The 2009 NFL Preview
The AFC South and West


Indianapolis (12 – 4) ~ I’ve seen a few people expecting the Colts to drop off… but I don’t echo their sentiments. Completely.

I understand how the departures of Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison are perfect examples of change. People don’t like change.

Peyton Manning still has a solid group of talent around him offensively. Anthony Gonzalez should be a significant weapon running with Reggie Wayne this season. And virtually every free agent came back.

I guess what I’m saying is simple… the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The schedule kicks off with Jacksonville, then trips to Miami and Arizona. All of those present tough, but winnable games for the Colts. The last four games feature Denver and New York (Jets) at home, and a trip to Buffalo.

Yeah… Tennessee is a tough team. But by not winning the division last year… and with New England not winning last year either… the AFC has a different look in 2009. Many of the best teams won’t be killing each other. The Titans get Pittsburgh and San Diego… and then still get New England because the South plays the East. Yuck for Tennessee.

I like what the Colts have for 2009. Maybe they are in decline… not quite the same these days… but for this year, I still expect a playoff berth.

Tennessee (10 – 6 ) ~ I started my thoughts a moment ago… this year is going to be tough on the Titans. By winning the division last year, the get the Chargers and the Steelers. While I don’t expect miracles from Houston and Jacksonville in 2009, they certainly present more of a threat than Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, Oakland, new York or Buffalo present as the bottom feeders in the other AFC divisions. So… if we can agree on at least 2 divisional losses… toss in the Patriots, Chargers, Steelers and Dolphins… well, things look interesting for them.

Were it gets interesting is what they do with the NFC West. They could easily win all four of those games. And that means it could be games against Buffalo and New York (Jets) that gets them up to 10 wins. I think they can do that.

Special teams is in good hands… as Rob Bironas is about as consistent a kicker as you will ever see while never hearing about him. Their running game is strong and their defense is fantastic.

The one question that worries me about the Titans is a simple one… I don’t think they can score if they have to. Kerry Collins is fine… he’s not much more than average, but he’s certainly not a bad quarterback. Still… under fire… I don’t expect more from him than a three-and-out. Hardly the thing that builds championships.

Houston (8 – 8) ~ Welcome to year eight of Houston’s 3 to 5 year plan.And following an 8-8 record in 2008, the team will be looking for more in 2009.

Is it possible?

I have my doubts.

There isn’t a single game on their schedule that jumps out at me as a win. Even something like Oakland… last year the Raiders beat them 27-16. So we’re dealing with a team that can win or lose any week.

They have… in my opinion, bar none… the best wide receiver playing right now in Andre Johnson. The fact that this guy doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is ridiculous. Toss in Steve Slaton… I know, no one really knows his name, but last year he gained almost 1,300-yards as a rookie and scored 9 touch downs… and there is some power on offense in Houston.

Did you think we’d be talking about Mario Williams like we do? He’s played every game since becoming a pro, has 37 sacks in those three seasons, frankly, he’s worthy of recognition as a force to be reckoned with on that line.

My problems? Well…

If they play consistently, I don’t have any. The schedule, featuring Oakland and Buffalo, isn’t impossible to navigate. But that bitter taste of their losses in previous seasons… snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as the saying goes… is tough to overcome.

Jacksonville (7 – 9) ~ I have no clue what to tell you about Jacksonville. And there’s a funny reason for that…

About 3 or 4 years ago, I was impressed. The defense was hungry and attacking. They looked good… inspired… and seemed to be a team on the rise. And about a year later, they were in the middle of that rise. A threat to take the division title from Indianapolis. Got them to the playoffs. Since then they’ve… well… they just seem to have lost that edge. I thought they had a quarterback that could win for them. He’s gone. I thought they made some major free agent signings. They didn’t work out. And so here we are, heading in to a new season, and the club that showed me so much promise has a different roster.

My general thoughts aren’t good either. Actually, not my thoughts, just my simple first impression… it’s not good. And it’s not even truly team-related. Why? Because I’ve been reading, for whatever reason, about the USFL and other articles about Jacksonville, and how football in Jacksonville is just all wrong. And I’m afraid that seeing the club achieving at a level below where I thought they might be headed, combined with some negative stories that have nothing to do with this team but everything to do with Jacksonville and the history of professional football in the city floating around in my head… well… it adds up to me not expecting much from the Jaguars, but a distinct feeling of having judged them too harshly.

So let’s see what we’ve got…

Maurice Jones-Drew is a good running back. I like that. They added Torry Holt to their offense… and giving David Garrard a veteran presence is something I can really appreciate as a positive step.

Defense is balanced… though not exactly made up of stars. That’s not a bad thing, just a realistic observation. Remember a couple of years ago, when Jason Taylor was the defensive player of the year and seemed to will the Dolphins defense to play better than they were? Ok… that’s not going to happen here in Jacksonville.

In short… they’re better than the 5-11 we saw last season. But I don’t think they’re significantly better.

San Diego (12 – 4) ~ This club comes out of the gate with six guaranteed wins. Six. Because there is absolutely no way… no excuse… for them to lose a single divisional game. Well…

…except this. This is a reason. Yeah… the Shawne – Tila story.

I mention that story for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. See, San Diego is ready to roll.

They have a dynamic defense. They can be powerful up front, stuff runs, and pressure the passing game. The linebackers and defensive backs are strong as well.

Special teams… led by Nate Kaeding… are above average too.

On offense, Philip Rivers is a good quarterback. Tomlinson may not be what he was… he’s still better than most. Antonio Gates leads some good receiving options.

This is an above average football team… and one you would go into a season quite satisfied with. In fact, once again, quite possibly the most naturally talented team in the NFL.

At least … until Tila comes along.

Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying Shawne did anything to Tila. And I’m not saying he didn’t. The whole situation is something I know zero about. I’m mentioning it because it’s an example of a distraction... or at least a potential distraction. And what I am saying is that… when considering the San Diego Chargers… the idea that days before the season begins such a story even exists is troubling. Because history suggests the slightest interruption… the slightest inconvenience… seems to throw this club completely off balance. They are like a Ferrari in a parking lot filled with speed bumps... lined up just right they will be strong and powerful... hit a bump and it looks completely wrong.

Question that idea if you wish, but I’ll need you to explain how the most talented team in football struggles to reach an even records in 2008.

And… Norv Turner… well, he just might be the worst head coach in football. (I wouldn’t want him navigating my Ferrari.)

So enjoy San Diego. It’s going to be a great season. But when it comes down to it… Pittsburgh, New England or Tennessee will eventually send you home.

Denver (5 – 11) ~ Show me something.

I want to see something.


Denver travels to Cincinnati. Not an easy game… especially for a team that isn’t a top tier team… but a winnable game for any club that thinks they can reach a minimum of 8 wins. Then they play Cleveland and Oakland. So… come on… 3-0 is sitting right there in front of them.

After that, the world collapses. Dallas, New England and San Diego are listed in that order. Following their bye week they face Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington… with trips to the east coast for the Ravens and Redskins. Then they face San Diego and New York (Giants).

Hold on… hold on… this team has New England, Pittsburgh, 2 against San Diego, and they have to play the NFC East with Philly and Washington as the road games from those?

Dear lord… they’re screwed. This might be the worst schedule any team plays, and they get Kansas City and Oakland as four of their games!!!

Forget looking over the players, I need to move on. (But… when Denver makes a miraculous rise to respectability next year, and everyone wants to know how it happened, please remind them of the schedule the Broncos had this year.)

Oakland (3 – 13) ~ Can you tell me how often Richard Seymour has been listed as a starter for all 16 games of the regular season in his career? Give yourself a treat if you knew the answer was once.


Only in 2002.

Now in all honesty, the numbers aren’t that hideous. Last year he started and played in 15 games. And in 2006 he played in all 16 games but was considered the starter for 15. And, in his 8 seasons, he has played in 12 or more games 7 times.

The thing is, it sure doesn’t seem to me like the numbers should be that good. One thing my mind keeps screaming is that it sure seems like every week of the past several regular seasons involved questions about whether or not he would play… every week… and if he did play, then it was going to be how much… and that in the end the Patriots were really just hoping he’d be healthy when the playoffs arrived. Now perhaps that’s perception more than the reality… and the numbers indicate that it might not have been the reality. After all, Seymour is a great player and can be a tremendous force on the field. Maybe that’s enough.

Still, this trade makes no sense for Oakland… none at all. Unless they use every means available to them (and considering the labor negotiations taking place, they may not have any means such as franchise tags available to them), there is no way Seymour is staying in Oakland. Other teams… better teams… will offer him equal if not more money. And that means there is a very real possibility that Oakland traded a first round pick… a top ten first round pick… to the Patriots for a guy that will join them for what I see as a 3-win season.

Now I predicted 3 wins for Oakland before the trade. And, truth be told, either the Raiders or the Chiefs will likely figure out how to threaten 4 or 5 wins. Oakland did that last year, and as we’ve already examined in this very column, they play Houston this year. But I didn’t change anything for two reasons. Number one… I always try to make my records balance. If someone wins… someone must lose… so across the NFL the records must reflect 256 wins, and thus 256 losses. So if I give Oakland a victory or 2 for picking up Seymour, I need to find a loss or 2 to give someone else. And second… is he really going to help this team? Really? Because they stink.

Enough said. I’m finished with these guys.

Kansas City (2 – 14) ~ I’d like to find something nice to say about the Chiefs. Really I would.

But not this season.

Right now, there isn’t a game on their schedule that will see them favored. Maybe they win a couple and that changes later in the year… but not right now.

Right now they need help. More help. I’m optimistic they’ll get it.

But not this season.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at