by Colin Donohue
The NFL season is just a couple of months away, which means training camps are approaching quickly. Most teams begin in a week or so. And because everything centered on the NFL is a huge event, it’s no surprise that the league’s lead-up to meaningless preseason games–training camp–gets oodles of attention from the media. Well, I’m going to add to the already saturated NFL predictions market, mostly to sate myself. But maybe you’ll get something out of it, too.
I’ll be posing three questions (or queries, as the title of this post suggests) facing every NFL team and three-sentence answers to each question. I’ll post one conference a day for the next eight days, which should lead us right into training camp. I’ll also assign one band/music act to every conference and pick a song from their repertoire that best describes the NFL team’s current situation just to give this feature a different twist. At the end of this list, you’ll find a poll, asking you to vote for your division winner. Be sure to give us your feedback by placing a vote.
Today, it’s the AFC South. The band is Steely Dan.
Steely Dan Song: “What a Shame”
‘Cause I’m worrying about the future now/Or maybe this is it/It’s not all that I thought it would be/What a shame about me
- When will the Texans learn to play defense? This has been the biggest problem for a team that’s gone 8-8 the last two years and seemingly have had little trouble scoring points. They have the makings of a nice defensive line, anchored by young defensive end Mario Williams, but the linebackers and the secondary are spotty, and in a division with other high-powered offenses, defense is key. It’s tough to envision this team being better than mediocre until the defense is strengthened to a suitable level.
- Can QB Matt Schaub stay healthy for a full season? The Texans plucked a talented Schaub from the Falcons roster after he began filling in for Michael Vick. A lot of teams liked Schaub’s potential, but Houston got him, and since that time, he’s put up nice numbers, when hes’ been able to stay healthy. When Schaub is feeling good, the Texans are a threat, but when he isn’t, they’re difficult to watch, so it’s imperative he’s healthy for this team to have any kind of impact.
- Is Steve Slaton the real deal at running back? Slaton came on strong last year as a legitimate runner, which gave the Texans the QB-RB-WR triumverate that every team needs in the form of Schaub-Slaton-Andre Johnson. Slaton needs to have a larger impact as a sophomore runner to get this team past the 8-win mark. Slaton is shifty and explosive enough to have a long, productive career in the NFL.
Steely Dan Song: “Reelin’ in the Years”
Your everlasting summer/You can see it fading fast/So you grab a piece of something/That you think is gonna last
- Will old coaches in new places disrupt the timing and effectiveness of the Colts? Jim Caldwell is the new head coach, and while he’s been with the organization since 2002, he’s still a new voice in a new position, which could potentially be jarring to QB Peyton Manning. In fact, Manning has already complained openly about the coaching changes and lack of communication this offseason. He obviously misses former coach Tony Dungy, as well as assistants Tom Moore and Howard Mudd, who may be back in some role, and that could affect his play in an offense that demonstrated a rapid decline last year.
- How much will Joseph Addai give the Colts offense? The Colts scored 450 points two years ago and just 377 last season, and that drastic drop is due in large part to the Addai’s putrid 2008-09 season. Sure, he suffered some injuries, but late in the year, he was essentially replaced because of how ineffective he was. If he remains the starter this season, he will need to run with renewed vigor, or the Colts will struggle to get back to 12 wins and the postseason.
- Can Bob Sanders ever stay healthy and anchor the defense? Sanders is an elite talent at safety, who hits hard and hawks as well as any other secondary player. The problem is that he can never stay healthy, and when he’s out, the Colts defensive backfield goes from intimidating and capable to completely unimposing. Dwight Freeney can provide a great rush up front, but it’s all for naught when the secondary is like a sieve, which it’s likely to be without Sanders in the lineup.
Steely Dan Song: “Fire in the Hole”
Don’t you know/There’s fire in the hole/And nothing left to burn I’d like to run out now/There’s nowhere left to turn
- Is David Garrard the guy to lead the Jaguars through a full season? The Jags took a chance on Garrard when they unloaded Byron Leftwich and named him the full-time starter, and it seemed like a good idea. Garrard was a guy who played smart football and didn’t throw INTs until last year when his TD-INT totals were 15-13 and a large reason why the Jags weren’t much of an offensive threat. Garrard has to prove that he can be a stable, poised pocket passer on a full-time basis, not just a flash-in-the-pan backup who can excite a team and a crowd, but it’s not looking good for this guy.
- Can Maurice Jones-Drew carry a full RB work load? Fred Taylor is gone in Jacksonville, which leaves Jones-Drew as the primary ball carrier, and his success will drive this team, in large part. Garrard needs someone to take the pressure off of him, and Jones-Drew has to be that guy. With an already stout defense, the Jags are poised to make a move, but Jones-Drew probably isn’t the type of runner you want taking on 300+ carries in a season.
- How will an underachieving WR corps play this season? So we’re at question No. 3, and we’re still talking about offense because this team’s defense is already sound–it’s just its offense that’s weak and in need of attention. Part of the reason Garrard was so average last year was because of his awful WRs, who are probably the most underwhelming bunch in the entire league. They have a couple of nice young guys who should be better (Reggie Williams and Troy Williamson) and a proven veteran this year (Torry Holt), but it’s really this group (specifically those three mentioned) that will determine whether this team will even sniff the possibility of the playoffs.
Steely Dan Song: “Do It Again”
You go back jack do it again/Wheel turnin round and round/You go back jack do it again
- Will Vince Young have a negative impact on the team while Kerry Collins continues to start? Young had some kind of mental breakdown last year, which gave Collins the starting gig permanently and was a large reason why the Titans dominated the NFL last year. But Young is back and claiming he should be the starter and threatening to demand a trade if he doesn’t (sorry, Vince, you did this to yourself). If I’m head coach Jeff Fischer, I’m not trading this guy, and I’m surely not starting him because Collins led my team to 13 wins.
- How dominant will the defense be again this season? Tennessee had the seventh best defense last year and gave up the second least amount of points (234). The Titans reached 13 wins because of its defense, not because of any other magical formula. Collins is an old QB with mediocre receivers and a bruising running game. The defense is what led this team to a division championship, and it could very well hold the team afloat again.
- Can they repeat as division champs? This is the big question, considering the Titans are in a division with the Colts, the only team that could really challenge the Titans. The short answer here is yes because of the Titans’ talented defense and capable offense, and because of the Colts unknown running game and spotty defense without Sanders. The Titans probably have a slight edge here because they seem to be more stable at the moment, even with Young clamoring in the background.
So who will win the AFC South?
(Stay tuned later in the summer for my and Justin’s one-sentence NFL season previews, our season locks, predictions and pick’em tournament.)