Steve Wyche of NFL.com and NFL Network gives his annual breakdown of the biggest threats to the AFC South title currently owned by the Houston Texans. We'll take a look at his analysis of the lead team based on offseason moves below.
Defending champion: Houston Texans.
The Texans finally broke through to win the division. They'll have to repeat that success to convince some doubters that the path wasn't cleared by Manning's season-long injury in Indianapolis. And they'll have to do that by overcoming the loss of Ryans and Williams. First-round pick Whitney Mercilus should bolster an already-stout front seven.
Biggest threat, based on offseason moves: Tennessee Titans.
The Jags and Colts were busier, but their questions at QB give Tennessee the edge to pose the most concern for Houston. The Titans were on the cusp of the playoffs last season. Free-agent guard Steve Hutchinson should upgrade the interior offensive line -- an area that definitely needed upgrading -- but he has to stay healthy. Veteran LB Kamerion Wimbley was brought in to help a pass rush, which is another point of concern. First-round draft pick Kendall Wright is an explosive and highly competitive player who could elevate the passing attack regardless of who wins the QB competition (Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker).
Not that any of this is the biggest surprise in history. The Jags would have had to sign both Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson to raise an alarm in the always pro-Jaguars NFL Network offices. Nevertheless the Jags have done very little in the way of making that one big move to show the world that they will be "that team" that takes the division. I honestly like it that way personally. I can remember before the 2011 NFL Season when every sports analyst alive was picking Houston to win the division basically by default due to no one else showing promise. While Houston did pull that feat off in taking the division it had less to do with how they played and more to do with the ineptness of every other team in the division to capitalize on their major injuries and win the close games.
As anyone who's actually watched the AFC South play year in and year out would tell you the records of each team is never indicative of the team talent differences. The Titans, Texans, Colts, and Jags games will always be unpredictable (even more-so without Manning-as last year showed). As it's been said since the day that David Garrard was released from the team, "this team's success will all fall on the shoulders of Blaine 'The QB Formerly Known As Sunshine' Gabbert". If he plays to the level of one step above game manager the Jags likely go 9-7 at a minimum. To win the division either he or the defense/special teams will have to win one more game somewhere between the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and New England Patriots at home or at Green Bay and Houston while winning the majority of the remaining games. I believe those to be our toughest 5 games on the schedule.
Understand everyone-Blaine will not be perfect. Wide Receiver skill/effort (stares at Mike Thomas) was only one area that attributed to his 2011 struggles. He's still a second year player in his first off season from running a college spread offense. He will not be Aaron Rogers and win us games but I believe that he will progress just enough not to lose us many (why I said 9-7 adding two more losses for cushion). The Jags will have to win the games that they are supposed to win and the division will fall into their lap. 10-6 should win the division with likely only one team getting into the playoffs from the AFC South. But what do you think? How much have the Jags realistically improved this offseason?
(**remember our schedule: At: Minn, Indy, Oakland, Green Bay, Houston, Buffalo, Miami, and Tenn. Home against: New England, NY Jets, Tenn, Indy, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Houston**)