Southern Comfort For Two AFC Contenders
By Brett Spielberg
While the Ravens went home the Super Bowl champions, a mass exodus from their roster this offseason leaves the AFC looking like a crapshoot. With two of the best teams in the entire conference, the AFC South seems destined to send a team to the Meadowlands in February.
The Texans are the favorite right alongside the machine that is Bill Belichick's Patriots. Adding Ed Reed to an already extraordinary Houston defensive unit should only turn out to be a complimentary move: They're going to wither or thrive depending upon this pivotal year for Matt Schaub.
Like Joe Flacco last year and Eli Manning the year before, this is Schaub's year to prove the haters wrong, to bring the franchise their first trip to the Super Bowl and to bring the city of Houston home its first Lombardi trophy, something that even the Oilers couldn't do.
Looking at their matchups this year, it's fair to say they are a shoo-in for a playoff spot and maybe even a bye.
They should rout the Jaguars and the Titans most likely as well. A split with the Colts seems fair to predict. That puts them at 5-1.
With the Patriots, Broncos, Raiders, Rams and Seahawks at home they should safely pick up two wins, with the games against the Broncos, Pats and Seahawks toss-ups. Assuming they win three of five, their record is 8-3.
Out of the Cardinals, Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens and 49ers on the road, they should safely win three out of five, with four or five wins very possible to get to 11-5. Ten wins should be a safe bet for the Texans, though the Colts look like they have an easier path toward the playoffs.
The Colts, too, should sweep the Jags and Titans. At worst, they should only lose once out of those four games. A split with the Texans is logical. Let's call it 4-2.
They play the Broncos, Dolphins, Raiders, Rams and Seahawks at home. A safe bet is three wins, maybe four if Andrew Luck outshines Peyton Manning or Russel Wilson. So 7-4 looks about right.
On the road against the Bengals, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs and 49ers, they could count on three more wins and very likely four. Let's call it 10-6.
The divisional title is a toss-up to say the least, with the schedule likely a major factor. Week 15 at Indianapolis might decide it all: Whichever team wins that game will very likely win the division, earn a bye in the first round and be a favorite for the Super Bowl. The unexplainable phenomenon that is week-to-week momentum will surely play a part and the winner will be propelled into Week 16 and ultimately the playoffs with confidence.
Whichever way you're leaning — Texans or Colts — the AFC South appears poised to send two competent teams into the playoffs. While the Broncos, the Patriots or even the Ravens might be the sexier pick, you can't sleep on the south.