10 things to watch for in the AFC South

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:11 AM ET

1. Only twice since realignment have the Indianapolis Colts failed to win the AFC South.

It’s difficult to see how Houston, Jacksonville and the Titans, even with Chris Johnson predicting a 2,500-yard rushing season, can prevent a seventh title.

They’re pretenders, and at best, fighting for a wild card.

The Texans might have the best shot if they can ever get a 30th ranked running game to complement what has become one of the NFL’s best air shows. The problem is nobody can tell how well Steve Slaton could run with the ball because he keeps dropping it before he gets started. Darn inconvenient.

Quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson give them an NFL-leading passing game. But when you’re in a division with the Colts, who have made a habit of winning 12 or more games seven years running, that isn’t enough. That’s doubly true when the Texans’ own pass defence, even with first-round pick Kareem Jackson signing yesterday at cornerback, isn’t exactly an Iron Curtain.

The Titans are young, vulnerable to the pass, and in Vince Young’s case a falling G-string. They have to find a way to keep receivers out of the end zone and Young out of strip-club brawls.

2. Busy intersection: If Anthony Gonzalez is healthy Peyton Manning won’t know where to look first. The guy has more options than George Clooney at a Cougar bar. With a receiving corps that includes Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark, who is coming off a 100-reception year, there may not be enough in the playbook to keep everyone busy.

3. Toothless: Remember the Jacksonville Jaguars? Oh, never mind. Nothing here that can’t wait until Item 7 ... or next year. We’ll get back to you on that.

4. Bump and grind: No, not another Young item. Chris Johnson gives the Titans hope and a ground game. He won’t, however, give them another 2,000 yards. Human bodies aren’t built to take that kind of punishment, not even an impressive body such as Johnson’s.

5. No-win situation: Offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars replaces the legendary Howard Mudd in Indianapolis. That’s like having Elvis or Frank Sinatra as your opening act. I mean, how do you beat that? Club president Bill Polian (already critical of the O-line’s Super Bowl effort) says Metzelaars has his full “backing.” Of course, that’s sort of what Brutus told Julius Caesar before using him as target practice in a hand-to-hand, whittlin’ contest.

6. Titanic struggle: The Titans special teams were so bad last year that they might have been better ahead to decline the punt. They’re giving rookie Damian Williams a look. All he has to do is hang on to the ball and it would still be an improvement.

7. Hotseat: Jags’ David Garrard has had two crummy seasons since throwing 18 TD passes in 2007 and earning a $60- million US deal. Three strikes and he’s out — and watch the club line up to draft another QB next April.

8. Hot shots: According to The Weather Channel, with temperatures hitting into the 40s, the Houston Texans’ training camp is the hottest in the NFL. The coldest? Washington, where every day with Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth is like waking up to a cold shower.

9. Ho-hum: Tyson Alualu was the first of four defensive linemen the Jaguars drafted. So far, they haven’t even offered him a contract he can turn down. This could be the first time a player could ever accuse the team of holding out. And with just 14 sacks last year, it’s not like they couldn’t use some help. Just weird.

10. Immaculate conception? Vince Young led the Titans to an 8-2 record to finish the season, proving that miracles still do happen. And a miracle is precisely what Young, or anyone else, will need to take this division from the Colts.


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