2012 NFL Predictions: Analyzing the AFC South
Welcome to the second part of of the 2012 NFL Predictions series. Today we look at the AFC South, who by most accounts is the Houston Texans‘ to lose. The Texans ran away with the division in 2011, becoming the first team to lock up their playoff spot in the NFL.
Despite losing Matt Schaub to a foot injury late in the season, T.J. Yates was able to win the franchise’s first ever playoff game and nearly led them to a win over the Baltimore Ravens on the road.
If it weren’t for a couple rookie mistakes and a botched punt return by Jacoby Jones, the Texans could have made the AFC Championship.
The division did not get much better, but it has a ton of intrigue. Let’s take a look.
Divisional MVP – Arian Foster
The Texans should run away with this division again unless the Tennessee Titans can improve offensively. They have looked decent in the preseason with Jake Locker running the show, but I’m going to reserve judgement until I see results in the regular season. Foster had a great year in 2011 despite missing three games due to injury. He led the league in yards from scrimmage per game and, despite some shuffling on the Texans offensive line, should have a similar 2012 season.
The Texans are the favorite to win the division, and Foster is the best player on that team. It’s a close race between he and Andre Johnson, but Johnson’s injury history scares me.
Divisional Offensive Player of the Year – Arian Foster
Often times the MVP and offensive player of the year are the same player. This is a close race between Chris Johnson of the Titans, Foster and Johnson of the Texans, but Foster should just have the better numbers of the three and be on the best team in the division, giving him the edge.
Divisional Defensive Player of the Year – JJ Watt
I promise I’m not a Texans fan, I just feel like the best players are going to come from this division. Watt may actually not rack up the numbers to warrant giving him this award, but I feel like he’s easily the best defensive player in the division right now. He had a monster rookie season and, despite suffering an injury in the preseason, should get even better in 2012.
Divisional Breakout Player of the Year – Blaine Gabbert
There have been positive reports coming out of Jaguars training camp that Gabbert is getting more confident and much more accurate, leading me to believe he could have a solid bounce back season after a terrible rookie campaign. Getting him some weapons in Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon will definitely help, but this could change drastically if Maurice Jones-Drew does not show up for the regular season.
MJD is a security blanket for that entire offense, and if he’s not there I’m not sure third-year player Rashad Jennings can handle the workload.
Divisional Rookie of the Year – Andrew Luck
Luck has looked solid in his few starts during the preseason, and everyone seemed to agree he was the most NFL ready QB coming out of the draft since John Elway. He has a solid corps of weapons around him, including two rookie tight ends drafted this year in Coby Fleener (his college roommate) and Dwayne Allen.
Fleener and Allen are both incredibly talented athletes who should give Luck plenty of options over the middle, and with Reggie Wayne working the outside, it should be easy goings for Luck from a developmental standpoint.
Final Divisional Standings, Record and Playoff Chances
1. Houston Texans (12-4, No. 2 seed) – The Texans should dominate this division considering none of the other three teams stack up to them talent wise. As long as Matt Schaub and Johnson stay healthy, they are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. The transformation by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has turned this team into a serious Super Bowl contender, and if they get home field in the playoffs for at least the first game, Reliant Stadium is going to be like a rock concert.
2. Tennessee Titans (8-8, miss playoffs) – The Titans are an interesting team because if Locker takes the next step and can lead this offense, the Titans have a chance to challenge the Texans for the division. Johnson will hopefully get back to doing what he does best after a poor season resulting from his holdout. The defense was top 10 in points allowed at just 19.8 per game in 2011, so the offense was the only thing holding them back. They are a wild card contender for sure, but will have to make a leap offensively to challenge Houston.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10, miss playoffs) – The Jaguars look better on paper, but even though I see an improvement coming from them I’m not sure it will amount to more wins. They still have the MJD situation which could lead into the regular season and really hurt their offense. They added some players on defense like Clint Session and Aaron Ross, but I still get the feeling the Jaguars are a year or two away from being division contenders.
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-11, miss playoffs) – Unless Luck has a monster year like Andy Dalton did for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Colts will go through some growing pains with a rookie QB and a new head coach. They will definitely improve on their 2-14 season a year ago, but they won’t be playoff contenders for a couple of years.
That’s all for the second part of this NFL predictions series, check back tomorrow for part 3!
Jeff is an NFL Featured Columnist for RantSports.com. He contributes mainly to the New York Giants and NFL Rumors pages. He also will occasionally touch on the NBA and humorous videos involving all sports.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_Shull
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