Colts Defend - Division

BtB Previews the 2007 AFC South
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
June 12th 2007

We will preview an NFL division each day for eight days, before presenting final standings, leaders, award winners and playoff results. This analysis is part of a broader endeavor with FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football. Each regular season game is simulated 61 times, with the sum of the averages of those games being our final predicted outcome. This allows us to account for ever player and stat as well as assign probabilities of winning for each team for every game. Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 10, 2007. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content is listed here.

Today we will preview the AFC South.

Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
The AFC South draws a brutal schedule, facing the AFC West and NFC South - every team plays at least six games against 2007 playoff teams, yet still puts two teams in the playoffs. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts notice an obvious defensive drop-off after the departures of Cato June, Nick Harper, Jason David, Mike Doss and Montae Reagor, but the offense remains the best in the NFL, carrying the team to its fourth straight division championship. The Colts average 28.3 points per game and allow 22.9, against a ridiculous schedule that features seven games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 28.3 points a game are tops in the NFL. The ring may help Peyton Manning justify his ranking as the game's best quarterback, but the numbers have not changed that fact; he's the best. In 2007, Manning throws for 4,497 yards and 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Joseph Addai takes over as the focal point of the running game. He follows up a great first season with 1,521 yards 16 total TDs. The Colts need a huge season after Dominic Rhodes left for Oakland. Addai averaged 1.4 yards per carry more than Rhodes in 2006. Backing up Addai is DeDe Dorsey, who never had an NFL carry going into 2007. The starting receivers are the best in the business, combining for 188 receptions, 2,860 yards and 20 touchdowns. First round draft choice Anthony Gonzalez takes Brandon Stokely's place with 42 catches and four TDs. A trio of tight ends/h-backs, Dallas Clark, Bryan Fletcher and Ben Utecht, help take the pressure off of the young backup wide receivers and running backs. With the inevitable injury to Clark, the three split receptions pretty evenly. With more youth at wide receiver and the focus on the far more productive Addai makes the Colts almost unstoppable.

Defensive Outlook: The 22.9 points a game allowed are 20th in the league. The loss of five starters from 2006 hurts, yet Bob Sanders and Gary Brackett are back and healthy. Those two alone should be enough to keep the Colts in games. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis improve a bit on 2007 with a deeper group of defensive tackles. Rookie Quinn Pitcock joins ex-Buc Anthony "Booger" McFarland, Raheem Brock and ex-Patriot Dan Klecko. June is gone, yet freakish athlete Freddy Keiaho breaks out alongside solid veterans Gary Brackett and Rob Morris. Brackett leads the team with 127 tackles and Keiaho records 90 tackles and four sacks. The secondary loses Jason David, Nick Harper and Mike Doss, yet starts four players who put in significant time in 2006. Do-it-all safety Sanders logs a full season, making 83 tackles with four sacks and four interceptions. Second year player Antoine Bethea builds on impressive rookie campaign as a great compliment to Sanders at safety. Third year corners Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are not backed by much, but also produce a decent tandem in the backfield. Clearly the defense is not great and regresses a bit in 2007, but injuries in 2006 have prepared the team to proverbially do "enough to win."

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): New Orleans (10-6), @Tennessee (3-13), @Houston (5-11), Denver (11-5), Tampa Bay (7-9), @Jacksonville (9-7), @Carolina (10-6), New England (11-5), @San Diego (11-5), Kansas City (9-7), @Atlanta (6-10), Jacksonville (9-7), @Baltimore (8-8), @Oakland (7-9), Houston (5-11), Tennessee (3-13)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Peyton Manning (1) 4,497 yards, 34 TDs, 13 INTs; Joseph Addai (5) 1,521 yards rushing, 34 receptions, 16 total TDs; Marvin Harrison (1) 99 receptions, 1,460 yards, 11 TDs; Reggie Wayne (6) 89 receptions, 1,400 yards, 9 TDs; Dallas Clark (16) 32receptions, 396 yards, 3 TDs; Adam Vinatieri (1) 48/48 XPs, 30/34 FGs; Defense (21) 14 INTs, 33 sacks, 366 points allowed.

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
Uncertainty at quarterback and injuries to experienced defensive players forced the Jaguars to underachieve (Jacksonville scored 97 more points than the opposition, yet finished 8-8) in 2006. The former may persist, but the latter is fixed as Jacksonville bounces back to the playoffs as the Wild Card. Jacksonville will score 23.7 points a game and allows 17.8, against a schedule that features six games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 23.7 points a game are 11th in the NFL and sixth in the AFC. Byron Leftwich and David Garrard both miss starts, but with Quinn Gray the triumvirate at quarterback is dynamic enough to help the great running game put points on the board, while not turning the ball over. The real fire-power for this team remains among another trio - running backs Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and Greg Jones. All three can carry the ball 20 times a game as well as catch the ball, but yet they compliment each other well. Jones is the more traditional fullback, bruiser-type; Drew is the change-of-pace back who can split out wide; and, Taylor is the feature, all-purpose back. Each gets at least 50 carries and catches at least 14 balls as the group combines for 2,739 total yards and 19 touchdowns. Since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, Jacksonville has struggled to find an identity in the receiving corps. Similar issues abound in 2007, as it is the tight ends who do the brunt of the work in the passing game. George Wrightster, Jermaine Wiggins and Marcedes Lewis collectively out-produce tight ends like Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow with over 20 catches each and seven total TDs.

Defensive Outlook: The 17.8 points a game allowed are fifth best in the league. Critical veteran leaders Reggie Heyward, Mike Peterson and Marcus Stroud are back for full seasons after missing significant time in 2006. If anything, the experienced gained by backups last season strengthens the depth of this tough, strong defense. The Jaguars success on defense begins with mammoth tackles Stroud and John Henderson. Tipping the scales well over 300 pounds each, they also both notch over 50 tackles and get three or more sacks, unheard of for a pair of tackles in the 4-3. Heyward joins break out player Paul Spicer at end to give Jacksonville the biggest and meanest line in the league. The linebackers are clearly not the fastest or more athletic in the league, but they are solid and rarely make mistakes. If the defense starts at tackle and is solid up the middle, any opponent's hope for success ends with safety Donovin Darius. Healthy for 2007, Darius is given even more room to roam than ever when he is paired with first round pick Reggie Nelson. The tandem starts every game together to combine for 161 tackles, seven interceptions and three sacks. Editor's Note: Much to our dismay, Jacksonville released Donovin Darius on June 14th. Ball-hawking cornerback Rashean Mathis continues his rise to stardom with ten picks. As if opposing teams did not already have a hard enough time running the ball against such a tough-nosed defense, the backfield forces more turnovers than any team in the NFL.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): Tennessee (3-13), Atlanta (6-10), @Denver (11-5), @Kansas City (9-7), Houston (5-11), Indianapolis (10-6), @Tampa Bay (7-9), @New Orleans (10-6), @Tennessee (3-13), San Diego (11-5), Buffalo (7-9), @Indianapolis (10-6), Carolina (10-6), @Pittsburgh (7-9), Oakland (7-9), @Houston (5-11)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Byron Leftwich (31) 1,993 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; David Garrard (37) 1,048 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs; Maurice Jones-Drew (16) 1,016 yards rushing, 39 receptions, 11 total TDs; Fred Taylor (29) 982 total yards, 7 TDs; Matt Jones (51) 48 receptions, 702 yards, 5 TDs; George Wrightster (30) 30 receptions, 294 yards, 3 TDs; Josh Scobee (16) 39/39 XPs, 26/32 FGs; Defense (5) 20 INTs, 41 sacks, 284 points allowed.

Houston Texans (5-11)
The Texans tasted victory in their first ever game; it has not happened much since. 2007 is not much different. In 2007, Houston will score 18.0 points a game and allow 27.6, against a schedule that features an astounding eight games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 18.0 points a game are 31st in the NFL and 15th in the AFC. New pieces are in place at running back and quarterback, but the line is still very weak and the receiving corps is paper thin. Matt Schaub is a big, athletic, mobile quarterback with great mechanics who does not sound or look a whole lot different than previous starter David Carr. Schaub has a better pocket presence and is a little more difficult to bring down, so the line is not quite as much of a factor as in previous years, but it's not enough to make a significant difference in the win column for 2007. Ahman Green's acquisition makes for a brand new backfield. Green has only played two full seasons in his nine year career leading up to 2007 and the 30-year old struggles to stay healthy and productive. At receiver, Andre Johnson is a beast, but there is little talent and experience behind him. Kevin Walter and rookie Jacoby Jones split time at the #2 wide receiver position, catching 56 and 36 balls respectively. Of course, that total of 92 is 14 shy of Johnson's 106 catches for 1,394 yards and eight touchdowns. 2006 rookie Owen Daniels maintains his rise toward the elite pass-catching tight ends with 54 receptions and three touchdowns. Johnson and Daniels may be the lone bright spots on this perpetually shaky offense.

Defensive Outlook: The 27.6 points a game allowed are 28th in the league, but the future looks a little brighter for this young unit that must learn under fire against one of the NFL's toughest schedule. The Texans have loaded up on defensive talent in the draft with five defensive players in the first round over the last four years. And that does not even include DeMeco Ryans, who was selected with the first pick in the second round before leading the team in tackles in 2006. The defensive line is athletic, yet as young as it gets. Number one pick from 2006 Mario Williams improves on a promising first season with a team-high eight sacks to go with 46 tackles. The rest of the line is filled two former first round picks and a second round pick. There is talent there; just not experience. At linebacker, the team has a little more proven production. DeMeco Ryans leads the entire NFL in tackles with 161 to go with three sacks and an interception. The secondary has a little more stability than the rest of the team with bright spots Dunta Robinson, C.C. Brown and Glenn Earl. If they can keep everyone together (and hope for a slightly easier schedule), the Texans could have a formidable defense for a few years - after 2007.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): Kansas City (9-7), @Carolina (10-6), Indianapolis (10-6), @Atlanta (6-10), Miami (8-8), @Jacksonville (9-7), Tennessee (3-13), @San Diego (11-5), @Oakland (7-9), New Orleans (11-5), @Cleveland (5-11), @Tennessee (3-13), Tampa Bay (7-9), Denver (11-5), @Indianapolis (10-6), Jacksonville (9-7)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Matt Schaub (17) 3,365 yards, 21 TDs, 18 INTs; Ahman Green (27) 872 yards rushing, 23 receptions, 7 total TDs; Andre Johnson (10) 106 receptions, 1,394 yards, 8 TDs; Owen Daniels (11) 54 receptions, 549 yards, 3 TDs; Kris Brown (29) 33/33 XPs, 22/27 FGs; Defense (28) 17 INTs, 31 sacks, 442 points allowed.

Tennessee (3-13)
Whereas the Jaguars greatly underachieved at 8-8 in 2006, the Titans greatly overachieved to reach the same record, being outscored by 76 points on the season. In 2007, the numbers even out and more as a team in turmoil cannot even rely on Vince Young's will to overcome deficiencies on offense and in the running game. Tennessee will score 14.3 points a game and allow 29.6, against a schedule that features a conference-high nine games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 14.3 points a game are last in the NFL. It would be difficult to pin a disappointing season on quarterback Vince Young. After losing his starting running back and top receiver, Young literally has to do it all. He responds to the best of his ability with over 2,500 yards passing and 500 yards rushing. Young's 565 yards on the ground are second on the team behind 2006 rookie LenDale White. White improves in 2007, yet still does not look ready to be the feature back; and, unproven rookie out of Arizona, Chris Henry is the only other halfback on the roster. Editor's Note: On June 18th, Tennessee signed oft-injured running back Chris Brown to join White and Henry. And, somehow, the running game is the Titans' offensive strength. At receiver, Drew Bennett has left for St. Louis and David Givens misses most the season with injuries. That leaves several talented, but highly unproven wideouts on the roster. Brandon Jones emerges as Young's top deep threat, catching 37 balls for a team-high 560 yards. Tennessee utilizes its tight ends/h-backs often. Where the rest of the offense outside of young lacks depth, this group has three players, Bo Scaife, Ben Troupe and Ahrmad Hall who stand out. The trio combines for 84 receptions, 986 yards and five TDs. Tennessee is going to need more legitimate playmakers at receiver and a better compliment to LenDale White in order to adequately build around Vince Young.

Defensive Outlook: The 29.6 points a game allowed are 31st in the league. Safety Chris Hope and linebacker Keith Bulluck are among the most productive defensive players in the league, yet that is more because someone has to be on this defense and there is not a whole lot left on the team. The line includes the much-maligned Albert Haynesworth and under-achieving Jesse Mahelona, Rien Long and Randy Starks at tackle. Travis LaBoy and Kyle Vanden Bosch man the end position, lacking athleticism and the ability to intimidate quarterbacks. In 2006, David Thornton tried to prove that the linebacker position was not just Bulluck's on this team, yet he takes a step back in 2007. Bulluck leads the team with 128 tackles, two sacks and an interception. And, Hope may actually be the best player on this team, let alone the defense, but lack of talent at the corner position means he cannot do it all. Former Colt, Nick Harper leads the team in interceptions, while Tennessee utilizes a group of five corners to try and replace the suspended Pacman Jones. One of the lone reasons for hope in the future, rookie Michael Griffin supplants Lamont Thompson, making 53 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. The team desperately lacks a shutdown corner to help make up for its deficiencies on the line and lack of speed at linebacker.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Jacksonville (9-7), Indianapolis (10-6), @New Orleans (10-6), Atlanta (6-10), @Tampa Bay (7-9), @Houston (5-11), Oakland (7-9), Carolina (10-6), Jacksonville (9-7), @Denver (11-5), @Cincinnati (9-7), Houston (5-11), San Diego (11-5), @Kansas City (9-7), NYJ (9-7), @Indianapolis (10-6)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Vince Young (20) 2,502 passing yards, 13 TDs, 12 INTs, 565 rushing yards, 3 TDs; LenDale White (23) 1,105 yards rushing, 19 receptions, 7 total TDs; Brandon Jones (37) 37 receptions, 560 yards, 2 TDs; Bo Scaife (14) 43 receptions, 552 yards, 2 TDs; Rob Bironas (32) 24/24 XPs, 21/27 FGs; Defense (32) 13 INTs, 25 sacks, 475 points allowed.

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