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Old 08-20-2004   #1
Nawzer
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Default NFL.com's AFC South Preview

By Don Seeholzer
Special to NFL.com

(With the NFL regular season set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9, NFL.com has put together an eight-part series previewing each team division by division. Here is the AFC South.)

Overview
For the first two years of its existence, the class differences between the haves and have-nots in the AFC South were nearly as obvious as the ones on The Simple Life 2.

While alternating as division champions the past two seasons, the Titans and Colts went a combined 15-1 against the bottom-feeding Jaguars and Texans, who often seemed as overmatched as Paris and Nicole in the sausage factory.

But the gap could be narrowing.

Jacksonville went 3-2 down the stretch in its first season under Jack Del Rio, including a 28-23 Week 10 victory against division-winning Indianapolis.

Houston played the Big Two down to the wire in its final two games before dropping a pair of three-point decisions and enters Year 3 in franchise history looking to make the jump from competitive to contender.

However the 2004 division race plays out, this much is clear: The Colts and Titans might still be the teams to beat, but the days of the two-team races could be nearing an end.

As Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher predicted a couple of months ago: "This division is going to be a good fight, and it won’t just be two people involved in the end like it's been with the Colts and Titans. It's going to be three or maybe four teams."

If the Jaguars and Texans are going to make that jump this season, a couple of young quarterbacks are going to have to step up.

Jacksonville has been touted as a team to watch and even a dark horse Super Bowl pick largely because of Byron Leftwich, who went 5-8 during his rookie season after the team got off to an 0-3 start under veteran Mark Brunell.

Houston is counting on continued improvement from David Carr, who enters his third season as part of a terrific trio that includes second-year running back Domanick Davis and wide receiver Andre Johnson.

With improved supporting casts surrounding talented young passers, the Jaguars and Texans have high hopes for this season, but the Colts and Titans are two of the NFL's heavyweights, led by the league's co-MVPs in Peyton Manning and Steve McNair.

Moving up in this division is possible, but it won't be easy.

Movers and shakers
No roster underwent more change than that of the Titans, who have a new No. 1 running back (Chris Brown, replacing the released Eddie George), No. 1 tight end ( Erron Kinney for the retired Frank Wycheck) and No. 3 wide receiver ( Tyrone Calico for the traded Justin McCareins). And that doesn't include Carlos Hall, who will replace Jevon Kearse at defensive end, or Kevin Carter, who will move inside to Robaire Smith's former defensive tackle spot.

The Texans are counting on first-round picks Dunta Robinson and Jason Babin to step right into the starting lineup at cornerback and outside linebacker, respectively, while the Jaguars need rookie receiver Reggie Williams to help offset the free-agent loss of Kevin Johnson.

The Colts' hopes for defensive improvement will rest mainly on some young veterans, but their top two draft choices -- Bob Sanders and Gilbert Gardner -- are possible starters at free safety and linebacker.

Expectations
Indianapolis and Tennessee have been the dominant teams in the AFC South and still look to be the class of the division, but the balance of power could shift, depending on the answers to some critical questions.


Can the Colts, with so much cap money tied up in Peyton Manning, get enough improvement from the rest of their roster -- particularly on defense -- to take the final step to the Super Bowl?

Can the Titans survive the departures of George, Kearse, McCareins and Smith to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, or are time and free-agent losses about to catch up with one of the NFL's most consistent winners?

Will Leftwich and the Jaguars, in their second season under Del Rio, be able to build on the momentum of last year’s strong finish?

Finally, can Carr -- in his third season as an NFL starter -- make the transition from promising young quarterback to winning quarterback and turn some of those close Texans losses into victories?

Coachspeak
Tony Dungy, on the Colts' need for some former backups to step up this season: "For the most part, guys usually play well when they get the chance. If you're drafting well, the guys do come through."

Jeff Fisher, on the competitive balance in the AFC South: "You look at the division overall and we needed a two-minute drive to beat the Texans last season and (the Colts) needed a two-minute drive to beat them. And that was in back-to-back weeks. And Jacksonville? They might be the most improved team in the division."

Jack Del Rio, on his first season with the Jaguars: "I think the one thing that we were able to accomplish this year was to establish our mindset. I think the players, coaches, all of us understand now what the Jaguars are going to be known for. We’re going to bring it on Sundays and be physical and tough, and look forward to competing against everyone."

Dom Capers, on the Texans' challenge for this season: "We went from 4-12 to 5-11 and proved we can compete with some of the top teams, but we still haven’t proved we can go out and compete and win against those teams."
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Old 08-20-2004   #2
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Pretty good article. I think most of the points made are right. It's going to be hard to move up in the division but the team has certainly improved and it should make for some good division games.

It all depends on injuries. But the Texans need to close out games in the 4th.
I think Coach Capers has emphasized that and the players knew it anyway.
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Old 08-20-2004   #3
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I like the wins we had this year. They came against good solid opponents but really I would like to see some games where we completely dominated and I think we will see that this year. I don't wanna see us have to pull them out in the 4th anymore.
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Old 08-20-2004   #4
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Quote:
Jeff Fisher, on the competitive balance in the AFC South:...And Jacksonville? They might be the most improved team in the division."
How so, Jeff? Take a look at the players the Jags brought in to replace starters.

Greg Favors (SOLB) for Danny Clark - Favors is with his 4th team in 4 seasons and he replaces another nobody.

Dewayne Washington (RCB) for Fernando Bryant - Washington slowed noticably in Pittsburgh last year, coming up with only 1 pick, 8 passes defensed, and losing his starting job. But he can start in Jax as the lost Bryant who wasn't much better.

Deon Grant (FS) for Deke Cooper - Grant was the Jags big FA acquistion this offseason, though Carolina didn't seem very interested in keeping him.

Josh Scobee (K) for Seth Marler - Marler was the worst kicker in the league last year with a 60% FG accuracy. The rookie Scobee went 1/3 last week . Can't wait to see him with a potential game winning kick.

But you say, "What about rookie phenom WR Reggie Williams?". Well, Reggie hasn't been able to beat out the short, slow, much traveled Troy Edwards.

"What about the improvement from year 1 to year 2 for Leftwich?", you say. Leftwich should get better, but how many wins does that turn into by itself? One? Two if you're optimistic?

"But look at Taylor, Smith, Darius, Stroud, & Henderson. They're very good and put up good numbers both individually and as a team." Right, and the Jags went 5-11 and winless on the road with them. How much better are they going to get? It's possible some could regress.

So, sorry Jeff and all the other Jag believers in the "Most Improved" label. I'm not buying what you're selling.
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Old 08-20-2004   #5
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in the not so distant past, the outcome of a jags season typically depended on the health of fred taylor. if taylor goes down now they have toefield and greg jones. i kinda feel like eventually 1 of these 2 will mature into a very good running back.

as for who improved more? okay, call me hommer. i'll take the texans any day of the week.
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Old 08-20-2004   #6
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TOTALLY agree. Jacksonville's "improvements" are thin at best. Lucky's point about Leftwich is crucial--there's this natural belief that he WILL be so much better, and I'm just not sure that's a realistic expectation so soon for this guy.
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Old 08-20-2004   #7
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has been terrible in the preseason so far although he has played some tough defenses. 4/11 with an inteception against T.B tonight, and a poor week against the dolphins. In addition, the Jags have a young head coach who still haven't proven himself. I'm not sold on Jack Del Rio.
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Old 08-20-2004   #8
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Out of the AFC south, the Texans made the most improvments by far. Tennesse lost more than anything. Indy didn't do much as the Jags didnt make any big moves either.
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Old 08-20-2004   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tacoman_j
has been terrible in the preseason so far although he has played some tough defenses. 4/11 with an inteception against T.B tonight, and a poor week against the dolphins. In addition, the Jags have a young head coach who still haven't proven himself. I'm not sold on Jack Del Rio.
Did you watch the Game... he had one pass that hit Troy Edwards right in the facemask and one of the Bucs intercepted it. He had one pass to Jimmy in the back of the endzone that was a forsure catch for a TD so Jack challenged it and somehow,someway did call it( you will prob see this on SC). Then their was a pass to Kyle Brady that at first they called a catch but then overuled it with no evidence. Byron didnt look anything close to his #'s. Only thing im worried about is getting a kicker(i mean is it really that hard!). CALL ME A HOMER IF YOU WANT BUT IF YOU SAW THE GAME YOU WOULD KNOW WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT.
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Old 08-20-2004   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jags98
Only thing im worried about is getting a kicker(i mean is it really that hard!).
It's not very easy that's for sure. Just ask San Fran a year ago. Several NFL teams have a tough time finding a K or P. They may be the smallest guys on the field, but they're always in high demand. Wasn't Matt Bryant a carsalesman before the Giants lured him back to the NFL? Either way teams are always in the market for a good kicker unless they have a Pro Bowl kicker like Indy, Miami, Philly, etc.
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Old 08-20-2004   #11
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Did any1 by anychance see that throw he made to Jimmy Smith that was overturned?
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Old 08-20-2004   #12
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Sounds like Fisher is trying to downplay the loss of Smith.
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Old 08-20-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WINTEXANSWIN
Like a lot of young QBs, he needs to learn to use touch. He was firing the ball way too hard at close range.
True it was a hard thrown ball. After that I didnt see Troy Edwards in I believe he got hurt(but was prob from Byrons pass )
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Old 08-20-2004   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WINTEXANSWIN
Like a lot of young QBs, he needs to learn to use touch. He was firing the ball way too hard at close range.
Sounds familiar
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Old 08-21-2004   #15
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I would think that Paris and Nicole are rather adept at working sausage.
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Old 08-21-2004   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiddy
Sounds familiar
And speaking of which (pun not intended), I think that was probably one of the things I was most impressed with in Carr's first preseason game against the Cowboys. He made some good screen and short passes that he didn't rifle in. On occasion, he did let loose like on the pass where he had to get it to Bruener with defenders around or on the Gaffney TD...but only when appropriate. Now I just want to see him throw some successful goal line post throws to Andre, who should get at least a couple TDs a year using his size and athleticism to go up and get passes over defenders in the red zone.
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Old 08-21-2004   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jags98
Only thing im worried about is getting a kicker(i mean is it really that hard!).
The Texans have an extra kicker they would love to give you in exchange for either Stroud or Henderson.......
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Old 08-21-2004   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BornOrange
The Texans have an extra kicker they would love to give you in exchange for either Stroud or Henderson.......
Add in 3 1st round picks and u gotta deal . That guy from Washington was lookin good and some guy with last name France.
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Old 08-21-2004   #19
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Seriously, Sievers has looked pretty good as a kicker and I wouldn't be surprised to see him kicking for another NFL team this year.

I wonder how the Texans are going to handle Sievers. Will they be able to trade him for low round draft pick, or will they have to cut him and then not get anything in return for him if another team picks him up. I was really surprised when he was back in camp with the Texans again this year because Brown has the kicker spot wrapped up. Surely there were some teams (like the Jaguars) that Sievers would have had a better shot at making.
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Old 08-21-2004   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RunninRaven
I would think that Paris and Nicole are rather adept at working sausage.
Not so sure about Nicole, but I've 'heard' there's a tape circulating around where Paris displays her sausage working skills. I believe Hillshire Farms produces it, and might give her a job. Poor girl...she could really use the money.
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