AFC South preview: Texans are head of the class

The Houston Texans will look to take advantage with Vegas posting a season win total of 10.5, two wins more than the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.

AFC South Division

HOUSTON TEXANS

Team Theme: TALL TALL TEXANS

Riding high in the saddle following back-to-back AFC South titles, the Texans are once again the class of their division and arguably the entire AFC. After ascending to new heights last year, Houston did not stand still during the offseason when they acquired Hall of Fame FS Ed Reed and P Shane Lechler. They will combine with reigning NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt (81 tackles and 20.5 sacks) to form one of the best stop-units in the league, all under the lead of DC Wade Phillips. Its no coincidence the Texans’ defense has improved an average 73.5 YPG the last two years since it flamed out in a 6-win season in 2010. On the offensive front, coordinator Rick Dennison gobbled up dynamic WR DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson in the first round of the draft. He’ll work in tandem with star WR Andre Johnson. Along with thoroughbred RB Arian Foster, a tantalizing trio of skill players surrounds QB Matt Schaub. It’s like we mentioned on these pages last year: between Gary Kubiak’s playbook, Dennison’s offensive mind and Phillips’ stingy defensive schemes, the Texans are standing extra tall with sights on the Super Bowl these days.

Stat You Will Like: The Texans are 0-4 ATS away versus NFC West opponents in their franchise history.
 
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Tennessee (9/15)

IN THE STATS:
The Texans are 24-12 ‘In The Stats’ the last two seasons.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Team Theme: WHAT GOES UP…

When the Colts jumped from 2-14 to 11-6 after selecting QB Andrew Luck with the first pick of the draft last year they recorded the 2nd biggest turnaround in NFL history. Only the 2008 Dolphins, who went from 1-15 to 11-5, made a larger leap. It should be noted that the other two teams in NFL annals making this much of an improvement regressed four and three games respectively the following year. The feeling here is regression is likely this season: despite their improvement, last year’s 11-win Colts actually allowed 12 YPG more than they gained. That and a case of Sophomore Blues appear to be lurking in the offing for Luck. Helping matters, Indy will face the 3rd softest strength-of-schedule opponents in 2013 (last year’s foes .461 overall), including four games with the NFC West (Colts are 7-1 SU against the division since 2005). Then again, Peyton Manning put up those numbers. The return of head coach Chuck Pagano, back from a bout with cancer, could offset a ton of history. Don’t forget: the Colts have made the playoffs 11 times the last 13 seasons.  Stay tuned.

Stat You Will Like: The Colts own the weakest rushing attack in the AFC the last four years, averaging just over 95 RYPG.
 
PLAY AGAINST: at Kansas City (12/22)

IN THE STATS:
The Colts were 0-5 ‘ITS’ during the final five games of the season last year.


JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Team Theme: SIGN, SIGN, EVERYWHERE A SIGN

Despite a fall from 5 wins to 2 last year, the worst in franchise history, signs of improvement abound. Consider: after being outgained in 11 of their first 12 games of the 2012 season, the Jaguars refused to raise the white flag when they won the stats in three of their final four games. In addition, after failing to gain more than 325 yards in any game in 2011, Jacksonville bettered that mark on seven different occasions last year. Toss in the fact that of the 17 teams who won 2 or fewer games the previous season, 16 of them have improved on their win total this millennium (witness the Colts and Rams last year) the following season. New head coach Gus Bradley brings a defensive pedigree to Jacksonville, a team that ranked 30th in total ‘D’ last season while allowing 444 points, a franchise-record. He was Seattle’s defensive coordinator the last four years and his unit allowed a league-low 15.3 PPG last season. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch returns to the NFL after two years at the University of Miami, banking on first-round pick OT Luke Joeckel’s ability to plow open running lanes for a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew.

Stat You Will Like: The Jaguars are 10-6 SU all-time versus the NFC West with only three losses by more than 4 points.
 
PLAY ON: at Seattle (9/22)

IN THE STATS: The Jaguars are 15-33 ‘ITS’ the L3Y, but 3-1 ‘ITS’ the L4 games of 2012.


TENNESSEE TITANS


Team Theme: BLUE COLLAR NETWORK

It was no surprise whatsoever to witness the blue-collar moves made by Mike Munchak and the Titans this offseason. After all, Munchak is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and he did what he knows best – rebuild the offensive line – in order to keep his job a while longer in Tennessee. A three-game slippage with falling numbers on both sides of the ball sent Munchak into desperation mode when he signed G Andy Levitre (Bills) and selected G Chance Warmack (Alabama) in the first round of this year’s draft. The moves should benefit QB Jake Locker and RB Chris Johnson who, despite rushing for 1,000-plus yards in each of his five seasons in the league, has seen his numbers fall appreciably since his 2,006-yard performance in 2006. As a result, Johnson expects the Titans to become a ground-and-pound ‘run-first’ offense. It’s safe to assume that if Munchak is gone at the end of the year, so too will be Locker - a top-10 pick two years ago who, after witnessing last year’s successful rookie crop of quarterbacks, suddenly finds the clock ticking. After having last made the playoffs in 2008 and spending $100 million dollars on free agents, owner Bud Adams is expecting results… now.

Stat You Will Like:
The Titans have allowed season-high, or 2nd-high, yards in 7 of their first 14 games under Munchak.
 
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Houston (12/29)

IN THE STATS:
The Titans won the stats in 4 of their final 6 games last season.


Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine.  Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.  Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

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