A new NFL season is dawning and the heirarchy of power in the AFC South is looking pretty familiar. The Colts are still the team to beat, but the Texans are poised to make an improvement over last year's dismal campaign.
The predicted order of finish:
2013 | 11-5, 1st in South
Last year in playoffs | 2013
Going all the way: Quarterback Andrew Luck is unquestionably elite, and now his receiving corps is bolstered by a healthy Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, and free-agent addition Hakeem Nicks. The Colts weren’t overly active in free agency, but picked up difference makers in defensive end Art Jones from Baltimore and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson from Cleveland.
They’re doomed: Some major questions heading into camp — Will the young interior of the offensive line be an issue? Who will replace safety Antoine Bethea? — still linger. The Colts have a rookie starting at left guard and a first-year starter at center, and the safety job (opposite LaRon Landry) remains up for grabs. Trent Richardson averaged only 2.9 yards a carry, and sacks leader Robert Mathis is suspended for the first four games.
Now hear this: “Trent, he needs to answer the bell.… We’re all accountable here.” — Ryan Grigson, general manager, on Richardson.
2013 | 7-9, 2nd in South
Last year in playoffs | 2008
Going all the way: Ken Whisenhunt helped get the Chargers back on a playoff track last season, so maybe he can resurrect a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2003. The Titans have a good foundation with a solid offensive line, and some defenders who can pressure the passer in Akeem Ayers, Shaun Phillips, Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley.
They’re doomed: This is a prove-it year for quarterback Jake Locker, who has missed 14 of 32 games since being named the starter. The Titans cut the inconsistent but occasionally spectacular Chris Johnson in April, and parting ways with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner could be costly. There figure to be some hiccups as the Titans switch to Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense.
Now hear this: “It’s a different mood when you come here. You’re just excited and ready to play football. [Before] you just had a lot of guys that had other things on their minds.” — Michael Griffin, safety.
2013 | 2-14, 4th in South
Last year in playoffs | 2012
Going all the way: The Texans don’t have all the pieces to win consistently now, but they’ve got enough to start building. Receiver Andre Johnson finally has a capable sidekick in DeAndre Hopkins, and there’s ample depth behind running back Arian Foster. On defense, everyone’s looking at what kind of damage the dynamic duo of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney can do. They figure to give fits to opposing offenses.
They’re doomed: The quarterback position is a big question mark for Houston, as Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t look like a long-term answer. The Texans are shaky at safety, and aren’t great in coverage in general. The offensive line is solid at left tackle, center and right guard, but it looks as if left guard and right tackle will be problematic.
Now hear this: “He better have his head on a swivel, because I’m coming and I know J.J.’s coming.” — Clowney, on pass rushing against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
2013 | 4-12, 3rd in South
Last year in playoffs | 2007
Going all the way: Yes, he’s faced vanilla defenses in exhibition games, but rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has looked excellent and has a hint of Ben Roethlisberger in him, even though he’s lankier than the Pittsburgh’s star. Bortles isn’t expected to play the first month, but he could become the club’s first franchise quarterback.
They’re doomed: This team will be better than the one that started 0-8 last season. The top four receivers are promising but ultra-young, basically three rookies and Cecil Shorts, who has played three seasons. New Coach Gus Bradley imported some defensive help from Seattle, ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, so the Jaguars are bigger and deeper up front.
Now hear this: “We do feel good about where Blake’s at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good in the end result.” — Bradley, on the decision to start Chad Henne instead of rookie Bortles.
Times staff writer Austin Knoblauch contributed to this post.