Monday, August 26, 2013

NFL Preview: AFC South and AFC West

     Here is part two of my NFL Preview. Last week, I covered the AFC East and the AFC North. This week, I'll be looking at the AFC South and the AFC West.
     AFC South
  1. Houston Texans: Getting Ed Reed was a big move for the Texans. The defensive line was already lethal with the likes of defensive ends J.J. Watt (81 tackles, four forced fumbles, 20.5 sacks) and Antonio Smith (7.0 sacks, two forced fumbles). But now Reed will bolster the secondary on the Texans team if he manages to stay healthy. As a matter of fact, health will be a major key in determining how far Houston goes this year. Andre Johnson had two straight injury-riddled campaigns before playing all 16 games in 2012. Matt Schaub had a lisfranc injury to his right foot in 2011. Hell, Arian Foster's been dealing with back problems throughout the entire offseason. But if the Texans can stay healthy, watch out.
  2. *Indianapolis Colts: Can Andrew Luck (54.1 comp. %, 4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs, 18 INTs, 10 fumbles) improve from last year and lead Indy back to the playoffs? One positive for the Colts is that Indianapolis was 4th in the NFL in converting 1st downs with 360. However, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will have to cut back heavily on turning the ball over. Fortunately, he'll have some help with the additions of OT Gosder Cherilus and RB Ahmad Bradshaw. Receivers Reggie Wayne (106 receptions, 1,355 receiving yards, five touchdowns) and T.Y. Hilton (50 receptions, 861 receiving yards, seven TDs) will also help Luck. Still, it will all hinge on what kind of season Luck will turn out for the Colts.
  3. Tennessee Titans: I don't know what to make of Chris Johnson (276 carries, 1,243 rushing yards, six TDs). He claims that he's coming into this season leaner and more fit. But does he still have the passion that he had in 2009 when he ran for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns? He's not the only Titan with question marks, though. Can Jake Locker (56.4 comp. %, ten TDs, eleven INTs last year) improve his accuracy? Who will step up and take pressure off of Kenny Britt being Locker's only target? This is a jekyll-and-hyde team that could be pretty good or extremely disappointing.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars: If you're looking for a good fantasy sleeper, take WR Cecil Shorts. In spite of only having 55 receptions and 979 receiving yards in 14 games and having past concussion problems, he also had 7 TDs. If Justin Blackmon can get his act together, then Blackmon and Shorts will be a receiving tandem to be reckoned with. Jacksonville also added veteran help on their D-Line by acquiring DE Jason Babin (7.0 sacks, four forced fumbles).
     AFC West
  1. Denver Broncos: After being out for the entire 2011 season, Peyton Manning made his return... in a Denver Broncos uniform. But that was the only difference last year as the 4-time NFL MVP threw for 4,659 yards and 37 TDs. Both Demaryius Thomas (94 receptions, 1,434 receiving yards, ten TDs) and Eric Decker (85 receptions, 1,064 receiving yards, 13 TDs) benefited from having Manning as quarterback (or helped him, whatever way you want to look at it). But now, Manning has another weapon in his arsenal; former New England Patriot (also former primary target of Tom Brady) Wes Welker has joined the team. Last year with the Pats, he had 118 receptions for 1,354 receiving yards and six touchdowns. However, there is one concern for Denver. The secondary isn't getting any younger; Champ Bailey is in his 15th season and Quentin Jammer's in his 12th. Luckily, the Broncos got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (16 career INTs in six seasons) who'll provide some depth in the battered and aging secondary. Also, keep an eye on rookie running back Montee Ball.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs: This team is my AFC pick as the "Pleasant Surprise" team. The Chiefs got a great head coach in Andy Reid and have a great running back in Jamaal Charles (285 carries, 1,509 rushing yards, five TDs). Don't forget that the Chiefs' secondary was 9th in the NFL in fewest total receiving yards allowed on defense with 3,694. But there are question marks that persist. One can Alex Smith avoid getting hurt and show that he's able to put up good stats. Another issue is there any way that the Chiefs can improve their pass rush; they ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 135.7. If everything turns out for the better, then KC will surprise a lot of people.
  3. San Diego Chargers: The window of opportunity for the Chargers to reach the Super Bowl is nearly shut. San Diego has a lot of wide receivers out and that includes Malcolm Floyd (knee) and Danario Alexander (out for the entire 2013 season with a torn right ACL). Their defense should be fun to watch, though. Dwight Freeney should be a good mentor for the young players on the D-Line and said that he's excited that the Chargers "will let him do what he does". Another interesting factor to watch will be how much of an impact Manti T'eo will have as a linebacker.
  4. Oakland Raiders: A giveaway/takeaway of -7. Carson Palmer, the quarterback who led the 8th-best passing attack in the NFL last year (255.3 passing yards per game), leaving for Arizona. One of the most penalized teams in the NFL (108 penalties for 939 yards). There's a lot of things that aren't going the way of the Raiders this year. One thing that isn't bad about Oakland is the defense. Being ranked 18th in total yards allowed in 2012 (5,672 yards) might not be something to brag about, but this defense is developing. With the likes of DE Andre Carter and CB Charles Woodson providing mentorship for their respective positions, the Raiders' defense will continue to develop.

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