The four teams with legitimate quarterback battles -- Tennessee, Seattle, Miami and Arizona -- all missed the playoffs last season and won't be prognosticator darlings when season predictions come out before Week 1. Which of the four has the best shot at making the postseason in 2012?
The Tennessee Titans spent most of last season battling without their two best players. Receiver Kenny Britt played in just three games, and Chris Johnson was a shell of himself after showing up late to camp. And still, they finished 9-7.
This year, Johnson is as fast as before, and Britt is surprising even himself with his quick rehab. The hope is that quarterback Jake Locker emerges as a star, but even if he is just mediocre, the infrastructure is strong enough to make Tennessee a 10-6 team. The Houston Texans will be a beast in the division, but with solid quarterback play, the Titans are right there with them on a player-by-player basis. Tennessee is in prime position.
The Miami Dolphins are the only team I would count out of this discussion.
The Tennessee Titans have enough offensive talent and play in a weak division. The Arizona Cardinals have an improved, younger defense. The Seattle Seahawks are my choice, though, because they have a more improved, more talented young defense. Pete Carroll's team, like division foe San Francisco, was greater than the sum of its parts by the end of last year. With a little help from Matt Flynn, the Seahawks can win the NFC West.
Honestly, I don't think any of these four teams will make the playoffs this season. But if forced to choose one, I like Tennessee's chances the best.
Chris Johnson has probably had his best offseason yet, adding weight and strength. I look for him to have a bounce-back year. Jake Locker is my bet at this point to be the Titans' quarterback at the start of the season. Locker was impressive when he played last season against the New Orleans Saints. Tennessee's offensive line is solid, especially in pass protection. On defense, I think the Titans will be better in the front seven with the addition of Kamerion Wimbley and the continued growth of Derrick Morgan. Also, look for LB Akeem Ayers to help as a pass rusher.
Tennessee's two biggest question-mark positions are wide receiver (because of Kenny Britt's injury and off-field issues) and cornerback (where youth abounds).
The Arizona Cardinals could be one of the surprise teams of the NFL this season, provided they take a cue from the Los Angeles Angels. You see, the Angels invested a ton of money in Vernon Wells, but have wisely kept him on the bench, contract be damned. The Cardinals need to do the same thing with Kevin Kolb.
Seriously, an interception on his first pass from scrimmage in the Hall of Fame Game? And then he goes out with an injury? Not the type of performance you want from a guy dogged by inconsistency and injuries.
So give John Skelton a chance. It's not like the Cardinals didn't get a good enough look at him last year. Arizona went 6-2 with Skelton under center, including a win over the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.
And, while the quarterback controversy will generate headlines, the Cardinals have quietly built a solid defense. The unit struggled in the opening part of 2011, but closed strong and should be even better in 2012. This defense brims with playmakers like Darnell Dockett and Patrick Peterson.
I look for the Cardinals to win 10 games this season, and if they don't win the West, they will certainly be in the mix for a wild-card spot.
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Locker-led Titans will win AFC South
For these teams, it's more about opportunity than talent. The Dolphins will finish last in a loaded AFC East. The Cardinals just don't have the firepower on either side of the football, and when your best quarterback is still the guy sitting next to Rich Eisen and Steve Mariucci on NFL Network, you're not unseating the 49ers. I'd pick the Seahawks if they could play all 16 games at home. But they can't. So I won't.
That leaves us with the Titans. Not only do I think they have the best postseason shot among these four teams, but I believe they'll win the AFC South this season straight out. The Houston Texans had a huge window to get to the Super Bowl last year and they didn't make it. They got worse on defense in the offseason and all they did on offense was get a year older. A revitalized season from Chris Johnson, who will win the rushing title this year, will make smoother sailing for Jake Locker, who showed a propensity to make big plays in limited time last year. Even though their first three games scare me (New England, at San Diego, Detroit), the Titans will win 10 games and take the division crown.