Our preview pages are up, and you can now see what 14 of us at ESPN.com think of every team in the league, read the rationale for our positioning and see the consensus division finish for each.
I picked the division to stack up like it did last year: Titans, Colts, Texans and Jaguars. And I expect both Tennessee and Indianapolis to advance to the playoffs.
I’ve bounced back and forth between the Titans and Colts through the offseason and preseason, and I think they will be neck and neck, perhaps coming down to the final games on Jan. 3 when neither has a favorable matchup -- the Titans play at Seattle and have been consistently horrid on the West Coast in recent years; the Colts play at Buffalo where who knows what the temperature, winds and precipitation might be.
I won’t be surprised if either wins the division, and I understand that Peyton Manning is the division’s best player and can make a guy look silly for picking against his team.
But the one thing I keep coming back to, and I was talking about it well before training camp, is left tackle and the offensive line, where second-year right guard Mike Pollak also rates as somewhat of a question mark. Whether it’s Charlie Johnson or Tony Ugoh at left tackle, it’s going to qualify as a weak spot.
I understand Gijon Robinson and the young tight ends will be asked to help him most often. But that means one less weapon on the field out of the five eligible players. And while Manning is going to get the ball out in a hurry, couldn't it also mean that one important target -- Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai or Donald Brown -- is out on fewer routes as he is called on to help?
It’s the biggest hole/issue I see in the starting 22 for either team. Yes, I think the Titans will be able to effectively stop the run and rush the passer without Albert Haynesworth. Jeff Fisher’s got a pretty good track record for minimizing personnel losses.
Those things prompt my gut feeling to say the Titans will repeat.
As for the rest of the division ...
For good teams and bad teams, it’s easier to discount the preseason. But for a team in the middle trying to make a jump, to perform as the Texans did in the preseason leaves me concerned. I was uninspired by the safeties heading into camp, and I am also uninspired by the defensive tackles coming out of it. If they cannot start with stopping the run, in a division with Chris Johnson/LenDale White, Maurice Jones-Drew and Addai/Brown, I can’t see how they have much of a chance to close on Tennessee or Indy.
I like that Jacksonville is turning quickly to youngsters like Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Terrance Knighton and Derek Cox. Put them in the AFC West and maybe they could be a second-place team. But in this division, it will be hard for the bulk of those inexperienced players and other unproven pieces like Atiyyah Ellison, Sean Considine, Quentin Groves, Mike Sims-Walker and Troy Williamson to all play well simultaneously. And that’s what it would take for a significant leap that would catch Houston.