ESPN.com reporters Paul Kuharsky and Tania Ganguli create one team combining the rosters of the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. Here is a look inside their conversation to form one competitive team.
Paul Kuharsky: So, Tania, I was thinking. As bad as the AFC South is and as bad as the two teams we cover -- the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans -- are, what if we combined the rosters? Could the starting 11s on offense and defense win the division? Advance in the playoffs?
Let’s alternate picks and see what we come up with?
Tania Ganguli: Win this division? Absolutely. I'll start with J.J. Watt. I'm sure you'll agree that needs no further explanation.
PK: Yeah, he’s the place to start no matter what’s going on for the Texans defense so far. Next up we’ll install Marcus Mariota. He's shown a lot of good signs already and ranks to me as the No. 2 QB in the division.
TG: Bill O'Brien said he loved Mariota coming out. The Texans weren't anywhere near that pick. Before we build him a line, let's give him an elite receiver. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the league, and definitely the best among these two rosters.
PK: I love Hopkins, and Mariota has no one who will go make a catch for him like that right now, so he’ll be pleased. Right back to the defensive line for me. Jurrell Casey is a menace. He just causes problems as a 3-technique and letting him rush the passer with Watt should be something to behold.
TG: Now is where I would have given this offense Arian Foster, but since he's out, why don't we start building a line for Mariota. I propose Duane Brown as this hybrid team's left tackle. He's working through a thumb injury, but as that heals his experience and ability make him the top tackle between us.
TG: How are the Titans at center? The Texans have Ben Jones, who is playing the position for the first time in the NFL, but he's comfortable there. I think he's a solid option for this team.
PK: Jones is fine with me, but that we got to center so soon says a lot. Eesh. I’m going to continue to build our front and give us a 3-4 outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to join Watt and Casey. That’s a pretty good pass-rushing trio, and we’ll have more.
TG: I know people are down on Jadeveon Clowney, but he actually has been playing well. Had his first sack on Sunday, though that didn't mean a lot. He's learning to deal with the pain of playing in the NFL and he's getting steadily more comfortable with his role here.
PK: You should reconsider that one. I’m very curious about Clowney’s development, but based on him doing nothing, I think Derrick Morgan is a better option as the second outside linebacker and I will allow you to change your mind, go with Morgan over Clowney and make two picks. Meantime, I’ll get the pass defense started with corner Perrish Cox.
TG: It's a mischaracterization to say Clowney has done nothing. He's made a bigger impact than his statistics suggest. But Morgan is able to finish better right now than Clowney and already has 4.5 sacks. So although I believe Clowney has more upside, we can go with Morgan opposite Orakpo. It's meaningful that this defense so far is mostly Titans, when it was the Texans defense that was supposed to be dominant. They haven't played like it lately. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is my next pick. Wilfork will be able to take up space, eat blocks and free up the others, especially whomever we chose as inside linebackers, to make plays. He's been a help for Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing, whom I'll also offer for this team.
PK: I didn’t mean to be so hard on Clowney, but I think we wound up in the best place to compete right now. The defensive front is looking pretty good. Receiver Kendall Wright should be on this team, particularly if we run more of a matchup system rather than the progression-style offense he’s in now. He’s fine as the No. 2 guy outside, but he’s best in the slot. So if we go three-wide, he can be inside from the start.
TG: I agree on Wright. I think I would lean toward three receivers rather than two tight ends. The Texans' receivers have been much more successful than their tight ends, and I wouldn’t say they’d be much help in blocking. Hopkins, Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts have all been solid, but since we're playing Wright in the slot, I'd offer up the former Titan, Washington, as our third receiver.
PK: I would have pushed for two-TE, because I’m watching Mariota get beat up and I want to help pass protection. But I’ll sacrifice Anthony Fasano for Washington. I can offer Avery Williamson, who would be pretty good next to Cushing.
TG: I'll take Williamson next to Cushing and offer cornerback Johnathan Joseph. He's the older of the Texans' two starting corners, but has been healthier. Joseph has done a solid job. That gives us nine defensive players, we just need two safeties. I'll defer to you on those. Then let's start going finishing up the offensive line.
PK: OK. I like Joseph, but I think Jason McCourty is probably better. So, since the Patriots turned his identical twin brother Devin into a safety, and since Jason is a sure tackler, we will do the same. He's our free safety. McCourty is a better football player than Michael Griffin, the Titans free safety. We're only going 22 deep, so in our imaginary nickel McCourty can go outside with Cox to the slot and an imaginary safety coming on. (Maybe Daimion Stafford.) We'll also go with Da'Norris Searcy at strong safety. We haven't seen his best yet, but he's had his moments and should get better.
TG: The Texans have employed a similar strategy, using cornerback Kareem Jackson quite a bit at safety this year. I like this plan. The Texans offensive line has done pretty well at pass protection, it's in the running game they've struggled because they have been shuffled too much to develop chemistry there. I wondered if moving Lewan to right tackle might be a route we could go, but recent history has shown that flipping tackles doesn't always work great. I propose Derek Newton, who is at his best as a right tackle, though he's also been used by the Texans at left and right guard this year. We need two guards and a running back.
PK: I like Lewan at right tackle more, but as co-GM I can't win them all and you gave in on Morgan. Chance Warmack isn't playing well enough. It says a lot that a high first-round pick in his third year lasted this long in our exercise. I expect him to play better at right guard for HouVille.
TG: Brandon Brooks plays right guard for Houston, but in a pinch he's played left guard as he will for HouVille. We need a running back.
PK: How weird would it be to select a guy who hasn't played a regular-season snap? Fifth-rounder David Cobb (calf) could come off IR-recall next week. For now, it’s Antonio Andrews. He ran well against Atlanta, though the Titans stubbornly didn't give it to him more. Your quickie review?
TG: Mariota will get beat up less with an almost all-Texans offensive line (they rank sixth in sacks allowed per attempt), but I have grave concerns about our imaginary running game. I like this defense a lot and think, with the right coordinator, it could be a big problem for the Colts, who are already struggling offensively. What say you?
PK: I think we can rush the passer and cover, though we may not be fast enough. The joint run game has to be better than what either team had done so far, and it will be fun to pretend to watch Mariota work with Hopkins. It’s sad we need two teams to get it, but where will we fly our division title flag?