Split decision for division crown
Dan Hanzus and I both pick the Indianapolis Colts to win the division, and the Houston Texans to fall right out of the playoffs. Marc Sessler and Chris Wesseling have the Texans winning the division at 11-5, with the Colts far behind at 8-8.
Houston has a more complete team. The Texans are one of the oldest teams in the league and have a defense that should be a difference maker. They have continuity among the players and the coaching staff.
My pick of the Colts was simply a pick for Andrew Luck. I'm among those who believe Luck could be a top-shelf NFL starter this year. And top-shelf NFL starters can drag flawed teams to 10 wins. Peyton Manning did it often early in his career.
Concern about Texans backfield
It's hard to knock the Texans' roster overall, even if it's not the youngest group in the world. My prediction of a 9-7 record is more about the reality of playoff turnover every year. On average, six new NFL teams make it ever year. Last year was an exception, but I try to make sure to predict at least five new playoff teams each season.
Some teams have to decline, and the Texans still are not as strong at head coach or quarterback as the other AFC contenders. They also are a play-action team that relies heavily on their running game. The injury concerns surrounding Arian Foster have been ominous.
Making the case for Tennessee
Making the case against the Titans is easy. Their overall defensive talent is average at best, and they are relying on growth from a scattershot young quarterback to carry an intriguing boom-or-bust collection of skill-position players.
The case for the Titans, made by Chris Wesseling on the podcast, starts with the offensive line. A weakness for the team last year could turn into a strength with free-agent pickup Andy Levitre and No. 10 overall draft pick Chance Warmack added to the mix. All four of us had the Titans in third place, but no one had them with a winning record.
Lowered expectations in Jacksonville
Expectations weren't exactly high going into last season, but there was hope that a strong defense led by coordinator Mel Tucker and a new coach would push the Jaguars toward .500. Instead, they bottomed out and now look to be in compete rebuilding mode.
We love the energy that coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell bring, but this is a team sorely lacking a pass rush, a secondary and a quality starting quarterback. Bradley will do well to get this team to six wins.
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