The 2010 NFL Preview
The AFC South and West


In the confusion that is the East and North, I think we find some AFC sanity in the South and West. Simply put… Indianapolis and San Diego look to be the best. And then again…

Houston and Denver are on the cusp of playoff possibilities. Tennessee isn’t that far removed from a season where they weren’t expected to do much and delivered a regular season demolition.

The place where sanity really reigns here? Jacksonville… Kansas City… Oakland… well, they simply aren’t making the leap to an even record, regardless of how well they play.

I also think we know what we are likely to get. Indianapolis should win the South. San Diego should win the West. New England… Miami… New York… all of them could win the East. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh… good… bad… indifferent… who knows?

There’s a clarity of sorts here.

(Yeah…. Sure there is.)


Indianapolis (10 – 6) ~ Unless you believe that Curtis Painter is going to rise from the bench, take the field, and lead the Colts to glory, the discussion begins and ends with Peyton Manning.

Sure… the defense has some names you are obviously familiar with. But we’ve watched some of those names get injured, and the band plays on.

Sure… the revolving door of wide receivers and expectations has continued to go round and round, and the band plays on.

The conductor of this band is Manning. Witness last season… Indy against Miami. Needing 24 points for victory, and only being given something like 90-seconds of offensive possession over the entire 60-minute game, Manning brought them to 27 points and the win. Witness last season… Indy against New England. Good lord, do I really need to recap that one?

Manning on the field… 10 to 10-plus wins, playoff spot assured.

Manning off the field… won’t win 5.

Houston (9 – 7) ~ Funny thing about Houston… they probably have taken aim at their own feet more than any other club since I’ve been writing pieces like this. That may not be entirely true, but it’s not far off either.

Last season, they lost to the Jets in the opener, and struggled to recover the rest of the year… despite looking good and playing well at times.

And when I pick the games against the spread, it seems like Houston loses games I fully believe they will win, and wins games I view as obvious losses.

So what does the schedule lead us to believe about this team?


It starts with Indy at home. Then they travel to Washington and host Dallas. So that’s two potential division winners (Colts and Cowboys) and a club I keep hearing solid things about (Redskins… though I’m skeptical of them).

Win one of those games, and the Texans are ok. Win two… good. Win three… well, absolutely brilliant, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

See, that opening is followed by Oakland, New York (Giants) and Kansas City. And that means I see 3-3 and even 4-2 as very, very possible if they can stay focused and play and win just 1 of the first 3. If they can accomplish that, it could get them into the playoff discussion. But after that bye week, they will be facing consistently tough opponents… two against the Titans, the Colts again, the Jets, the Ravens… and, yeah, a lackluster early effort could once again create late season heartbreak. If they don’t manage to be at least even after 6 games, they will have dug a hole there is no escape from. And… their history suggests that when opportunity knocks, their team heads for the shovels.

As the world is beginning to understand, the best wide receiver in football calls Houston home… and Johnson is coming off of a monster season… 101 receptions and almost 1,600-yards.

You may recall that I made fun of Buffalo for having Owens and Evans last season and that they didn’t combine for 100 catches. Well… in Houston… the number two and three receivers on the club joined up for 97 in 2009.

You may recall that I made fun of Cincinnati for scoring 20-plus in just 6 contests. Well… in Houston… the Texans scored fewer than 20 in just 5 games.

This club has the ability to be much, much better than you think.

The question they need to answer though is very simple… can they get to at least 3-3?

Tennessee (8 – 8) ~ The year was 2008. Tom Brady was hurt… and the 16-0 of the 2007 New England regular season was long in the rear view mirror. In fact, with New England playing inconsistent football (they finished the 2008 year with a good record, but didn’t make the playoffs), the AFC postseason was a wide open race filled with unexpected contributors like Miami and Tennessee.

Yes… Tennessee.

Because in 2008, all they did was sprint out to a 10-0 start. All they did was finish 13-3.

And that’s what has me wondering about 2010. Because… yeah… they could do it again.

Chris Johnson is the best player in football right now… bar none. An unstoppable force. So powerful that Vince Young need only be barely average and the Titans will have a comfortable and stable offense.

Here’s my problem though. In four games last season against New England, San Diego and Indianapolis (twice), our Tennessee team surrendered… get ready for it… 159 points. Some of the opponents last season that didn’t score 40 against them included those high-wire and end-zone-dancing acts Seattle, St. Louis, and Buffalo.

Are you starting to see my issues?

Is it smoke? Is it mirrors? If you take away the lighting, sound and special effects, do they still look as threatening?

I say no.

How will they respond against good teams? That will settle their season.

Good. They look good. But not very good.

Jacksonville (7 – 9) ~ The Jaguars have a schedule that could make me look very, very foolish. But I’d be willing to bet that they don’t.

They could come out of the gate 1-4… 4-1… and anything else in between. That’s Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Buffalo to start things off. They’ll get one win. They’ll get one loss. But where either will happen is a mystery. In reality, all of those games could go either way. Supply a running attack like the Jaguars start out with, and you got me on what may take place each week.

After that start for every Dallas there’s a Kansas City… for every Indianapolis there’s a Cleveland… and frankly there are more so-so clubs than good ones from the looks of it.

Yup… if Jones-Drew stays healthy and the club plays consistent and well… I’ll look darn foolish.

The trouble is… Maurice Jones-Drew is not Chris Johnson. He’s incredibly good, and he knows how to find the end zone. He will have at least two games where he single-handedly embarrasses an opponent. Not defeats an opponent… embarrasses them.

But will he lead them to a winning record? Nah.


San Diego (11 – 5) ~ Funny thing about San Diego… go read my introduction to Houston, because it really almost works here as well. Watch…

“…taken aim at their own feet…”

“Last season… struggled to recover the rest of the year…”

Check… check… double-check… those descriptions work. And every time you think that maybe they’ve got it all figured out, couldn’t possibly get fooled again, a little humility and lessons from life go a long way… the media tells you this time they have it right and look out for the Chargers and oh-no-here-we-go-again. They deliver some surprises, but it’s the same ending. Promises of cake and parties building and building, but leading ultimately to cries of what might be next year.

Amazingly though, I’ve got little alternative but to believe the hype. (At least for the regular season.) Two things to consider…

Number one… maybe Denver could offer them a challenge, but Kansas City and Oakland just can’t.

Number two… this year it would take Norv Turner actually walking on to the field in pads and not just his masterful coaching blunders to screw it up. The schedule starts with Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and St. Louis. Four of those are road games… with the two toughest, Jacksonville and Arizona at home. That means in addition to quite possibly a 6-0 start, they have most of the last 10 at home. Plus… they never head all the way to the east coast.

I mean… it’s literally all there for the taking. If people are talking about the San Diego machine plowing over everyone in about 8 to 10 weeks and you are starting to believe the hype at that point, then shame on you because this one is easy to see coming.

Of course… there is Norv. He loses games at home that shouldn’t be contests. He snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. What you should see is that this will end badly. (But… it should be a fun ride before that end.)

Denver (9 – 7) ~ I want to like Denver, but I have this really strange feeling that they don’t know who they are just yet.

They seemed to find a diamond in the rough with Orton last year… but eyes looking at Denver want to know when Tebow might play.

Their top 2009 wide receiver is in Miami now.

The running backs are led by someone that looked good last season… Moreno… but that didn’t cross the 1,000-yard mark for the year.

So… offensive questions. Surely they have a defensive juggernaut ready to go. Right?

In 2009 the Denver defense held their first six opponents to 11 points per game (and 3 of them to 7 or less). Then, bye week, and the explosion started… Baltimore defeated them 30-7, and over four contests they gave up that 30 plus 28, 27 and 32 respectively while dropping to 6-4. They finished 8-8… meaning they went 2-8 down the stretch… and looked exhausted.

I’d wait before trusting them.

Kansas City (6 – 10) ~ If the Chiefs can get two receivers over the 50-catch mark, they could become a fun team to watch. (Last season the top two receivers combined for 87 receptions.)

It’s a group of unheralded players in the huddle with Matt Cassel, and a group of first, second and third year players on the full roster. You and I both have better things to do than sharing 500… 300… even 200 words on the Chiefs.

(Agreed? Good. Moving on…)

Oakland (5 – 11) ~ Don’t get me wrong when I say this… because I thought Jason Campbell had some good games in Washington, and he wasn’t completely at fault out there.

But… see, um, yeah… he’s Jason Campbell. Right? Washington thought so much of him that they replaced him with a quarterback that is going to be 34 this season and has an injury history. (And… yup… already is injured.)

The 2009 running game featured 3 guys that played in 12 games… one in all 16… and none of those top 3 backs hit 600-yards for the season.

This offense is going to be putting a ton of pressure on the defense.

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