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Couch Groove Football Preview: The AFC South

Peyton ManningFOREWORD
One errant pass by Peyton Manning landed in the hands of Tracy Porter and cost the city of Indianapolis a trophy and a parade. The tale of woe, however, ended in February, because the Indianapolis Colts are poised to make a run yet again. And why not? Manning is still the leader of the team, probably moreso than coach Jim Caldwell. But who will challenge Indy for the rights to the Southern title? On the horizon, you have a high powered offense in Houston, a dynamically balanced club from Nashville, and a Jaguars team that, well, doesn’t quite fit in here.

QUESTION ONE: CAN THE COLTS GET BACK TO THE SUPER BOWL?
The Colts roster, as mentioned, has changed very little, save for new veteran presence on the offensive line from Adam Terry and Mike Pollak. It’s still the encyclopedic mind of Peyton Manning running the show, and he still has Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark as his targets. Their defense comes in a little bit suspect, however. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney still combined for 23 sacks, but the rest of the team combined for merely 11, and the Colts cut Raheem Brock, who had 3.5. The defense may be aging, but Peyton’s game management might compensate.

QUESTION TWO: DOES HOUSTON FINALLY MAKE THE POSTSEASON?
Why shouldn’t they? Not only do the Texans have an enviable high powered offense, run by Matt Schaub and anchored by Andre Johnson, but their defense is finally coming around. Mario Williams turned out to be worth the wait with nine sacks last season to lead the club. At linebacker, Brian Cushing won Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he pairs with DeMeco Ryans to help stave off the run game. The loss of Dunta Robinson will sting, but the defense has shown that it’s strong enough to sustain the offensive windfall. Anything less than playoffs is just simply unacceptable.

QUESTION THREE: IF HOUSTON FAILS, IS GARY KUBIAK OUT?

Let’s face it: Rich Kotite could walk out of some dive gym in the Bronx tomorrow and coach Houston to the playoffs. If Pat Riley owned the team, he’d have fired Kubiak and taken over coaching duties himself. Dom Capers couldn’t do anything with the team, but Kubiak (with an boost from fellow Denver-alum Kyle Shanahan) concocted a powerful punch that turned the offense into a freight train. Shanahan has since joined his father on the Redskins, so Kubiak has the task of keeping the momentum going without him. Still, even then, it’s going to take a lot to fail.

QUESTION FOUR: WHICH VINCE YOUNG SHOWS UP THIS SEASON?
Vince Young is what I call “stupid good”. I’m not saying the man is stupid, however. It’s just that he’s better when he doesn’t overthink the problem. How many times have you seen “smart” quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or John Elway or Philip Rivers fall apart in the clutch, because perhaps they overthought the scenario? Young just takes the ball and figures it out on the go. He’s a hard player to intimidate, and the 2006 BCS Title game is a tribute to that fact. Let him go out there and just be VY. The game will come to him.

QUESTION FIVE: SHOULD THE JAGUARS MOVE TO LOS ANGELES?
Seven of the Jaguars’ eight home games in 2009 were blacked out locally. The one that was televised was an NFL Network game against Indianapolis near the end of the season, and that’s because Peyton Manning was coming to town. I’d have love to been in that meeting in 1993 when Paul Tagliabue said “Sure, we’ll put a team in Jacksonville. Remind me what state it’s in again?” Seriously, Los Angeles needs a team. If you don’t move the Raiders back, why not move the Jags? I’m sure Maurice Jones-Drew would love the pound the rock at the LA Coliseum.

PREDICTIONS

1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-5)
The road won’t be quite as easy for the AFC Champions this year. The Super Bowl loser’s hangover aside, the division’s a little tougher than it was before. The Texans have a taste for blood, and have been in striking distance of contending for the last couple seasons. Tennessee’s no pushover, thanks to Chris Johnson and Vince Young being as predictable as an aneurysm. The Colts, however, are basically the same team, except one year older, and pitted against slightly tougher opponents in 2010. So I’m certain you’re going to see a decline; it just won’t be all that much.

2. HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6)
Yes, Virginia, Houston gets to go to the post-season. And why not? They get to play the lousy AFC West, which could be four easy wins right there. Matt Schaub’s going to be a gem like last season, and the corps of Owen Daniels, Andre Johnson, and Kevin Walter remains. The only issue is the running back situation. Steve Slaton cursed himself with fumbles and injuries, so the team’s auditioning Ben Tate and Arian Foster to take the lead role. Competition is healthy, and whoever wins will have earned it. In any event, Houston will finally reach the playoff dance.

TENNESSEE TITANS (7-9)
The defense barely resembles the one that was fielded last year, and the best receiver is Kenny Britt. Vince Young is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of player, and you can’t bank on him being the miracle man in every game. If Chris Johnson isn’t putting up inhuman numbers like 2009, then there’s going to be problems. The defensive line, minus Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse, is looking bleak. The defense finished twenty-eighth in league, so Jeff Fisher has a lot riding on no names like Jason Jones, Tony Brown, and William Hayes. No continuity means likely no playoffs.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-14)
They signed Aaron Kampman, which is encouraging. The draft day trade for Kirk Morrison is as well. However, Jacksonville’s increasingly anemic defense may need more than two studs to keep it moving. The Hyphens (Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker) are all that’s worth writing home about on offense, and David Garrard is reaching the end of the line. I like Jack Del Rio, but his tenure is likely finished after this season. The good news is that if my projections are right, then the Jaguars will win the Jake Locker Sweepstakes in 2011. Hopefully, he gets to play in LA
Justin Henry is the owner and (currently) sole writer of Couch Groove Football. He can be found on Facebook.com and Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/couchgroove

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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