard times. Coach Jeff Fisher still has the nucleus of those back-to-back 13-3 teams, which he believes more accurately reflect his chances than last year's 7-9 edition.
Good: Eddie George is back. After a painful toe injury kept him under 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his six-year career, George is healthy and determined to average more than 3 yards a carry. Quarterback Steve McNair is confident after his best season. Pass rushers Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter look to rebound.
Bad: The Titans were 31st in pass defense and can only hope the addition of 49ers safety Lance Schulters to replace stalwart Blaine Bishop, plus the development of second-round draft pick Tank Williams, turns the coverage around. They'll find out in a hurry when they play the Colts. They also must make up for the loss of steady Bruce Matthews and Jason Fisk on the lines.
Tony Dungy replaces Jim Mora as coach of a team that gave up an unacceptable 30 points a game, most in the league. Not even Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James at their best can be expected to overcome that. Dungy is busy adding his kind of quick defenders, including rookie speed rusher Dwight Freeney.
Good: The addition of receiver Qadry Ismail should help the trio. He must replace departed Jerome Pathon and Terrance Wilkins. Dungy expects a lot from ex-Bears cornerback Walt Harris. The Colts were the second-highest-scoring team in the league behind the Rams. Give Dungy 26 points a game and he usually wins.
Bad: Injuries beset training camp, affecting half the starting defense plus backup running back Dominic Rhodes, who gained 1,100 yards after James went down. With Rhodes out for the season, the full recovery of James from serious knee surgery is on a faster track than the Colts preferred. The defensive line remains a question mark. The loss of free agent Ken Dilger is another offensive cog missing.
Finally, coach Tom Coughlin has an expansion team. Lavish spending on this new 1995 franchise put the Jaguars into the playoffs four times and the AFC title game twice from 1996-99. After discovering he was paying players more than they produced, Coughlin is starting over. Spoiled Jacksonville fans who might not understand how the other half lives have been slower to buy tickets.
Good: The signing of second-tier free agents following last year's pattern by New England showed signs of paying off in the preseason with receivers Bobby Shaw and Patrick Johnson trying hard to replace Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith, who finally signed last weekend. Trade acquisition Wali Rainer is filling Hardy Nickerson's middle linebacker spot.
Bad: Smith's holdout hurt the passing game. Losing Tony Boselli leaves a void at left tackle. Top draft pick John Henderson has health problems. Quarterback Mark Brunell isn't as mobile just when it's more necessary than ever. Running back Fred Taylor is back from injury again and looking good, but nobody expects him to last because he never has.
The latest expansion team has several things going for it. It had more time than the Cleveland Browns did to get organized. Coach Dom Capers (Carolina) and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer (Cleveland) are familiar with startups. General manager Charley Casserly works like a plowhorse, and owner Bob McNair is as classy as they come. The Texans also have a rookie quarterback in David Carr who showed no signs of disappointment in the exhibition season.
Good: The recent signing of vagabond Tony Banks is no reflection on Carr's encouraging development. Receivers Corey Bradford, Jabar Gaffney and Jermaine Lewis look promising. Linebackers Jamie Sharper and Kailee Wong and cornerbacks Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman will settle the defense. Ex-Bear James Allen is a proven running back and rookie Jonathan Wells is pushing.
Bad: The offensive line that was supposed to be anchored by tackles Boselli and Ryan Young has been hit by injuries to both. Defensive end Gary Walker also is recovering from surgery on his groin. This is a team with more enthusiasm than talent, which isn't all bad if the fans have patience.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times