Indianapolis' vise grip on the South has made it nearly impossible for any other team to rise to the top. There's no reason to think the Colts won't claim another division crown at season's end, but their three rivals won't be making it an easy coronation.
Tennessee appears poised to emerge as Indy's strongest challenger, as it has the talent to play the kind of keepaway, clock-control game to protect leads and the quick-strike ability to come from behind. The Texans have a big-play offense to rival the Colts, but the loss of linebacker
Indy is all about the passing game. It has maybe the best to ever sling it (
If Indy had a weakness, it was running the football. The Colts finished dead last in that category in '09, averaging 80.9 per game. But that's to be expected given that Indy also logged the second-fewest attempts (366). Despite the troubled ground game, Indy still maintained a dangerous play-action passing attack, and the Colts proved they could run the ball in the clutch. Feature back
The Colts are entering Year Four of the Tony Ugoh experiment; they continue to hold out hope he'll become a player for them. Indy drafted the 6-foot-5, 301-pound Ugoh as the left tackle to replace the virtually indomitable
The Colts draw another tough slate in '10, but there's no reason to think that they won't overcome it. How they fare in a late four-game stretch at the Patriots (Nov. 21), against the Chargers (Nov. 28), against the Cowboys (Dec. 5) and at the Titans (Dec. 9) could determine whether they'll have a first-round bye.
The Titans are a run-first football team. They'd be foolish not to be considering the once-in-a-generation talent they have in their backfield. Simply put: Chris Johnson was the Titans offense in '09. No other Titan caught as many passes (50) or amassed as many yards (2,509).
This year Johnson has set a goal of hitting the 2,500-yard rushing mark. Though the odds against him are steep -- no back in NFL history has reached the 2,000-yard mark in consecutive years -- the Titans will certainly give him the opportunity. Tennessee rode
Where Tennessee's ground game was stellar, its passing game was simply so-so. The standard didn't have to be high, what with Johnson making all the plays. But with opposing coordinators calibrating their game plans toward slowing him down, Tennessee will have to develop a stronger passing game to beat all of those eight-man fronts on the horizon. They'll look to second-year man
Last spring, when retaining the services of All-Pro space eater
The Titans play one of the league's most difficult schedules -- 2010 opponents had a combined .547 win percentage in 2009 -- but only have five playoff teams to reckon with. As long as they take care of business in games against the AFC West and continue to hold their own in the South, the Titans should be in the mix for a playoff spot.
The Texans' pass-heavy approach is partly why they had the league's best offense in '09, rolling up an average of 290.9 yards. The rest of the plaudits should go to the personnel. The offensive line, long an area of vulnerability, has emerged as one of the league's more impregnable over the past couple years. Quarterback
The Texans flashed a lot of self-destructive tendencies in '09, but none was worse than their penchant for fumbling -- and no ballcarrier was a more frequent offender than
The loss of linebacker
Houston also plays a tough schedule, which includes seven against playoff teams. An improvement on last year's 1-5 division finish could pave a path to the postseason, but that's if they don't stumble in playoff-like games against the NFC East -- which, frankly, I just don't see happening.
You know how football people talk about offenses having an identity? Well, the Jaguars' couldn't be more clear-cut: he is 5-7, 208 pounds and can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just as the Titans can only go as far as Chris Johnson can carry them, the same is true for the Jaguars and
The Jags pass rush was abysmal. The 14 sacks they posted in '09 was not only the low for the league, but also for the franchise. In a bid to get better, the Jaguars went tackle heavy in the draft -- selecting Cal's
Would you believe Garrard makes more money than
With so many new pieces on defense and still so many questions about the offense, it's tough to see the Jaguars being much better than they were last year. What's more, the schedule makers didn't do them any favors, sticking them with the fifth-toughest slate. Better luck next year.