By Marc Lawrence
Don't look now, but it appears as if the South may be rising again.
Let's put it another way. When quarterbacks go into battle they are the team's Generals. Some are five-star material (Peyton Manning, 99.9 QB rating last season), others are in the process of earning their stripes (Matt Schaub, 98.6 QB rating in 2009).
As a result, teams in this division won more battles than they lost last season with Jacksonville the only losing team in the division (7-9).
Furthermore, since their inception in 2002, the AFC South has been a home dog haven, with its members going 50-31-1 ATS, including 18-6 when hosting a sub .500 opponent.
In addition, this division has not backed down a lick when squaring off against the big-bad NFC East, as they do this season, having gone 11-5 SU and ATS as a host, including 8-2 SU and ATS when the South has at least one victory on the season.
In this business, the bottom line is... the bottom line. The bottom line here: Look for the South to continue its surge in 2010.
Note: Team writeups excerpted from the 2010 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Designated ‘Play On' and ‘Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
HOUSTON TEAM THEME: THE ‘P' WORD
No longer a maiden, Houston broke on through to the other side when it recorded the first winning season in its franchise history last year. The signs were there and they delivered. The hiring of DC Dom Capers, and eight-win seasons the previous two years, put the Texans in position to succeed. Now they hunger for more. Granted, along with the Titans, they will face the toughest opponent strength of schedule in the league in 2010. But with QB Matt Schaub coming into his own, and possessing arguably the best receiver in the league in Andre Johnson (topped the league in receiving yards last year with 1,569), it's only logical that a 9-win team that suffered only one loss by more than eight points in 2009, would be pointing to the p - - - - - - s. (Hint: it's an 8-letter word never heard in this area during this era). If they can't say it, at least they can visualize it.
PLAY ON: as dog off BB losses vs. Jacksonville (11/14)
INDIANAPOLIS TEAM THEME: JOCKEYING FOR A TITLE
With a dozen or more victories nine years running, it is no surprise to find the Colts installed as the pre-season favorite Super Bowl favorites. But, as you know from reading these pages, the bigger hurdle facing Peyton Manning and his mates is the dreaded ‘Super Bowl' loser jinx they will be infected with in 2010. Given the fact that seven of the nine SB losers this decade failed to return to the playoffs the following season (kudos to Kurt Warner and the Cardinals on overcoming this pestilence last year), it appears the Colts may be in need of booster shots in order to overcome this epidemic. That shot might be the confidence this team owns knowing it was riding a 14-0 record, along with 23 regular season wins a in a row, before they took a late-season dive against the Jets last year, opting to rest starters in preparation for the playoffs. It could be déjà vu all over again this season.
PLAY AGAINST: as favorite vs. Tennessee (1/2)
TEAM THEME: YOU DON'T KNOW JACK
Back-to-back losing seasons, including late season cave-ins both years, sent Jack Del Rio to the NFL draft with one thought in mind: beef up the ‘D.' After watching the Jags post declining numbers across the board on the defensive side of the ball three years in a row, Del Rio proceeded to pick off four defensive linemen in a row. Along with the additions of veteran free agent LB Kirk Morrison, Oakland's leading tackler the last five seasons (avg 126.5 tackles per year) and DE Aaron Kampman, a six-year starter with the Packers, the message was delivered loud and clear. The offense is in the capable hands of QB David Garrard and star RB Maurice Jones-Drew, aka ‘Pocket Hercules', arguably the most complete back in the league. While they are building a team for the future, Del Rio's goal is to win the division this year. What else would you expect from a coach that can't stand losing.
PLAY ON: vs. Oakland (12/12) - *KEY off BB losses
TENNESSEE TEAM THEME: THE YOUNG AND RESTLESS
After an 0-6 start behind fossil Kerry Collins last year, the Titans called on Vince Young and he delivered a much-needed remedy. Big time. An 8-2 conclusion to the 2009 season following the Bye Week stamped Young as the savior of this franchise. Not the team's best player, just its knight in shining armor. RB Chris Johnson, who rushed for a league high 2,006 yards last year, nearly 600 yards more than his closest competitor (Stephen Jackson), is straightforwardly the Titans' MVP. The Titans took a hit on the defensive line when they lost DE Kyle Vanden Bosch to free agency (Detroit) but made strides when they selected Derrick Morgan from Georgia Tech with their first pick in the NFL draft. Along with the Texans, Tennessee will face the toughest opponent strength of schedule in the league in 2010. If they don't shore up the defense (slipped 77 YPG in 2009), they'll likely care less about the rest of the slate.
PLAY ON: vs. Houston (12/19)