Will this division be a two team race in 2013? I believe the Titans and Jags are both improved but not enough to compete with Indy or Houston. Andrew Luck will continue to get better and the Texans need to make the most of their success before the window of opportunity finally closes for them.
1. Houston Texans: The Texans should be a Super Bowl contender again this season. They boasted both a top ten offense and a top ten defense last year on their way to a 12-4 record. It took ten long years for this squad to finally get a playoff birth and now they have a chance for a three-peat, both as winners of the division and for consecutive playoff appearances.
Where they got better: Wide receiver. It was one of the NFL’s worst kept secrets that the Texans needed a legit number two receiver to have a chance of making a deep playoff run and possibly a Super Bowl appearance. DeAndre Hopkins should help the team succeed in this goal. He might be a rookie but he is a very talented one.
Where they got worse: Safety. Glover Quin left as a free agent and Houston plans to replace him with Ed Reed. The only problem with that is Reed’s recovery time after hip surgery and how much of an impact his rehab might have on the availability of one of the most talented players in the game.
Breakout player: Whitney Mercilus, OLB. Mercilus registered six sacks as a rookie in 2012. Due to recent departures at this position, Whitney should be an impact player in the starting lineup.
2. Indianapolis Colts: The colts were victorious only three times against 2012 playoff teams. The defense was ranked 26th and the offense struggled at times with a rookie quarterback. Indianapolis should make the postseason despite any hangovers from a year ago. Luck should be improved as a sophomore player this season.
Where they got better: The offensive line. The unit from a year ago gave up 41 sacks. Indy spent big bucks to acquire tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas during the offseason.
Where they got worse: Outside linebacker. Losing Dwight Freeney will be costly for a unit that doesn’t look good on paper. Erik Walden will be expected to fill the void along with rookie Bjoern Werner.
Breakout player: Coby Fleener, TE. His 26 catch rookie season will look like nothing compared to what he accomplishes this year. Being drafted the same year as your starting quarterback has its advantages.
3. Tennessee Titans: Third year quarterback Locker will be the focus of attention for the Titans this season. If he is unable to improve his play from a year ago look for Fitzpatrick to become the number one guy at quarterback. Tennessee will struggle until a leader is identified on offense.
Where they got better: Guard. Tennessee upgraded the offensive line in an effort to help Chris Johnson get the blocking any good running back requires to perform his duties on the field. This upgrade may be the most significant improvement of any team league-wide.
Where they got worse: Tight end. This position is worse as an offensive weapon. Delanie Walker can block almost as well as an offensive lineman but his weakness has always been being a disruptive force in the passing game.
Breakout player: Kendall Wright, WR. Wright lost 15 pounds during the offseason and is eager to prove himself during his sophomore season in the league. Though his play during his rookie season was inconsistent, he does possess the skill to become a major threat in the passing game.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags are this division’s rebuilding project. Many questions remain unanswered regarding the future direction of this franchise. Quarterback is one key position that needs to be sorted out this season and the 2013 draft picks need to be evaluated in real game situations. Don’t expect more than five or six wins from this club.
Where they got better: The secondary. Marcus Trufant and Alan Ball are the key veterans. Three rookies with a lot of talent will rely on the vets to teach them what it takes to play in the NFL.
Where they got worse: The pass rush. Jacksonville did very little to improve the league’s worst defensive front in terms of sacks, with just twenty a season ago. Can the disappointing performances from last season be replaced by consistent production this year?
Breakout player: Alan Ball, CB. Big and aggressive, Ball is the perfect cornerback to excel in the Jags defensive schemes.