For the past five seasons, the Indianapolis Colts have won the AFC South. They have had at least twelve wins in each of those seasons. However, their dominance wasn't as noticeable last season as in previous years.
The AFC South sent three teams to the playoffs in 2007. Jacksonville (11-5) and Tennessee (10-6) both earned wild card berths. Despite finishing in last place in the division for the fifth time in their six-year history, Houston (8-8) finished with a .500 record for the first time ever. The four teams in the division combined for a very impressive 42-22 overall record.
The division will likely be competitive once again in the upcoming season. Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard should improve in his second full season as a starter. Tennessee's defense ranked among the top five last season, but the Titans need to get consistent leadership from quarterback Vince Young in order to knock off Indianapolis. Houston made great strides last season and it will be interesting to see if they can repeat that performance in 2008.
Nevertheless, the team to beat in the AFC South is still the Indianapolis Colts. While the competition in the division is getting stronger, Indianapolis went 5-1 against the other three teams and proved once again that they are the best team in the division. Their only loss came against Tennessee in the final week of the regular season with quarterback Peyton Manning on the bench for the majority of the game.
Jacksonville, Tennessee and Houston will need big performances from more than one player in order to dethrone the five-time division champions, but I'll give you one player from each team who could make an impact this season. I'll even throw in a potential impact player in Indianapolis – as if they needed another one.
Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans, WR – He wasn't much of an impact in his rookie season (15 catches for 149 yards), but Jones could become a superstar in the near future. Keep an eye on the Texans in the offseason. They may bring back wide receiver Andre Davis, who was their second-best wideout in 2007. If they don't, then Jones will see more playing time, which will lead to increased productivity. Jones needs to show the Houston coaching staff that he is ready for a bigger role in his second season. If he does well in offseason workouts, then he'll be a valuable late-round pickup or waiver claim in the early part of the 2008 season.
Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts, WR – Gonzalez had an impressive rookie campaign (37 catches for 576 yards and three touchdowns), but it's interesting to think about how much of his role in the offense could be attributed to the injury of veteran receiver Marvin Harrison. If Harrison fully recovers and returns to his prominent role in the Indianapolis offense, then Gonzalez may not get much of an opportunity to improve his numbers in 2008. Although it's likely that Harrison will be fully healed, Gonzalez still might be worth a spot on your fantasy team because Manning likes to spread the ball around and Gonzalez could get plenty of catches.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars, TE – It's tough to find a guy in Jacksonville that is due for a breakout season. Jacksonville's two running backs, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, will both be picked early in fantasy drafts. Garrard had a solid season last year, so people are already aware of his capabilities. And none of the receivers are worthy of draft consideration as potential fantasy superstars. Lewis, on the other hand, could sneak up on fantasy owners this season. He's entering his third season in the NFL and did well in 2007 with 37 catches for 391 yards and two touchdowns. In my opinion, there's a chance that he could be one of the top tight ends by the end of the 2008 season. I think I'll take a look at drafting him in the middle rounds of this year's draft, if the elite tight ends are already gone.
Vince Young, Tennessee Titans, QB – After leading the Titans to the playoffs last season, Young will likely be the Titans quarterback for the foreseeable future. In terms of his fantasy future, it's now or never for Young. He threw 17 interceptions in 2007 and only had nine touchdown passes. Is this the year that he turns the corner and becomes a reliable fantasy quarterback? It's his third season in the NFL, so he's got plenty of experience now. Tennessee has a new offensive coordinator (Mike Heimerdinger), so it will be interesting to see if that has any effect on Young's performance.