Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Remember The Titans -- AFC South Preview
Remember folks, we're still moving in the ending trenches of the dog days of summer, and there's only so much basketball-related stuff I can squeeze out around this time. We must remember to show love to the NFL, because, frankly, we have no choice.
The NFL, which opens up its regular season tomorrow (Saints at Colts, NBC, 8:30 ET) more than holds us over until the NBA and college regular seasons start and all is right in the world. It's America's Game, and it contradicts everything that the NBA puts forth. In essence, everything that you hate about the NFL makes it that much greater.
NFL teams play only one game a week; NBA teams play up to 5 games in seven days, sorta like they're rock stars on tour or something. You would think that would be a negative for the NFL, but it's not. Far from it, actually.
The one game a week for 17 weeks (one bye week) makes for a scenario where every game is a life-or-death situation. A loss to Cleveland in Week 2 could be a major pain in the ass come late December. In the NBA, a loss to the Grizzlies in the second week of January means absolutely nothing to a team outside of that actual night, and even then I'm sure players and coaches don't give a damn. In the League, you're taught to put every win and loss behind you like that (snaps fingers); in the NFL, for the most part, you better play your life out each week or risk it biting you in the ass later.
The NFL also provides the dynamic of "This could be our year". Every summer, analysts, experts, and fantasy owners try to predict "sleepers", whether they be players or teams. A team that finished 2-14 could realistically have a chance at winning their division the next year, except the Texans, of course. (Of course, this also speaks to the dramatic roster changes due to salary cap moves, which is a blistering negative for the NFL, but hey, can't win 'em all.) Hey, the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions battle each year for the right to be America's sleeper team. (Not really making them sleepers, me thinks.) In the Association, a franchise can literally go a decade without so much as smelling any kind of success.
So here we are, early September with the luxury of non-stop football to quench our thirst for athletic excellence, but to transition us into the NBA's 2007 arrival. So of course there must be debates, analysis, predictions, and previews. And I'll start with the AFC South, the division that not only is home to the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, but my official NFL team (Tennessee Titans) and the franchise that plays just 10 minutes from my house, not counting the horrific I-610 traffic (Houston Texans).
Indianapolis Colts (2006: 12-4) -- The Colts finally got over the hump last season, despite a record-setting run defense (not a good thing) and being down 21-3 to their bitter rivals, the New England Patriots, in the AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning got the two trophies (Lombardi and SB MVP) he needed to silence his critics, but he'll probably need another season like those in the Manning 2003-2005 range to overcome huge losses to the Colts' core (Nick Harper, Dominic Rhodes).
Tennessee Titans (2006: 8-8) -- Led by rookie quarterback Vince Young (thanks, Charlie Casserly), the Titans barely missed the postseason after winning 8 of their last 13 games (all started by Vince). Moreso than the Colts, the Titans are going to need a Herculean effort from VY if they want to make the playoffs in '07.
The Titans lost their top two receivers from last season (Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade), 1,300 yard running back (Travis Henry) and their main playmaker on defense and special teams (Pacman Jones). Will Vince and second-year back LenDale White be enough? I think so. They're still better than the Texans.
Speaking of the Texans....
Houston Texans (2006: 6-10) -- Here's a familiar Texans fan quote (which I'll be hearing for the next 17 weeks): "The Texans improved. We're better than last year." Well, it's true, the Texans have improved. They're no longer the cellar dwellers of the AFC South (that title belongs to the last team on this list), they got rid of David Carr (which I couldn't believe, seeing how he was so good last year that Gary Kubiak passed on the Offensive Rookie of the Year and gave Carr an extension. You mean to tell me they made a mistake with that one. No! *releases sarcasm button), and they actually seem to have a competitive roster for once.
Matt Schaub looked good in the preseason and Ahman Green is still walking, so they have that going for them. The Texans still need another reliable receiver behind Andre Johnson and need to upgrade their struggling secondary (and get Dunta Robinson a bodyguard while they're at it.)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2006: 8-8) -- The Jags looked destined for disappointment long before coach Jack Del Rio publicly castrated former QB Byron Leftwich last week. With him out, new quarterback David Garrard is in. Long-time Jags safety Donovan Darius is also out after an injury-riddled 2006 season; rookie safety Reggie Nelson is in. With mainstay back Fred Taylor also coming off an up-and-down year due to injuries, young speed back (and fantasy football Hall-of-Famer) Maurice Jones-Drew should step in and take most of the carries. Jacksonville never seems to live up to their potential, and this year, there seems to not be much to have to live up to.
Division Champs: Colts