Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Titans’

Calling it down the middle, the AFC South has been a one-team buffet for years now. In the Manning days, it was the Colts to have their way with, but in recent years it has reverted to the Texans, who have won the last two division titles. The Colts had a resurrection last year under its newest star signal caller Andrew Luck, and made every game of the season count. But while this was happening, there were the Jaguars and Titans, who have been on a search for identity while both of these runs have been going.

Now with a new year on deck, there are new dynamics all around. Can the Texans hold off the rise of the Colts? Or were the upstarts in Indy moving ahead of their time, and on course for a return to the middle in year two. Meanwhile, will the Jaguars be able to avoid the path that nearly landed them atop the NFL Draft a year ago, and can Tennessee saddle up with its old horse with a few new adjustments to get him back to where he was?

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Andrew Luck RB: Arian Foster, Chris Johnson WR: Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Cecil Shorts TE: Owen Daniels OT: Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe OG: Andy Levitre, Wade Smith C: Chris Myers

DE: JJ Watt, Derrick Morgan DT/NT: Aubrayo Franklin, Jurrell Casey OLB: Brooks Reed, Robert Mathis MLB: Brian Cushing, Paul Posluszny CB: Jonathan Joseph, Jason McCourty FS: Ed Reed SS: Bernard Pollard

K: Rob Bironas P: Shane Lechler KR: Mark Mariani PR: TY Hilton

 

Watt broke through to rare air in his second season, leading the NFL in sacks and taking the Texans defense to elite status.

Watt broke through to rare air in his second season, leading the NFL in sacks, taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors and taking the Texans defense to elite status.

HOUSTON TEXANS (12-4 in 2012)

The Good: There are playmakers everywhere on this defense. In addition to Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt, who may have had the most complete defensive season in NFL history a year ago, Ed Reed has entered the picture as well. Age is catching up, but for the most instinctual player in game, that shouldn’t be much of a hindrance. Add in Brian Cushing, Jonathan Joseph and Brooks Reed, and they’ll be a problem once again.

The Bad: Which Arian Foster are they getting? The straw that stirs the drink on offense has be held back by HIS back for much of the offseason, and durability could become an issue. Ben Tate may be the best backup runner in the game, but for a team that’s so built around moving the ball on the ground being without its biggest weapon for a stretch is a tough scenario.

X-Factor—DeAndre Hopkins: Years back, the Texans could stretch the field, and it was not just Andre Johnson that could do it. But in recent years, that element has not been as prevalent. In an attempt to bring that back, the club added Hopkins with the 28th pick of the first round, who adds another vertical threat. On his 82 catches at Clemson last year, he averaged 17 yards per.

Schedule: @SD (W), TEN (W), @BAL (L), SEA (W), @SF (L), STL (W), @KC (W), IND (W), @ARI (W), OAK (W), JAX (W), NE (L), @JAX (W), @IND (L), DEN (W), @TEN (L)

Prediction: They have been the roosters in the hen house for years now down south, but the Colts put a charge into them by being able to beat them with the big play. They have addressed that on both sides of the ball, and still have the veteran core in addition to the developing young core that has kept them where they have been, and will stay. 11-5

 

Luck set seven records as a rookie passer, including the most wins for a #1 pick quarterback, which was a 10 game turnaround from 2011.

Luck set seven records as a rookie passer, including the most wins for a #1 pick quarterback, which was a 10 game turnaround from 2011.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good: They have invested in giving Andrew Luck everything he could possibly need at every stop. With Reggie Wayne still the mainstay and TY Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener still developing, they added Darius Heyward-Bey to be a home run hitter down the field. If Ahmad Bradshaw can add a new dynamic out of the backfield catching passes as well, a top 5 offense could be in brewing.

The Bad: They won with smoke and mirrors on defense last year. If the offense didn’t go big, they were getting run off the field. Only one playoff bound team gave up more yards than Indy’s 5,988 and 24.2 points a game. It is tempting to fate to think that will work twice, especially with dates versus San Francisco, Denver, Cincinnati, Seattle and a double dip with Houston on deck.

X-Factor—Matt Hasselbeck: In a perfect world, he never sees the field. But what he could do for Andrew Luck’s development as a passer could do more for the club than anything else. Cutting down on the 18 interception/9 fumble season rookie effort he posted as a rookie is on his shoulders, but the benefit of a year with a three-time Pro Bowl, former Super Bowl QB could escalate his curve immediately.

Schedule: OAK (W), MIA (W), @SF (L), @JAX (W), SEA (L), @SD (L), DEN (L), @HOU (L), STL (W), @TEN (L), @ARI (L), TEN (W), @CIN (W), HOU (W), @KC (L), JAX (W)

Prediction: The team is going to go where the offense can take it. Luck will have to take better care of the ball, and they will have to get more from the ground, but it could see over 5,000 yards in the air by natural progression. But the defense is still similar to what took the field last year, and the likelihood of the same breaks that got them 10 wins a year ago are unlikely to come down again. 8-8

 

After spending last fall watching the back of a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, Joeckel is tasking with re-installing confidence in the Jags attack.

After spending last fall watching the back of a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, Joeckel is tasking with re-installing confidence in the Jags attack.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-14 in 2012)

The Good: They have a good set of playmakers on the outside in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Shorts had a breakout season across the board his second season, going over 100 yards four times and averaged over 19 yards a catch in five separate games. Blackmon came on strong late in the year, including a seven catch, 236 yard breakout versus the Texans in week 11.

The Bad: They did little to turn the corner for a defense that gave up 380 yards and 27 points per week. This was due to a unit that put the least pressure on opposing QBs in the game a year ago (JJ Watt in 20.5 sacks, Jaguars 20). And with the inconsistent play on offense, once they get behind and survive with offenses having that much comfort to work with.

X-Factor—Luke Joeckel: While grabbing someone that could create some pressure would have been a good call, getting a guy with a chance to be a premium pass protector was too good to pass on. Blaine Gabbert has been unsteady with his pocket presence early in his career and landing Joeckel could help provide some much needed security.

Schedule: KC (L), @OAK (L), @SEA (L), IND (L), @STL (L), @DEN (L), SD (L), SF (L), @TEN (L), ARI (L), @HOU (L), @CLE (L), HOU (L), BUF (W), TEN (W), @IND (L)

Prediction: A bad defense with maybe the most decisively bad situation at quarterback in the NFL, the Jaguars are not in a place to make an impact outside of boosting the win column for others. With Blackmon suspended for four games, and game scenarios that don’t lend towards getting their lone bright spot, Maurice Jones-Drew, the ball as much as they’d like, a run to top of the 2014 Draft looks likely. 2-14

 

Johnson has never finished a season under 1,000 yards on the ground, but his yardage per game has dropped three straight years behind questionable blocking.

Johnson has never finished a season under 1,000 yards on the ground, but his yardage per game has dropped three straight years behind questionable blocking.

TENNESSEE TITANS (6-10 in 2012)

The Good: There’s an offense that has some shake to it, and they have a line to help it grow now. In recent years, Chris Johnson hasn’t lost a step, but he hasn’t had much time to get them moving before somebody met him. With the addition of Andy Levitre and the selection of All-American guard Chance Warmack, the former 2000 yard runner could see the most open field he’s found in years.

The Bad: The Titans gave up the most points in the NFL a year ago, including over 30 points seven different times. It’s a unit that hasn’t played to its talent, but also has to tackle better at linebacker and get better and coverage as well. In a division with two aggressive offenses in Houston and Indianapolis, and one of the best runners in the league, there’s little leeway for a soft unit week to week.

X-Factor—Jack Locker: Of all of the teams in the NFL, the Titans probably have the biggest unknown quantity behind center. The issue with him has never been the talent, but how it apply it regularly. In his first year as a starter, it was interrupted by an injury halfway through and saw him throw multiple interceptions in four of his last six games. If he turns the corner, they have a chance to succeed.

Schedule: @PIT (L), @HOU (L), SD (W), NYJ (W), KC (W), @SEA (L), SF (L), @STL (L), JAX (W), IND (W), @OAK (W), @IND (L), @DEN (L), ARI (L), @JAX (L), HOU (L)

Prediction: With a defense that is up in the air and inconsistent quarterback play, it is tough to see the Titans being a candidate to jump too far forward, or at all. They will be able to move the ball better on the ground, but if they cannot keep opponents honest, it won’t mean much. Look for a holding pattern here. 6-10

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The AFC South is segregated, has been for while (not in a Civil War is needed type of way). Ironically, it’s landlords have come from up north in Indianapolis however, and last year was no different. The Colts brought their eighth title home in ten years of the division. However, no division has potentially more change on deck than the South, and it all starts around what may not be in Indy.

The Houston Texans started off last season in a fashion that suggested change wasn’t going to wait until this year, as they aggressively knocked off the Colts to start the year off. Along the way, the Jaguars got into the mix and eventually became one of the most surprising party crashers in 2010 Playoffs. In the end, the Colts pulled together around Peyton Manning and pulled it out.

This year, for the first time ever, Peyton’s status is uncertain and therefore so is the Colts. Can the Jaguars capitalize on the momentum they discovered last year, or can the Texans finally live up to how they read on paper? How about the Titans? With Chris Johnson back and a new coach leading the way, maybe they’ll take the crown. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s bigger than just Peyton and the Colts will hold down the fort regardless. The times, they are-a changing down South..one way or four.

All-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Peyton Manning RB: Chris Johnson, Arian Foster WR: Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne TE: Dallas Clark OT: Michael Roos, Eric Winston OG: Wade Smith, Jonathan Scott C: Jeff Saturday

DE: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis DT: Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu OLB: Mario Williams, Jimmy Durant MLB: DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing CB: Cortland Finnegan, Jonathan Joseph S: Antoine Bethea, Michael Griffin

K: Rob Bironas P: Matt Turk Returner: Mark Mariani

HOUSTON TEXANS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: A. Johnson-WR, A. Foster-RB, M. Schaub-QB, O. Daniels-TE (A-)

Defense: M. Williams-OLB, D. Ryans-MLB, B. Cushing-MLB, J. Joseph-CB (C+)

The Good: They are being retooled as potential blitzing machine. While the secondary was shredded last season, a lot of what hurt them was a limited blitz. The focus in the offseason was to use the tools in place better and bring in new assets to get after the passer frequently. Mario Williams will move to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme coordinator Wade Phillips will employ, and JJ Watt and Brooks Reed were drafted to bring plenty of trouble around the field.

The Bad: Their greatest strength is on shaky ground. Arian Foster totaled over 1,600 rushing yards and led the league, but much of his offseason was spent battling hamstring injuries. His emergence gave the Texans the running threat they long needed to balance out their air-only attack. Having him sidelined for any period of time this year could hold back any hopes of a takeover this season.

A new look defense is the focus, and it will be on Mario Williams & company to exorcise the Texans demons.

X-Factor-Jonathan Joseph: The Texans hemorrhaged 267 yards per game on average to opposing quarterbacks, so saying they needed to make some changes at cornerback is obvious. Enter Jonathan Joseph, who made the jump to Houston from Cincinnati and instantly inherits a world of expectation. How well he performs behind the revamped defensive rush can improve the entire team’s potential.

Fearless Projection: IND (W), @MIA (L), @NO (L), PIT (W), OAK (W), @BAL (L), @TEN (W), JAX (W), CLE (W), @TB (W), @JAX (W), ATL (L), @CIN (W), CAR (W), @IND (L), TEN (W)

In The End: It seems like every year by now is going to be their “breakthrough” year. Finally, it seems like the time has arrived. The entire division is in some kind of flux, and the Texans have finally made the improvements they need at the right time to take the control. Their postseason debut will finally find them this time around, via a South championship. Record 10-6

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-6 in 2010)

Offense: P. Manning-QB, R. Wayne-WR, D. Clark-TE, J. Saturday-C (A)

Defense: D. Freeney-DE, R. Mathis-DE, G. Brackett-MLB, A. Bethea-S (C+)

The Good: Many of their offensive weapons are back. Last season Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Addai all missed extensive time. However, Peyton Manning was able to mask these issues by just shouldering more of the load himself than he ever had. The problem is he is the only QB in the league that could have pulled that off and still won the division. With his status completely unknown, having the arsenal of weapons back is essential.

The Bad: The corners could get torched. Jacob Lacey, Jerraud Powers, Kevin Thomas and Justin Tryson could be in rotation by necessity all year as they try to find a way to get some combination that works will. If they don’t step up, it could be a very long season for the Colts defense, as they were awful against the run a year ago, giving up 127 yards a game. Some part of the defense has to produce.

How soon Peyton gets his hat off and helmet on will tell the story of the Colts fate, and in a hurry.

X-Factor-Peyton Manning: No team’s success hinges more on one player than the Colts. Since 1998, he’s played every game and operates the entire offense through himself. And as he proved a year ago, he can still push them regardless of who surrounds him. As the preseason proved, it doesn’t work the other way around. Very few players are truly irreplaceable, but Peyton is at the top of the list.

Fearless Prediction: @HOU (L), CLE (W), PIT (L), @TB (W), KC  (L), @CIN (W), @NO (L), @TEN (L), ATL (L), JAX (W), CAR (W), @NE (L), @BAL (L), TEN (W), HOU (W), @JAX (W)

In The End: Much of where they finish up is based on when Manning shows up, but the toughest part of their schedule is early and that’s when his availability is uncertain. They slipped some last season overall, and didn’t make the necessary adjustments to hold off the up and coming Texans…or to prepare for Manning to actually miss any time. Their two-year run atop the South will end. Record: 7-9

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (8-8 in 2010)

Offense: M. Jones-Drew-RB, M. Lewis-TE, M. Thomas-WR, B. Gabbert-QB (C+)

Defense: D. Smith-OLB, P. Poslunzsny-MLB, R. Mathis-CB, D. Landry-FS (C+)

The Good: The defense was improved to be able to handle more of the load. Paul Posluszny will add a second active tackler with Daryl Smith that will clean up the middle of the field well. The defensive line features an underrated pair of tackles in Tyson Aluala and Travis Knighton, and Matt Roth joins the group to round it out well opposite Aaron Kampman. The biggest addition could be Dawan Landry at free safety, a position that has long been a week spot in Jacksonville.

The Bad: It’s going to be a long season on offense either way it goes. The receiver group is already an issue, with no semblance of a number one target out the WR group. At least David Garrard was a savvy enough vet to not lose games with the group, but with his sudden release it puts Luke McCown in the seat until the Blaine Gabbert era is rushed into play. Maurice Jones-Drew is still here and well rested, but teams will load up the box non-stop to get to him in a hurry since there is no QB of note to scare them off.

How Daryl Smith and the defense shoulder the load will tell the story of the Jags...and Jack Del Rio's future.

X-Factor-Blaine Gabbert: He’s got all of the tools: the big arm, the size and the confidence. The time is now for him, because there’s nothing to be gained competitively from playing McCown. He doesn’t represent the type of QB that will be able to salvage a playoff run, and by at least playing Gabbert, it starts the clock towards his maturity (and the team renaissance that could come with it) earlier.

Fearless Prediction: TEN (W), @NYJ (L), @CAR (W), NO (L), CIN (W), @PIT (L), BAL (L), @HOU (L), @IND (L), @CLE (W), HOU (W), SD (L), TB (W), @ATL (L), @TEN (L), IND (L)

In The End: There’s a lot on the line in Jacksonville this year, and a late season surge last year was all that saved coach Jack Del Rio’s job. This year’s defense has the potential to keep that trend going forward, but unsteady QB production will be a season long problem and will run the rest of time off Del Rio’s clock in Jacksonville. Record: 5-11

TENNESSEE TITANS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: C. Johnson-RB, K. Britt-WR, M. Hasselbeck-QB, R. Bironas-K (B-)

Defense: C. Finnegan-CB, M. Griffin-S, W. Witherspoon-OLB, C. Hope-S (C)

The Good: The offense came together, later than sooner. Chris Johnson’s holdout was ended in time to have their biggest weapon available for the full season. There’s no substitute for what he brings, especially to a team in transition. His load won’t be as heavy with Matt Hasselbeck on board this year, and while he’s not who he used to be, he will be a steadying presence that will be able to get everything that can be brought out the receivers.

The Bad: The defense could get worse, and considering it was assaulted for 252 yards a week through the air last year, that’s a bad scenario. This is due to an anemic pass rush that lost its only real pass rush threat in Jason Babin, and a secondary that is both too young at cornerback and too old at safety. The unimproved defensive line also what hammered for 115 yards a game on the ground a year ago, and is breaking in new tackles at both spots inside the defensive line.

Munchak inherited a messy situation in Tennessee, and has a task ahead of him to pull this group back together.

X-Factor-Kenny Britt: He escaped both suspension, jail for multiple driving offenses and preseason injury to make it to the field, and he could be in store for a breakout season as a result. Hasselbeck will be the most consistent passer he has paired with in his young career, and coming off a year where 9 of his 42 catches reached the endzone, he will be looked too often.

Fearless Prediction: @JAX (L), BAL (L), DEN (W), @CLE (W), @PIT (L), HOU (L), IND (L), CIN (W), @CAR (L), @ATL (L), TB (L), @BUF (W), NO (L), @IND (L), JAX (W), @HOU (L)

In The End: The offense has playmakers, but isn’t deep and has a fragile quarterback behind a shaky line. In addition, the defense will have trouble getting after the passer…and isn’t really built to stop the pass on the other end. They’ll break in their first new coach in 16 years (Mike Munchak) with a frustrating debut on the job. Record: 5-11

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360.

The AFC South is segregated (in a not so severely, traditional way). For many years, the Peyton Manning led Colts have more often than not controlled the inside track on the division. Since the South was formed in 2002, they have won it seven of nine seasons, making it to the Super Bowl twice and winning it once. Last year was no different, as they represented the AFC on Super Bowl Sunday again. However, while they have been running thing from above, the other tenants in the division have been not so quietly preparing to knock them from their throne.

The division hosts some of the greatest individual talents in the game. Besides Manning, his record four MVP performances and laundry list of other stats and records, each other team has at least one distinct All-Pro talent to build around. In Houston, Andre Johnson has caught over 3,000 yards in the last two years alone and has become the league’s top receiver. Maurice Jones-Drew has only failed reach double digits in touchdowns once in his career for Jacksonville. All of this comes before Tennessee’s Chris Johnson is mentioned, who became a phenom in his second season, ending up with the highest single season total yardage mark in NFL history in his second season with 2,509 yards, of which 2,006 came on the ground. To put it short, every game in-division game comes against one of the NFL’s greatest threats.

However, can any of these All-Pros put it all together and come for the Colts’ and throw them from the throne? All things must pass, but it’s going to take more than one determined fighter to win the war in the South. Let’s see how the troops are looking for this go around.

Indianapolis Colts (14-2 in 2009; AFC Champions)

Offense: P. Manning-QB, R. Wayne-WR, D. Clark-TE, J. Saturday-C (A+)

Defense: D. Freeney-DE, B. Sanders-SS, G. Brackett-LB, A. Bethea-FS (B)

The Good: For the 13th consecutive year, it all starts with Peyton. In route to his record 4th MVP, he directed the 2nd best passing attack in the game and he actually adds more depth to it this year. Anthony Gonzalez returns from missing the entire year to injury last season. He joins an already deep group of receivers and gives yet another proven option to make Manning even more dangerous, if that’s possible.

Manning could have even more weapons at his already military-status disposal this year. Scary thought.

The Bad: There are cracks in some fundamental parts of the Colts’ foundation. The offensive line is shaky on the edges, and Manning hasn’t had to worry about protection for at least 10 years. The defense is solid on the pass, but standing down against the run has to improve, after finishing 24th in the league last year. Also, despite favoring the pass heavily, the running game has to give a better constant result when used, as Joseph Addai and Donald Brown averaged 3.7 yards per carry between each other.

X-Factor-Donald Brown: The Colts 2009 first round pick was supposed to be used in alternation with Addai last year, but he never really got going. A chest injury took most of the end of the season away from him and he never got back into the mix. While the Colts run less than any other team, they need for Brown to become the high production, change of pace back that they drafted him to be.

2010 Projection: @ Hou (W), NYG (W), @ Den (W), @ Jax (L), KC (W), @ Was (W),  Hou (L), @ Phi (L), Cin (W), @ NE (L), SD (W), Dal (W), @ Ten (W), Jax (W), @ Oak (W), Ten (W)

Summary: Even without a fully healthy offense, they ran through the AFC and reached the Super Bowl. With those players back, they are deeper than they were after making it to the Bowl. They are controlled by arguably the game’s greatest player and have enough defensive presence to once again take the South and make another strong playoff run. RECORD: 12-4


Houston Texans (9-7 in 2009)

Offense: A. Johnson-WR, M. Schaub-QB, O. Daniels-TE (A-)

Defense: M. Williams-DE, B. Cushing-LB, D. Ryans-LB (C+)

The Good: On offense, nobody goes to the air better than them, with the league’s most productive quarterback/receiver combo in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones and Andre Davis, while not getting the notoriety of Johnson, are all very effective and keep defenses from only focusing on him. On defense, they have steadily drafted well and added several impact players. Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing give them a strong youthful core that’s steadily improving.

A more dependable running game could make Schaub's frequent passes even more dangerous.

The Bad: The running game is an unknown factor and gives an inconsistent result. After a breakout rookie season, Steve Slaton became a huge possession liability to the Texans, fumbling seven times and losing five of them. He is projecting as a change of pace/receiving option (ala Reggie Bush) over a pure runner. His setbacks forced the Texans to try several different options, eventually settling on Arian Foster, who ran for 216 yards over the last two weeks of the season. Finding consistency here will be crucial to any breakthrough the Texans have this year.

X-Factor-Kareem Jackson: Counting on rookie cornerbacks to contribute immediately is a risky proposition for any team, but Jackson adapting quickly will be big for a Houston team that lost its best defensive back, Dunta Robinson, to free agency during the offseason. The 18th overall pick showcased was an athletic attacker at corner for Alabama’s BCS Championship and was seen as potentially the best overall prospect available at cornerback. Quickly playing up to expectations will make life a lot easier for a growing Texans defense.

2010 Projection: Ind (L), @ Was (L), Dal (L), @ Oak (W), NYG (L), KC (W), @ Ind (W), SD (W), @ Jax (W), @ NYJ (L), Ten (W), @ Phi (W), Bal (L), @ Ten (W), @ Den (L), Jax (W)

Summary: There is a lot to like about the Texans, they can move the ball down the field exceptionally and the defense is no longer a complete liability. They will be a tough matchup weekly, but they still have to find better balance on offense and prove the secondary can show up consistently to be considered a definite playoff team. They are on the edge of a breakthrough however, and could easily win one to two more games and be in the picture this year. RECORD: 9-7

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9 in 2009)

Offense: M. Jones-Drew-RB, D. Garrard-QB, M. Sims-Walker-WR (C+)

Defense: K. Morrison-LB, A. Kampman-DE, D. Smith-LB (D+)

The Good: They are a tough running team with a developing young offensive line. Maurice Jones-Drew is as versatile of a back as you can hope for and they rightfully lean on him heavily. In year two, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton should be ready to step up to start fulfilling their 1st round potential at the crucial offensive tackle spot. They are the key to opening up the holes that are so critical to MJD being able to run free across the entire field.

Finishing strong: Sims-Walker having a consistent year is a must for a thin Jags passing game.

The Bad: They seemingly refuse to upgrade their passing defense, which has been a concern for several years now. After allowing 280 yards a game last season, they bring back the same group this season. They’ll continue to decline before they better themselves by continuing to ignore this issue. Despite the breakout of Mike Sims-Walker, they have a lackluster receiving group after Sims-Walker, letting defenses focus almost exclusively on limiting the rush.

X-Factor-Aaron Kampman: The Jaguars pass rush just hasn’t been able to materialize the last few years. In acquiring Kampman, they hope they have solved part of this problem. A mix of injury and placement issues kept him out of seven of the last eight games in Green Bay last year and he played out of position in their 3-4 scheme, finishing with only 3.5 sacks. They hope to get the version of him that averaged 12 sacks a season from ’06-’08 and become an immediate catalyst for an average front line.

2010 Projection: Den (W), @ SD (W), Phi (L), Ind (W), @ Buf (L), Ten (L), @ KC (W), @ Dal (L), Hou (L), Cle (L), @ NYG (L), @ Ten (L), Oak (W), @ Ind (L), Was (W), @ Hou (L)

Summary: The Jags are in a rut. They have a solid core, but the offense has little punch after Jones Drew and the defense is lacks proven impact players up front, followed by big issues in the secondary. In a division where you they wouldn’t play Indianapolis and Houston twice, that may work, but not here. They will fall victim to the improvements in around the division and remain the cellar. RECORD: 6-10

Tennessee Titans (8-8 in 2009)

Offense: C. Johnson-RB, V. Young-QB, K. Britt-WR (B+)

Defense: C. Finnegan-CB, W. Witherspoon-LB, C. Hope-FS (C+)

The Good: They have the ability to make big plays. In Chris Johnson they have the league’s most explosive player and after Vince Young’s return to prominence, a quarterback that can make plays with either his arm or feet like no other in the game. Johnson’s record setting 2009 campaign shot him into the elite of all players in the NFL and his job should be potentially easier if Young can open up the Titan passing game more. The offensive line, led by tackles Dave Stewart and Michael Roos, will give them plenty of chances to make an impact.

Will Johnson be able to provide an encore to '09's record setting campaign? The Titans will need every bit of it.

The Bad: The defense may force them away from their strength, which is running the ball. The Titans finished 31st versus the pass in ’09, giving up 258 yards per game. With few changes to the secondary, there could be a repeat performance this year. The only hope is that new help on the defensive front from Raheem Brock and rookie Derrick Morgan will create more pressure to force worse passes. The problem of playing from behind is that it forces the Titans from utilizing their greatest strength, their running attack. The defense has to enable Johnson to be used as much as possible.

X-Factor-Kenny Britt: He had a solid rookie season and provided a needed big, quick receiver to stretch the field and keep defenses who over compensated against Johnson honest. Also, he was a constant from a receiving group that struggled staying healthy all year. However, this year he was reported as showing up out of shape and slower. In order for the Vince Young to maximize his ability to keep defenses off-balance he needs a focused Britt to be a ready and available deep threat.

2010 Projection: Oak (W), Pit (W), @ NYG (L), Den (W), @ Dal (L), @ Jax (W), Phi (L), @ SD (L), @ Mia (L), Was (W), @ Hou (L), Jax (W), Ind (L), @ KC (W), @ Ind (L)

Summary: The Titans are finally getting what they drafted Young for; a game breaking dual threat QB (now if he can just leave it all on the field). Paired with Johnson they can give any defense matchup nightmares for a week. However, the defense is still in the midst of an extreme rebuilding stage and doesn’t have to ability to match up with many of the tougher offenses in the game. The fact they play two of them, in Indianapolis and Houston, a total of four times this year doesn’t bode well for breakthrough success in Music City. RECORD: 8-8

In the conclusion of the CHEAP SEATS look at the top 50 players in the NFL, I’m listing the cream of the crop. The top 10 players in the NFL, which consists of the most game breaking, winning and iconic players in the game. These are the guys that opposing coach plan around, or plan to just make do around them getting their numbers regardless. The greatest players in the game don’t need much intro, so we’ll just go right into it.

With this being the end of the countdown, lets comment on this one at the end and let me see who you think is really the best.

10. Larry Fitzgerald-Wide Receiver-Arizona Cardinals (2009-97 receptions, 1092 yards, 13 TD)

While injuries to his quarterbacks dropped in numbers some from his incredible 2008 campaign, the talent he brings has not. He still tied for the lead in touchdown catches and finished in the top 10 in catches. He is essentially a guarantee in the red zone to pull in the scoring toss and his 69 catches for a first down were third in the league. The departures of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin could affect his overall performance in 2010, but a talent like his will still show up weekly.

9. Adrian Peterson-Running Back-Minnesota Vikings (2009-1,383 rush yards, 18 TD)

One of the greatest combinations of speed, power and elusiveness the league has seen in recent years, Peterson continued to carry the Vikings to new heights in 2009. In the process of making his third Pro Bowl in three career seasons, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with a career high 18. He also doubled his previous high in receptions to 43, becoming a more well-rounded threat. He most cut his fumbles down, which soared to 9 (6 lost), but the great definitely outweighs the bad.

The better Peterson runs, the better the Vikings get.

8. Nnamdi Asomugha-Cornerback-Oakland Raiders (2009-34 tackles, 30 solo, 1 interception)

Less is more with the Raider shutdown corner Asomugha. While he ranked towards the bottom of the league in interceptions for corners, it’s a compliment over a detraction. Quarterbacks simply don’t throw his way. Asomugha was only thrown towards 27 times all year and allowed only 13 catches. He is the least targeted cornerback in the NFL by a larger margin, due to his ability to break up any pass in his area.

7. Tom Brady-Quarterback-New England Patriots (2009-4,398 pass yards, 28 TD, 65.7% completions)

Don’t call it a comeback, Tom just got back to what he’s done for a decade now: win football games. He returned from a severely damaged ACL injury to finish fifth in the League in passing yards and 6th in touchdowns. His resume is among the best in the history of the game, containing five individual all-time records and 3 Super Bowl wins. Anytime the 5-time Pro Bowler suits up the Patriots are automatically a threat to win it all.

For Brady, the 2009 Comeback Player of the Year, getting back to business as usual included a return to the playoffs and Pro Bowl visit.

6. Troy Polamalu-Saftety-Pittsburgh Steelers (2009-20 tackles, 18 solo, 3 interceptions)

He is among the elite of irreplaceable players in the NFL, as the effect of his absence from the Steelers was clear. With him healthy in 2008, they won the Super Bowl. Without him, they missed the playoffs, due mostly to dramatic fall off in the defense he leads. No defender in the League gets to more plays than he does, and he is equally brutal making the tackle as he is covering the pass. Pittsburgh will rise to prominence again with him back healthy in 2010.

One of the most irreplaceable players in the NFL, Polamalu's impact on Pittsburgh, and every team they play, is undeniable.

5. Ed Reed-Safety-Baltimore Ravens (2009-50 tackles, 42 solos, 3 interceptions)

No player in the NFL makes more gamebreaking defensive plays than Reed does, many of which end up with ball in his hands, and him in the endzone. He has twice set the NFL record for longest interception return with scores of 106 and 107 yards. He has a total of 13 scores in his career, seven interception returns, 2 fumble returns, 1 punt return and 3 blocked punts. He battled injuries which kept him out of the 2009 playoffs and likely the beginning of the 2010 season, but when he returns it will be more of the same terror for quarterbacks league wide.

4. Darrelle Revis-Cornerback-New York Jets (2009-54 tackles, 47 solo, 6 interceptions)

Widely considered the league’s premier cornerback, Revis makes it a habit not only lock down everyone in his area, but to raise his game to match his match up. He held the who’s who of receivers to minimal impact versus the Jets in 2009, holding Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco to a combined 12 receptions in their match ups with Revis. His efforts versus the Patriots contributed to the Jets being the first team since 2006 to hold them without a touchdown. The loneliness on “Revis Island” is real.

3. Chris Johnson-Running Back-Tennessee Titans (2009-2006 rush yards, 14 TD; 503 receiving yards)

Perhaps the most unstoppable player in the NFL. From 08 Rookie of the Year to becoming the 6th 2,ooo yard rusher ever in his second year, Johnson rise to the top of the league’s running backs has been phenomenal. A threat to score from anywhere, he had three scoring runs from 85 plus yards out last year, something no other player has done in his career. He broke the season record for most total yards with 2,509. He rushed for 800 yards in November alone, a single month record. Average 125 yards per game, over 20 more than any other running back.

Perhaps the fastest player in the NFL, it doesn't take long for his record-setting runs to take place.

2. Peyton Manning-Quaterback-Indianapolis Colts (2009-4,500 pass yards, 33 TD, 68% completions)

He has made phenomenal look average over his career and gathered a record fourth MVP Award for it in 2009. There’s not more that you can ask out of a player than what Manning gives. He has never missed a game in his 12 year career. He surpassed 4,000 yards for a record 10th time and has 12 consecutive seasons with at least 25 TD passes. His 4,500 yards were second in the NFL in 2009 and 33 touchdowns tied for second. He made his second Super Bowl appearance in 09 and when he’s done playing, the NFL record book under quarterback may be renamed after him.

1. Drew Brees-Quarterback-New Orleans Saints (2009-4,388 pass yards, 34 TD, 109.6 QB rating)

Brees reached the summit of the NFL in 2009 and completed the rise to prominence of formerly perennially awful Saints. Brees reached his now usual level of excellence, leading the NFL in quarterback rating and touchdown passes. Since joining the Saints from San Diego in 2006, he has averaged over 4,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns per season, including 5,069 in 2008, second best ever. He has combined statistical dominance with on field success and now stands tops among all other players in the NFL for complete excellence.

Brees aerial dominance finally landed, but with a Super Bowl win and an inspired city to show for it.

Here’s my view from the CHEAP SEATS on this weekend to this morning. The view was from here, there and everywhere.

1. VY’s Fight Club: I’m convinced that some people just don’t get it. Vince Young should be the backup quarterback for this team (behind the immortal Ben Roethlisberger). I commended Vince for being able to pull himself back from the

$58 million gets a lot of drinks, but can't pay for a shirt for the club?

brink of the crazy house to show his growth as person and player to help the Tennessee Titans rebound from a disastrous start last year. However, I pull that praise back now and realize he’s still just one step away from Ron Artest territory again. Young was arrested this weekend at a Dallas club for punching a club patron for taking the “Hookem Horns” hand gesture and putting down, as if to say “Eff the Longhorns”. Here is what Vince Young is, indisputably: a 27-year-old, $58 million dollar, starting quarterback for an NFL team….and he’s fighting over a hand gesture in a club? Seriously? It’s rumored that he scored a 16 on the Wonderlic exam when he was at the NFL Draft combine (10 is the minimum to prove literacy…..). 5 years later, I’m sure that he was having a smart day when he got that score. Once again, I call for Goodell’s Silver Hammer to slam down. At least get in those pockets. It’s all illiterate, immature, club hopping Prima donna’s understand.

2. Union Jacked: In what was hyped as the biggest game in United States soccer in decades, the US faced off against

The Softest Schoolboy of em all. The Shame of the Nation, post Geoffry Butler

England in the opening round of the World Cup this weekend. It goes a long way to speak to either the development or shortcomings of the US soccer program that an opening round game against England is a landmark matchup, but it was exciting all the same. For me, that excitement turned to comedy in a hurry. After an early goal, the US scored on a Clint Dempsey shot bounced directly off the chest of English goalie Robert Green. It seemed to be an error in placement or whatever, but then the announcer got started with his two cents, which quickly became change for a dollar. He started of calling it terrible mistake, then it evolved to “a shot that schoolboys would have blocked” and ended up (10 minutes later) described as “the softest goal that you will see on the world level.” Wow. If the World Cup is gonna be a comedy show too, we may need to get Tracy Morgan, or at least Dennis Miller, in the commentary booth to maximize this experience for me.

3. Texas 2 Step: While the world watches and waits for where the Texas Longhorns will choose as their next conference bedfellow, a few of the lesser programs in the state are going at each other’s necks. With affiliation free agency looming for Baylor and the Mountain West Conference courting them, one member of the current MWC stands firmly against this: TCU. The Horned Frogs are rumored to be filing a complaint against with the conference to block Baylor from joining. The reason is the kicker though: they just don’t like them. This goes back to the formation of the Big 12 and how TCU feels it was passed over for membership in favor of a Baylor program they felt was lesser than theirs. So now, 20 years later, TCU is attempting to return the “favor” and keep Baylor as girl with no dance partner. I sincerely hope that MWC commissioner Craig Thompson plays the role of Dana White and not only takes on Baylor, but pits them against TCU in game 1 of the 2011 season, just to make an aggressive rivalry right away for his expanding conference. This is funny, like watching your little brothers have a slap fight.

4. The Kings of Kings: It’s June, and finally the New York Yankees have ascended back to the top of the AL East. The

General Girardi is just getting all his troops together in June. The Evil Empire lives.

Tampa Bay Rays have been the undisputed best show in baseball so far, but the Yanks have finally caught up to their act and the Boston Red Sox are getting healthier and are only four games back as well. This is nothing to panic about for the Rays, as nobody was going to run away in that division, but it shows how day in and day out it is to stay relevant in sport’s toughest division. Both the Yankees and the Red Sox are batting injuries and Tampa has stayed mostly healthy, but the Yankees are without a doubt the most talented team in baseball and if they can take the lead while dealing with injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada, along with a struggling Mark Texeira, this could be just a matter of the inevitable happening.

5. Know When to Say When: The once great Chuck Liddell got destroyed this weekend in his match against Rich Franklin. This is not to be unexpected, as Chuck has been past his prime for years now. However, the issue at hand is that he continues to get to prove it. For years fighters of all sorts have attempted to extend their careers with fights that happen long after their window of talent has closed, it’s almost a staple of the sport. It’s usually done to secure another pay-day to extend the lifestyles they’ve become accustomed to, but this has to stop. If the payday isn’t offered and the arena to square off in isn’t offered, then the problem is solved. Mixed Martial Arts is an extremely dangerous competition, and Dana White must evaluate the complete loss of one of his fighters receiving a potentially deadly injury, live on Pay Per View against the payout of getting one more big name fight for ratings.

**Hit and Run**

There are alternating reports of Texas being aligned to the restructure of the Big 12 & others having them out the door, it’s virtually totally speculation at this point overall……Utah is also being said to be the final team to join the Pac 10, over Texas A&M, Kansas or Baylor……Beleaguered umpire Jim Joyce was voted as the best umpire in baseball in a players poll……Larry Drew was promoted to head coach of the Atlanta Hawks this weekend, Mark Jackson and Byron Scott were also rumored……Dwayne Wade will not participate in this summer’s FIBA World Championships due to having to attend his pending divorce proceedings……The supporting cast of the Lakers could did not keep up with Kobe Bryant’s lead on Sunday night, with Pau Gasol’s 12 points being second high behind Bryant’s 38. They face two elimination games now down 3-2……Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd matched each other with no hit bids into the seventh inning on Sunday night, with Lilly’s Cubs eventually finding a 1-0 victory.