Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Cutting Ties

Fourth & Forever: Cutting Ties

With the 2013 NFL season just 11 days away, teams are focusing on making the best possible decisions on creating a deep competitive team. The once 90- man roster, will be cut down to 75 players on Tuesday August 27th. Days following, that number will shrink to 53 by August 31st. Teams should already have a since, on who is going to make the first cut. The hard part is figuring out who is going to make the final cut. Everyone plays their final preseason game on Thursday August 29th, just two days after the first cut and two before the final cut. Usually the final preseason game is dedicated to rookies and undrafted free agents. This gives coaches time to looker closer at specific players. Maybe a rookie has missed a few weeks of training camp due to injuries and this is their last stand on making the team. Some of the main things that coaches look for in making their last decisions will be discussed.

One of the things GMs, coaches and personnel will be looking for is talent. If someone goes down, can this person come in and replace the injured? Will this person be consistent about it? Do we have to worry about this person being injury prone?  Another thing  that they look at that is probably the most important is, does this person have character issues?  Teams are looking to win, but they're also looking to see if this person will respect the name, respect the brand of this team. Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had all the talent in the world, but had some character issues coming out of college. He slipped down to the fourth round and was finally drafted by the Patriots. He was rewarded with a five-year $37.5 contract extension last year. Now released, Hernandez faces murder charges. On top of that, they now have linked him to other murder charges back in 2012. Teams try to scout players from a winning stand point as well as a great citizen stand point. There is going to be talent out there after final cuts.

After final cuts, nearly almost 1200 players will be cut and they will be available to other teams. At this point teams are scrambling to see if there is someone on the market that they can use. There is talent out there, but can they be fit into a maximum 53-man roster. They have to figure out if this player can work with the types of schemes that the team runs. You can't bring in a 3-4 outside linebacker and in hopes of playing in a 4-3 defense. All pictures have got to be looked at. Players need at least an off-season to learn how to play a new position. For instance DeMarcus Ware is learning to be a defensive end, after playing outside linebacker is whole career in Dallas. Its not a smooth transition from standing up, to now being in a down stance.  Once a team decides f they can use them,  the player has to come in and pass a physical as well as sleep with the playbook. If the person is on the field on opening day, that person may look lost because they haven't had the time to learn everything. This hurts the team as well.

A good tough decision that has to be could me made is, if a team has a lot of depth at certain positions, do you trade them or release them? If a team is stacked at a couple of positions and light on others, does a GM make the decision on trading away depth to try and fill the holes. A team can't have seven cornerbacks. So why not make trades to get good talent back in return. Teams may need cornerbacks and if their stacked at defensive line-men, you're swapping talent for talent, because you won't be able to sign everyone to the practice squad if they even make it that far. (I'll explain the Scout team later) They may get swooped up by another team. Although sometimes teams are hit with the injury bug and the depth comes in handy. I mean look at Green Bay when they won the Super Bowl in 2010. They placed 15 people on injury reserve that year and had people to come in and feel that role without missing a beat. Depth is good, but being thinner somewhere else is worse. So I say trade the over-stacked depth at one positioned and up-grade the depth at another position. The practice-squad or scout team is another option, if available. Teams can have a maximum of eight players on the practice-squad, varied from different position. Usually rookies or un-drafted free agents are eligible and they can't be on the practice squad longer than three years. They can be brought up to the current roster and they can also negotiate with other teams while on the practice squad and be moved to their active 53-man roster.

So with positions needing to be filled with depth, GMs and coaches are searching for the best people out there to man their roster. Whether it be players on their team or players on the open-market from cuts. If players are drafted high and hasn't performed well in camp or in the pre-season games, they usually make the team. Regardless if they can't help the team this season. No one wants to give up on a high draft pick early in their career. Players who are usually cut are undrafted free agents and veterans; washed up or making to much money, they can find themselves on the outside looking in. This is the hardest job of the GM. Looking to see if their draft picks are panning out and who else can come in and make the team better. Deep teams are the ones who usually go far, but its usually at more than one position. The thing is figuring out how many players is a team going to keep at a certain position.  Maybe eight line-men or six receivers that have to add up to 53. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC West

   Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC West

The AFC West is a unbalanced division. As it stands right now, the power rankings isn't kind to this division, as only one team eclipses the top five. That team is the power-house Denver Broncos. With a early-second round lost to the Super Bowl Champs Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos have added more weapons to their arsenal. The Broncos are sitting number two in the power rankings and with the New England Patriots and Ravens trying to fill holes with a variety of unproven players, this maybe the year of the Broncos. The other three teams in this division are fighting not to be last. The Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and the San Diego Chargers. All three are ranked near the bottom of the league. The Chargers are ranked 21st, followed by the Chiefs at 26th and the Raiders at 31st. All have up-graded and has the potential to move out of the bottom half of the rankings. This by far is the weakest division in the AFC, although with this being a sport with injuries popping up every day... one injury can make an under-the-radar team a playoff team.

The Denver Broncos, were embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday losing 40-10. For a team like the Broncos, who are considered a top tier team, offensively and defensively the team didn't show up. I know this is the pre-season, but a blow-out like that shouldn't happen.  We all-know what Peyton Manning can do and with him being in his second season with Denver, he will be more familiarized with the team and play-book. With the addition of Wes Welker, the Broncos have one of the best receiving cores in the league. With Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside, the holes should open up for the running back. Question is, who is going to lead the Broncos back-field? Willis McGahee is gone and Knowshon Moreno is inconsistent. So this makes  a crowded back-field with Ronnie Hillman and second round pick Montee Ball in the mix to start. They both had descent yardage on the carries they received on Saturday, but both showed why the door is wide open. Hillman had 34 yards on 13 carries, but lost a fumble. Ball had 28 yards on six carries, but he was over-powered on a blitz and caused Manning to get hit hard. Both have the ability to run, but are still raw when it comes to security. In the end Ball wins the job. He is a work-horse putting up all kinds of big numbers in Badger country. He has major upside and is a tough target to bring down. On defense the Broncos are considered one of the best. The aging Champ Bailey may have lost a step, but he still is a ball-hawk. They have a great defensive line, even after losing Elvis Dumervil to free-agency. They drafter defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, an athletic 320 pounder who can make tackles behind the line of scrimmage, having 13.5 tackles for a loss his last year at North Carolina. They also have defensive end Quanerus Smith a fifth rounder who had 12.5 sacks in his senior year at Western Kentucky. Derek Wolfe maybe out for awhile after a spine injury, but the Broncos have depth. They also added outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks last season with the Chargers. Plus linebacker Von Miller on the other side makes this a stingy defense. He just needs to be on the field and not on the sideline suspended.

The Oakland Raiders are the laughing stock of the NFL. Usually any team who has the Raiders on their schedule, should check it as a win. They are ranked 31st for a reason. Last year they had a quarterback who didn't care. A running back who runs nowhere and receivers who turns around and see the ball in intercepted. With little expectations coming in this season, the Raiders would be happy to finish at .500. With the addition of quarterback Matt Flynn, holes may open up for, " I carry the ball 30 times for 60 yards," Darren McFadden. Flynn brings athleticism to the pocket, accurate throws and has a big arm. This was a good trade for the Raiders, because Flynn learned from the best quarterback in the game. He was underneath Aaron Rodgers for four years before signing with the Seahawks in 2012. He then was traded to the Raiders, where he is finally expected to be the starting quarterback. This help McFadden find holes in between tackles. In the past quarterback Carson Palmer, wasn't a threat. He has skills, but is known for over-throwing his receivers or throwing to the opposing team. Matt Flynn changes that. Expect McFadden to average more than three yards a carry and a production of more than three total touchdowns. Only thing is he has never played a full season, because of injuries. That needs to change for this team to compete. Flynn has receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Not much to brag about, but Moore is the number one option. Having 600 yards receiving on 41 reception and five touchdown. Ford is not a reliable number two option. In three years he has three touchdowns. Mostly used as a kick returner, Ford will have to fill the shoes of departed Darrius Heyward-Bey, another disappointment. Expect a shaky passing attack. On defense the Raiders drafted cornerback D.J. Hayden, the 12th pick out of Houston is a ball-hawk. Having 127 tackles in two years is just the beginning. He suffered a gruesome life-threating injury in practice in 2012, which limited his season. If he comes back as the same player, he will help a torched secondary, which gave up 235 passing yards. Add him with two more ball-hawks, Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch. Woodson can be used all over the field. I even seen him play linebacker in Green Bay once. This guy has great defensive skills winning the defensive player of the year in 2009. Branch is the same, a hard-hitting safety with a sense for where the football is thrown. Posting 200 tackles the last two seasons. I like this secondary, but the offense is just going to hurt them.

The Chiefs are breathing a little easier now that running back Jamaal Charles is back at practice after hurting his foot in practice earlier in the week. The Chiefs know, they go as far as Charles will carry them. He averages 5.8 yards per carry. The most for a running back with a minimum of 500 carries in history. Last year the Chiefs relied more on passing the ball than running the ball. At nearly 51 percent passing the Chiefs finished 2-14. Averaging under 14 points per game. With a back like Charles, the Chiefs should rely heavily on the run, which will open up the field for passing lanes. This starts with the quarterback. Last year Matt Cassel was calling the shots and he was really bad at it. Playing in only nine games last season. He had a quarterback rating of 66.7. Averaging 6.5 yards a pass and fumbling the ball nine times. That guy was terrible, so everybody and the coach was in the box stopping the run, because the quarterback couldn't do anything. This year the Chiefs brought in former Eagles coach Andy Reid and former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Reid is a hall of fame coach, who will bring his pass-happy offense to the team. This will create holes for Charles and it will make Charles be utilized in the passing game. With a quarterback like Smith, turnovers should be kept at bay. He is a good passer, but not a deep passer. He throws short to mid-range passes and he did it completing 70 percent of his passes. Charles and Smith will benefit from each other and they will benefit from second pick overall  all-American right tackle Eric Fisher. He will help in the run game and pass-protection. Receivers Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin, and Donnie Avery will see a lot of action, as well as tight-end Anthony Fasano. The Chiefs added new defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton and he is keeping the 3-4 defensive scheme. His schemes bring a lot of pressure to the opposing quarterback. Its a lot movement up front a lot of shifting and the best perk about it is not everyone is going to be rushing the quarterback. Some rush and the others drop back, so it should keep everyone on their toes. Everything sounds good on paper, but it will take a year or two for players to get comfortable the schemes. I do expect the 26.6 opposing points to go down. Especially with veteran Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali. Between both of them they had 176 tackles and nine sacks. But their secondary has got to create more turnovers. Between safety Kendrick Lewis, safety Eric Berry, cornerback Brandon Flowers and cornerback Sean Smith, they had a total of six picks. Not good, but I expect better with the pressure upfront.

The Chargers are a throw your hands up team in this division. You never know what you're going to get with them. They go as quarterback Phillip Rivers goes. Now entering his 10th season. Rivers has established himself as a quarterback who is inconsistent. The four time pro-bowler has thrown 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions in the past two seasons. Mediocre numbers, but not the numbers the Chargers hoped for when they invested in Rivers with the fourth overall pick. Compared to former Charger quarterback Ryan Leaf numbers,( 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions for career) Rivers was a blessing, but now at 31 he needs to lead his team to the Super Bowl. The cast around him are respecatable. Running back Ryan Matthews can be a solid back, but he is always hurt. Since he came into the league in 2010 he has never played a full season. What makes it worse is that he only had one touchdown as the starting running back last season. He needs to help Rivers with the ground game and touchdown production. Rivers and Matthews are the reason former GM A.J. Smith, and former coach Norv Turner were fired. Going in a new direction with new GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy; If Rivers and Matthews don't perform well. They should invest in a new duo and just start over. Rivers had a good receiver in Vincent Jackson and now a veteran who is just coming around in his eight season Malcolm Floyd (Bad Coaching). He has a aging tight end in Antonio Gates, who is getting less productive each year. The ship is sinking for this offense. I say rebuild the offense. On defense they drafted inside linebacker Manti Te'o, a solid pick-up, a good run stuffer and work ethics minus the hoax. They also picked up former defensive end Dwight Freeney and I don't know why. He has played 4-3 his whole career and now he is learning to play linebacker at the end of his career. That's not a good fit for the team. The best player on the defense is safety Eric WeddleLast season he had 97 tackles four tackles for loss, one sack, two force fumbles and three picks and one returned 52 yards for a touchdown. He is a beast in this secondary. A ball-hawk who does a little of everything. It also looks good that he has played every game for the past three seasons. The defense is solid, they only gave up 21.9 points a game and was fifth against the run, although the offense is still going to sink this team.

The Broncos should win this division. They have too much talent on offense and once they figure out who is going to be the featured back, this team will be scoring from every position. My concerns are with the defense. They looked extremely bad on Saturday against the Seahawks. Giving up 33 points by half-time. The defense is going to need to step us to be a contender, or Manning is going to be in shootouts. The defense should also prepare not to see Von Miller for at least four weeks due to substance abuse. The Raiders are just looking to rebound from a 4-12 record. The quarterback is different, the defense has added new pieces. I'm excited about this team, but I know it is a rebuilding process. I'm just looking to see if the presence of quarterback Matt Flynn is going to open up running lanes for Darren McFadden. I say 8-8. The Chiefs are another team who is going to open up eyes. Reliable quarterback Alex Smith, with new defensive schemes and a future hall of fame coach. This team will make big steps, but not leaps. The Chargers need to run the ball to open passing lanes for Phillip Rivers. They ran the ball 41 percent of the time and it should be equaled out. It doesn't help that the feature back is always hurt. I'm still scratching my head at the signing of Dwight Freeney, I'm not sure at 33 he has a lot left in the tank.  I won't be surprise if this team came in last place in this division.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC EAST

    Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC EAST

The AFC EAST has always been known as the New England Patriots division. They've dominated this division for years, always coming out on top. But things maybe different this season as the Patriots lost a lot of their offense in the offseason. Wide receiver Wes Welker bolted to the Denver Broncos. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski, hasn't participated in any offseason activity due to back surgery and Aaron Hernandez had been released due to being arrested on murder charges. Quarterback Tom Brady is going to be looking to other receivers and tight ends to fill that void and keep this offense elite. The Miami Dolphins are looking to build off their 7-9 record a year ago, by adding key pieces in the offense, such as receiver Mike Wallace and security blanket tight end Dustin Keller. Wallace stretches the offense with his big play ability and Keller is a reliable pass catcher. His previous Jets team, just didn't have a good offense, but he should rejuvenate his career in Miami. Speaking of the Jets. Coach Rex Ryan announced a week ago that he was going to start former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first pre-season game over rookie second-round pick Geno Smith. I think Ryan has been affected by running with the bulls, because the previous four years Sanchez showed one thing. The ability to throw interceptions and run into his own lineman putting the ball on the ground. Smith should be name the starter for the season and I'll explain later. The one team I am excited about in this division are the Buffalo Bills. C.J. Spiller has finally been named the starter over, "I walk with a limp Fred Jackson." Literally Jackson is always hurt, so Spiller gets his shot as the starter. Although no quarterback has been named the starter yet, I expect rookie E.J. Manuel to get the nod over high priced and no delivery Kevin Kolb. Can you say read-option? This division needs offensive help, so I'll look at just the offense.

When it comes to the Patriots, you never know what to expect because they're so secretive. Like I never would have expected former receiver Wes Welker left because coach Bill Belichick put him on blast. Who knew Gronkowski, who is the Patriots bigger weapon played on special teams, in which he broke his fore-arm protecting a field-goal attempt that required four surgeries. Who Knew! I did know that I can save money on my car insurance by switching to Geico! Overall the Patriots are in trouble. They like to run a two tight end offense and its safe to say that without any of their two weapons available, the offense is going to look a lot different. The Pats have three reliable running backs in Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen, and LeGarrette Blount. They all scored touchdowns in their first pre-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They ran the ball 31 times for a total of 258 yards. Yes I know its the pre-season but if the backfield can help Brady move the ball. It will help take pressure off  of the 36 year-old quarterback. They ranked second in the league with 32 rushes per game, averaging 134 yards per game. With three reliable backs, that shouldn't be a problem. But who am I kidding, the Patriots go as far as Tom Brady takes them. Its going to start in his hands and end in his hands. With free-agent Danny Amendola on board, all is well with a go-to guy right? No, there is only one problem. He is injury prone, missing 20 games in two seasons. If healthy he would be a slight downgrade from Wes Welker. Bringing in quarterback Tim Teebow and letting him learn under Brady was smart. Of course he wont see tick at quarterback, but maybe as a tight-end or fullback. He is a big guy who would be a good blocker, just use him as a player and not as a moneymaker.

The Dolphins are a wild-card team. They may not have scared opponents in the past with no big play abilities, but that should change now. With second year head coach Joe Philbin being under Green Bays pass happy offense for years, things were bound to change. Bringing in Mike Wallace is the start of having big play abilities. Teams will have to watch film on him, as well as keeping a safety near by. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill now has that outside threat. A fast playmaker, who has the ability to score touchdowns in one catch. Catching 27 passes that were 40 yards of more, since he entered the league in 2009. He just needs a quarterback to get him the ball. Tannehill is that guy to help Wallace increase those stats. The Dolphins haven't had a good receiver since Brandon Marshall who was the pro-bowl MVP his last year in Miami in 2011. Wallace is not as big as Marshall, but he is more of a threat down the field. For those big plays to open up, the Dolphins need a threat in the back-field. That's where second year running back Lamar Miller comes into play. Even though he only had 51 carries his rookie year, he averaged 4.9 yards a carry. The highest on the team. Can he replace Reggie Bush? No, but he is a good runner with upside. The former hurricane will lead the attack with Daniel Thomas, spear-headed by what Miller does. If he moves the ball, it opens up play-action for the quarterback to find Wallace downfield. The Dolphins ran the ball 45 percent of the time and I expect that to go down slightly. A pass happy coach produces a pass happy offense, they just needed a catch-happy receiver. I also expect the 1.9 touchdowns a game to go up.

As much as I would love to talk about G-5s, this is a sports story, so I have to talk about a different kind of Jets. The once-pro-claimed ground N pound team, has seem to lost its way. No one respects the run game because of Sanchez not taking pressure off them. The defense can just stay in the box. Right now third year running back Bilal Powell is number one on the depth chart. He ran nine times for a total 14 yards, averaging 1.6 per carry. This is not ground N pound, but more like ground N punt. If there is any hope of reestablishing themselves as a running team, it will be behind Chris Ivory, who they traded for in the off-season. When healthy Ivory is the key to the Jets success. He is a big power-back who has the ability to push the pile. He runs hard and breaks tackles. In New Orleans, when he played, he played like a full-back. Someone who you give the ball to on third and short. What you didn't know is that he had six runs of 25 yards or more. A break-out player who was buried on the depth chart. This guy is hard to bring down and has the quickness to make people miss in the open-field. A three-down back that you feed the rock to on the goal-line. He will thrive in the ground N pound system. In his first series against the Lions on Saturday, quarterback Mark Sanchez throws a pick six. This tells me and should tell Rex Ryan, this guy hasn't learned anything since he came into the league and is picking up where he left off last season. When quarterback Geno Smith came into the game, he threw for six completions on seven attempts for 47 yards. Then he left with an apparent ankle injury, but was back on the practice field the next day. Smith secured the ball the time he was on the field. He made Sanchez look like a rookie and Smith the veteran. He made that statement early on by not participating in Sanchez' quarterback camp. His senior year at West Virginia, Smith threw for over 4000 yards on 71.8 completion percentage. Totaling 42 touchdowns and throwing 6 interceptions. This man is bound to be a good starter who makes accurate throws. Oh yea, he can run the read-option as well. A great way to succeed in the ground N pound. It would be nice though if the Jets had good receivers, because right now Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Ben Obomanu, are not number one receivers and who knows if Santonio Holmes will be the same coming off a gruesome foot injury.

The Buffalo Bills have finally promoted running back C.J. Spiller to being a starter. Last season Spiller backed-up Fred Jackson and went on to start due to Jacksons injuries. Spiller had a great season. Reaching 1000 yards on only 154 carries. The fewest since Bears running back Beattie Feathers in 1934. Spiller had a total of 1,244 yards averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Just imagine what he does from the get go. Right now Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel are battling for the starting quarterback position. Like the Jets, the Bills should know what they are going to get out of Kolb. A quarterback who misses games and  throws a lot of interceptions. He has a career completion percentage of 59.6 and 78.9 quarterback rating under 80. He doesn't get rid of the ball fast enough and takes a lot of hits because of it. He doesn't see the field well, as he has as many picks as touchdowns for his career. Manuel started the game on Sunday and threw for 107 yards on 16-21 passing with a touchdown. Manuel should be the starter as he showed great passing accuracy, as well as when to tuck the ball in and run. He also added 28 yards on three carries. A perfect read-option mix with Spiller. He has the ability to throw the ball very well, as he had a career completion rating of 66.9. He also threw 23 touchdowns in his senior year at Florida State. Manuel has talent around him, besides Spiller, he has receiver Stevie Johnson. A quick and athletic pass catcher. He runs routes good and has good hands. He just needs to stay healthy. He also needs a partner in receiving so the defense wouldn't play heavy on one side of the field. That's where the drafting of Robert Woods comes in handy, a second round pick out of USC. He had four catches for 32 yards in the win over the Colts on sunday. At USC he had 76 receptions for 846 yards. He also averaged 11.1 yards a catch. Will just say move the chains. At 6 ft 1 he has the style of play that will make him succeed in the NFL. He is not that fast, but he has the height and is reliable.  This will be a sleeper offense, under new coach and former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. I do know they will run and I believe they can win the AFC EAST.

With the Patriots lacking offensive weapons, seeking a fifth division title, seems highly unlikely. You can bet Belichick is cooking up something to keep that number one ranked offense afloat. Right now, Amendola is the number one pass catcher on the team. As long as Brady and Amendola stay healthy and have a great connection in timing, the offense should keep moving. Add the three running backs and this team can be a top 10 offense. Gronkowski, will be back sometime this season, which will make this offense take a leap forward. The Dolphins will challenge the rest of the AFC EAST. This young team with promising talent still has a lot to prove, to help this offense score. Tannehill, now has a go to receiver and tight end. Can he avoid the turnovers and become a consistent quarterback will be the headline heading into the season. Running back Miller has the keys to the backfield. Can the Former Hurricane prove his fourth round talent. The Jets need Ivory to make this offense work. If he is healthy, than he can definitely help out in the run game. Quarterbacks Sanchez and Smith still have time to persuade Rex Ryan their worth. In the end, Smiths accuracy and precaution of turnovers gets him the starting job. Word broke this past weekend that receiver Santonio Holmes is milking his injury. Its been 10 months since his Lisfranic injury and he hasn't practiced since. Maybe he is waiting until after training camp or even in the middle of the season to return. This team will have lingering turmoil questions all year if this happens. The Bills offense will have a lot to prove; after replacing the coach, running back and quarterback, this offense will have a whole new look. One that will compete and score points. As long as Kolb is out and Manuel in, the offense will pick up as the season goes along. The rookie quarterback has the weapons for any fight.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC South

Johnny J

In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts waived one good quarterback and drafted another. They released the then eleven-time Pro Bowler, Peyton Manning for concerns with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Thanks to a 2-14 season in 2011, the Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick. Thus the Luck Era has arrived: 4000 passing yards and 28 overall touchdowns in his rookie season.  I'm looking for a bigger season this year, but they will have to hold off the division champs, the Houston Texans. The Texans are a strong running team that moves the ball down-field. Then we all know about J.J. Watt who does a lot more than bat balls out of the air. He is part of a good defense that just became a little tougher with the signing of safety Ed Reed. The other two teams in the division--the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars--have great running backs in Chris Johnson and Maurice-Jones Drew. But with no help around them, they may be on the outside looking in and might struggle to finish above .500--again.

We'll start off with the good in this division. Quarterback Andrew Luck is a good quarterback and its the people around him who helped this team go from 2-14 to 11-5. They finished the division 4-2 and did so with a big distraction. Their head coach, Chuck Pagano, was dealing with leukemia and was away for most of the season, but he received treatment and came back, which became a big inspiration throughout the NFL world. Now for the supporting cast: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne had an enormous year despite him getting up in age. The 34 year-old had 115 receptions and nearly 1500 yards. Its safe to say he is Luck's favorite target. His second favorite was receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had seven touchdowns. In the backfield Vick Ballard averaged 3.9 yards a carry and racked up 905 yards on the ground. The difference is he only had three total touchdowns and that just wont cut it. He's got to help Luck out with the scoring. With the release of defensive end Dwight Freeney, someone has to step us on the defensive line. I'm not talking about Robert Mathis, but the signing of Aubrayo Franklin--315 pound nose tackle, run stopper--should help out in a big way. They also signed safety LaRon Landry, a hard-hitting, throwing his body with force defensive back. He puts fear into offensive skill position players. This guy is huge for a safety. Last year as a member of the New York Jets, he had over 100 combined tackles, four forced fumbles and two picks. A major upgrade to their defense which gave up almost 400 yards a game.

The Houston Texans are looking to build off a second round loss to the New England Patriots. Going 5-1 in the AFC South is a good feeling, but not the best when you look at all the teams. Nevertheless, this team is moving in the right direction for the 2013 season. This team runs, runs, and finally comes the action, play that is. Not Kidding nor Playing, just the hype that came along with rappers Kid N Play. Then there was play-action. It's very hard to bring down a running back in Arian Foster, especially someone who averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Foster was running through holes that even Charles Barkley can run though with a donut in his hand. No wonder Foster had 17 touchdowns and almost 1700 yards on the ground. So just run, and with a mediocre quarterback in Matt Schaub, it gives their QB time to find open receivers. This guy has never had a quarterback rating over 100, but he gets the job done. They finally gave help to receiver Andre Johnson, by drafting DeAndre Hopkins, a Clemson receiver who had 18 touchdowns his junior year. He's another threat to safeties overplaying Johnson. Their defense was already good, but with a playmaker in Ed Reed, this defense has became elite. A defense who only gave up 2.4 touchdowns a game. A defense who ranked 10th in giving up 21.4 points a game. Now you pair Reed, with safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, this is a top five secondary. On the front-end you have the powerful, fast-motor J.J. Watt. 75 solo tackles is nothing, but 42 tackles for loss is dynamic. In the middle you have performance enhancing hormone abuser Brian Cushing. A good linebacker, with good speed. Even after being caught, he still kept his defensive rookie of the year trophy. (Clay Matthews got robbed! (Matthews will be happy to know that the trophy stayed at USC--Ed). Overall I'm looking for the Texans to repeat as division champs and I'll say if healthy--The Super Bowl.

The Titans have constantly clashed with being an underperforming team. They replaced an established, well-known good coach in Jeff Fisher, who now is in St. Louis. Replaced by Mike Munchak, a former offensive guard drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1982. He then became an offensive assistant coach to the offensive line coach to head coach. Someone who hasn't established himself as a good coach. The results will be the years added on of not making a playoff appearance since 2008. How can you replace a legend with an offensive line coach to making the playoffs? It's simple; you can't. Usually coaches moving up get to be an offensive coordinator before making the leap. This tells me the Titans are cheap and are not looking at making the playoffs any time soon. The coach doesn't know the whole offense, so as a player why should I respect a line coach? With that said, Chris Johnson is the running back to build around. The three-time Pro Bowler, doesn't have help around him. His line is constantly in disarray. He has a quarterback in Jake Locker who is constantly struggling and they don't have a play-making receiver at all. So defenses could just stick everyone in the box, because they have no outside threat. Wide receivers Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington are decent, but not outstanding. Between all three of them they had 155 receptions. The highest at 64 and that just wont cut it. With the Titans having offensive woes with their offensive line coach, the defense isn't much better. They gave up 29.4 points a game, ranked last in the league. They gave up 3.4 touchdowns a game, ranked last in the NFL. The rush defense was ranked 10th in the league. It was the secondary that was terrible. They added safety Bernard Pollard. Not a great coverage guy, but demands respect with punishing hits. They also added safety George Wilson. A leader on and off the field. He had 362 tackles, 12 interceptions and three forced fumbles in 92 games with Buffalo. The back-end has leadership and fierce hitting safeties on their side. A small defensive upgrade and definitely not playoff made.

The Jaguars are in the same predicament. A quality running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, but with no help around him they are just struggling to not be embarrassed. Coming off a 2-14 2012 season, the Jaguars are looking to just move in the winning direction. Their best player, Jones-Drew, missed 10 games last season with a foot injury and is just looking to rebound from a bad season. Jones-Drew hasn't missed more than two games since entering the league in 2006. He is the focal point of the Jaguars' offense and he will continue to be. He has run for over 1000 yards in three out of the last four seasons. It would've been 1500, if they had a good quarterback--wishful thinking--but instead they have a terrible quarterback in Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars are holding an open competition between Gabbert and Chad Henne. They both suck, but let's say Gabbert wins the competition. This guy is scared of getting hit. He doesn't stand in the pocket to make a throw. Instead, he is already looking to start running when he's in the shotgun. He doesn't connect on 60 percent of his passes and in two years he hasn't had a quarterback rating higher than 80. Gabbert doesn't have any playmaking receivers at all. Receiver Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon are not good. How many people do you know who will draft a Jaguars' receiver on their fantasy football teams? The defense is terrible as well. Opponents run the ball 50 percent of the time against them, because they can't stop it. They rank 29th in points allowed at 27.8 ppg. The addition of Roy Miller should help the line. He anchored the defense for the Buccaneers last season, holding opponents to 82.5 rush yards. Now in the secondary, the Jaguars drafted safety Johnathan Cyprien. Just watching college film, this guy is all over the field, making hard hits and picking off quarterbacks. This was a great second round pick for the Jaguars.  This is going to be a process, but for this upcoming season the Jaguars will come in last place again.

The AFC South is a two headed race between the Colt and the Texans. The Texans will out-last the Colts and repeat as division champs. They have too many playmakers on both sides of the ball. They also gave Andre Johnson some help by bringing in DeAndre Hopkins. But what really impresses me is the defense is getting stronger. Bringing in Ed Reed to help the young secondary is just what the doctor ordered. A leader with playmaking abilities. The Colts are going to be a playoff team, although I believe a lot needs to happen in order for me to put them over the Texans. Vick Ballard needs more touches in the red zone and someone has got to help the 34 year-old Reggie Wayne in the receiving corps. I'm not sold on what they have now. The defense needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to help solidify the potential of what the secondary can do. The Titans are going to run the ball, yes I know, but the line needs to stay healthy for Chris Johnson. Also one of the receivers has to establish themselves as the leader of the pack. Right now its neck and neck. The defense is young with big expectations for being early picks. They need to show heart in their performance. With the Jaguars, it's all about MJD. They don't have a quarterback in Gabbert or Henne. They also need receivers to keep the defense honest as well. I like the moves in the defense, but I don't think one year will turn everything around. It's a process. But I expect them to win more than two games.

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