AFC South Preview

COLTS HOPE TO CATCH TEXANS...BUT TEXANS THINKING SUPER BOWL IN AFC SOUTH

Evaluating the AFC South is going to be very tricky this season. Neither the first place Houston Texans, or Wildcard Indianapolis (who hosts Buffalo Sunday afternoon in an NFL Preseason game that will be nationally televised by the NFL Network) were as good as their own-lost records last season. Yet, both are capable of making a few tweaks here or there in a way that will fix the problems and put them back in the postseason. Should handicappers assume those tweaks will be made? Or, is the AFC South just going to be a division full of pretenders?!

2012 AFC South Standings (turnover differential/strength of schedule)
Houston: 12-4 (+12 turnovers, #23 schedule)
Indianapolis: 11-5 (-12 turnovers, #32 schedule)
Tennessee 6-10: (-4 turnovers, #28 schedule)
Jacksonville: 2-14 (-3 turnovers, #26 schedule)

All four teams played soft schedules...with the Colts and Titans in particular getting blessed with very easy slates. In short:

  • Houston was able to out-execute all the bad teams on their schedule, but was exposed as wanting when it came to playing their best ball when it really mattered late against top competition. They may have been a 10-6 or 11-5 team against an average schedule...which is playoff caliber but not championship caliber.

  • Indianapolis got the gift schedule of all time, and still needed to win miracle after miracle in the final moments to reach the Wildcard. Some would argue this was a 6-10 team in the big picture, and multiple stats back that up.

  • Tennessee went 6-10 against an easy schedule, which means 4-12 or 3-13 if they played over in the NFC.

  • Jacksonville could only win two games against an easy schedule! Some believe they were tanking through portions of the season with the draft in mind. Even then, this wasn't a great collection of talent no matter how you slice it.

About the only good news is the fact that Houston continues to learn from its mistakes as it climbs up the AFC ladder (they were reasonably competitive with New England in Foxboro in the playoffs...but Baltimore would win on that field a week later)...and that Andrew Luck is going to make fewer mistakes as a second-year quarterback than he did as a rookie.

2012 Yards-per-Play
Houston: 5.5 on offense, 5.1 on defense
Tennessee: 5.2 on offense, 5.5 on defense
Jacksonville: 4.8 on offense, 5.5 on defense
Indianapolis: 5.2 on offense, 6.0 on defense

Now...if Luck does improve his ball protection...will that even matter if the Colts are going to keep allowing six yards-per-play?! This is why so many statheads saw the Colts as a 6-10 type team. You just can't count on always winning the close games. At some point, having a horrible defense is going to kill you. Nice numbers for Houston. But, a championship caliber team would have a bigger differential than that against a soft schedule.

2012 Third Down Conversions
Houston: 38% on offense, 33% on defense
Indianapolis: 43% on offense, 38% on defense
Tennessee: 38% on offense, 41% on defense
Jacksonville: 30% on offense, 41% on defense

Pretty amazing that Indianapolis could allow 6.0 yards-per-play but only 38% on third downs. That tells you they were extremely vulnerable to the big play. Fix that...and you've got playoff caliber numbers in this stat differential. We haven't talked about Tennessee yet. Do you see any reason in the numbers to talk about Tennessee? Jake Locker has a low ceiling, and hasn't shown much signs of meaningful development at quarterback. Same is true for Blaine Gabbert of Jacksonville.

2013 Projected Win Totals in Las Vegas
Houston: 10.5 wins
Indianapolis: 8.5 wins
Tennessee: 6.5 wins
Jacksonville: 5 wins

If Houston stays healthy, they should have a great shot at topping that market projection. They can almost pencil in 5-1 in their own division. Indianapolis is very volatile. If Luck makes the second-year leap that many of the other all-time greats have...that will counteract other issues with the team that would put the Colts right in the playoff mix. But, if he doesn't do that...and the defense continues allowing big plays....then 6-10 is a reasonable guess. Hard to be optimistic about Tennessee or Jacksonville until there's a quarterback change to a top thrower. Possible changes this year would only involve Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne...which is enough to get in the neighborhood of the market, but not enough to be meaningful.

JIM HURLEY already watched exhibition action this week involving Houston (a win over Minnesota), Tennessee (a home loss to Washington), and Jacksonville (a very poor result vs. Miami). He's very interested in see both the Colts and new-look Buffalo Sunday afternoon in the TV game. You can purchase a selection in that one right here at the website, as well as a big Sunday in baseball. Be sure to check out seasonal rates. If you have any questions, call us during the week during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow for a baseball series preview. Football is off until Thursday, so we'll go with this schedule in the NOTEBOOK:

Monday: Preview of Baltimore Orioles at Arizona Diamondbacks (both in must-win situations)
Tuesday: Preview of Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals (huge rematch showdown)
Wednesday: Bonus Baseball
Thursday: NFC South to get you ready for Atlanta vs. Baltimore
Friday: NFC West to get you ready for San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Saturday: NFC North to get you ready for Green Bay vs. St. Louis

That will finish off our summer series of NFL Divisional previews. August if flying by...so be sure you TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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