2017 AFC South Previews & Predictions

The 2017 season has to have the most parody of each NFL division in the NFL. Each team have strengths and weaknesses that are glaring as the season nears. There are some camp battles that won’t be settled for several weeks but we have to get a tentative look at what we expect in the upcoming season. However each team have huge questions that need to be answered.

Murrray is 1/2 of a potent backfield.

With Andrew Luck entering his 6th season and the prime of his career… Is he the great quarterback some pundits tried to label him as or has he regressed?? Does he have enough talent around him??

Will the Houston Texans produce enough offense to offset their #1 defense?? At what point will the team turn to rookie QB DeShaun Watson when Tom Savage under performs?? Yes when…not if…

Only one team comes in on a high note coming into 2017 and no we’re not talking last year’s division winner in Houston.

2017 AFC South Predictions

  1. Tennessee Titans 10-6 *
  2. Houston Texans 8-8
  3.  Jakcsonville Jaguars 6-10
  4. Indianapolis Colts 5-11

One of the Chancellor of Football’s measures going into a new season is how a team finishes the season before. Tennessee finished winners in 4 of their last 5 games in 2016 including a 24-17 over Houston in the finale. Keep in mind QB Marcus Mariota had already been injured and missed that game.

A closer look and the Titans finished triumphant in 5 of their final 7 games highlighted by a 45-27 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers. DeMarco Murray finished as the 3rd leading rusher with 1,287 yards and if he stumbles, former Heisman winner Derrick Henry (490 yds/5 TDs) can pick up the slack. By the time we look at Mariota running when passing plays breakdown, Coach Mularkey’s team was 3rd in football with 2,187 yards. With a 4.6 yard average and returning 2 Pro Bowl Tackles (Jack Conklin & Taylor Lewan) the running game should be there to keep defenses honest.

In Indy, the Colts have a lot on Coach Pagano and Andrew Luck in what could be the head coach’s last season. This team was 1-6 against playoff teams last year and suffered a huge loss with the retirement of DE/LB Robert Mathis. Not only was he a team leader he finished with 2nd on the team with 5 sacks behind Eric Walden (11). The Colts drafted 7 defenders last April yet will that be enough to elevate last year’s 30th ranked defense??

With defenses gearing to stop TY Hilton (91 rec. 1,448 yds 5 TDs), Phillip Dorsett (33 rec. 528 yds 2 TDs) could emerge as a 2nd 1,000 yard receiver. Luck will have to push the football this season and won’t be able to play it safe. His interception totals may go up as pressure mounts to save Pagano’s job.

However rebuilding a defense one year after rebuilding an Offensive Line, the Colts are a year away from improving on the field.

Watson has to finish camp as the starter.

If DeShaun Watson can begin the season as the starter, Houston can make the playoffs. Odds are he wont but circle the calendar on October 8th, a week 5 affair vs Kansas City. A 1-3 start is possible as they host Jacksonville, at Cincinnati, at New England, then return home against the Titans. Coach O’Brien will lean on his defense and hope he has time to develop the prized rookie. Savage will struggle and with the recent success of rookie QBs including Dak Prescott up the road in Dallas, he will be thrust into the action.

The other date to circle is Sept 24 week 3 v. Seattle.  The Titans will look at this early season inter-conference game against the NFL’s elite and with a win comes newfound confidence. A win in week 4 v Houston and the Titans will put everyone in the AFC South on notice that they’re the heavyweight in the division. Mariota improved in yardage (3,426 v 2,818), touchdowns (26 v 18) and threw 1 less interceptions although he attempted 80 more passes. The only improvement to match Mariota’s in the last two years is Oakland’s Derek Carr.

The team he gets a shot at in week 1. This could be the 1st of 2 meetings in 2017. The Tennessee Titans will win the AFC South.

How did Taylor Blitz Times fare with predictions in 2016??

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Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Favorite In the AFC??

Most of the time you look at what a team projects to and you waffle with will the team play up to those expectations. In the case of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, the maturation of the rebuilding process beginning with Peyton Manning’s release, should pay off this year.

Luck scores in last year's playoff win in Denver.

Luck scores in last year’s season opener in Denver.

Let’s face it the Colts struck gold in the selection and development of Andrew Luck. Every year he has elevated his game along with another playoff accomplishment. At the end of the 2013 season, he brought the Colts back in a 45-44 wildcard thriller before falling to Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round. Last year his Colts won a couple playoff games including a 24-13 win against Manning’s Broncos signaling a changing of the guard.

In that game he out-dueled Peyton and looked to be the more confident quarterback with more command of the field. Our eyes didn’t deceive us. Luck was sure of himself and his teammates fed off his energy. Along with his playmaking ability, you could see he was capable of carrying a franchise.

However once again Luck and the Colts were struck down by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 45-7. What was different about the loss last year is we clearly saw he didn’t have the talent around him to beat New England. The year before they were just a step behind Brady’s boys where last year, a retooled Patriot secondary obliterated the league’s #1 passing attack.

It’s evident: To get to the Super Bowl the Colts need to get Luck some dogs to help lead the pack. Enter Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

How many championship teams over the years have brought in grizzled veterans to lend experience and tone for a young team?? Remember when the ’81 49ers brought in “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Fred Dean?? How about the ’92 Cowboys bringing in Charles Haley and Thomas Everett?? What about the ’01 Patriots bringing in LB Bryan Cox?? The latter was just as impotant.. go back and see which “alpha dog” lead them onto the field for Super Bowl XXXVI. it was Cox…yet I digress

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Frank Gore brings a punishing, tone setting style to an offense that can be described as finesse up to this point. Indy couldn’t knuckle up with two tight ends and impose their will on a defense. Gore brings that will and toughness to an offense relying too much on trickery. Knowing his time in the light is short, his hunger to get back to the Super Bowl will fuel the team’s urgency to win now.

The same can be said for fellow [[_]] alumnus Andre Johnson.  Year after year he’s had to watch the Colts foray into the NFL playoffs as his Houston Texans stumbled. They played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships. Now they have retooled on the run and came within a game of the big dance last year. How envious has he been watching this from up close in the same division?? So he’s staying within the division  (Calvin) and joining ranks with Gore to bring a veteran hunger to forge a tougher team mentality than the last few years.

Andre Johnson fightDid we say a tougher mentality?? Now I know you remember the fight between Johnson and former Titan Cortland Finnegan. Well this is a microcosm of the toughness he’ll bring to the offense converting 3rd and 7’s over the middle this season. A 7 time Pro Bowler will work the intermediate routes while TY Hilton will blow the top off opposing defenses.

With all the departures in New England this team should ascend to Super Bowl L. A third shot at New England with an even more mature Luck will come up rosy for Indy. Don’t forget LB Robert Mathis will return to join free agent DE Trent Cole to rush the passer. They join former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year D’Qwell Jackson to improve last year’s 11th best defense. If this team is playing with a lead they will be hard to beat.

All they need is a good draft to address a few needs and luck when it comes to injuries.

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Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes

The saga that has been Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings is just heating up. Did the Minnesota Vikings do enough to show support while Peterson served his suspension??  It culminated in a shouting match at the scouting combine between team brass and Peterson’s agent. Clearly there is a disconnect and the best back in Viking history wants out.

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

The key is he said he will not take a pay cut nor will he renegotiate his contract in any fashion. So a sign and trade is out of the question. Will the Vikings be forced to cut him?? Now that he is reinstated it’s time to talk about possible destinations for the NFL’s best back. Sure his father has an idea where he wants to go but a lot can change when GMs move quickly.

1. The Arizona Cardinals – Please, please, please get the on air radio personalities out here to quit talking about Andre Ellington like he is an elite back. Never have I heard a more marginal talent talked about with such reverence. Peterson’s lifetime average of  5.0 per carry would be a serious boost here over Ellington’s paltry 3.3 yard average in 2014. If Arizona had a legitimate running game last year they may have had a deep run in the playoffs.

In all actuality, cutting DT/DE Darnell Dockett, Ted Ginn Jr, and restructuring Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has freed $15 million in cap space. The Cardinals can sell him on the weather, a stout defense, a returning Carson Palmer, and the fact the last 3 NFC representatives in the Super Bowl hail from the NFC West.  Peterson is 30 and if his intentions are to make it to a Super Bowl this is a legitimate landing spot.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

2. The Detroit Lions – This is a great landing spot for all the reasons mentioned with the Cardinals. Last year it was the Lions with the NFL’s #2 defense and only a controversial call kept Detroit from the divisional round of the playoffs. You want to talk about a big three?? Matthew Stafford, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Adrian Peterson would be a sick combination. Keep in mind Peterson has at least 3 good years left and the Lions just cut Reggie Bush.

Another note to keep in mind is the high propensity for players to sign with a division rival to show their old team that they still have it. Emmitt Smith to the Cardinals, Thurman Thomas to the Dolphins, Lawyer Milloy & Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo, Brett Favre to the Vikings, then last year with Julius Peppers going to Green Bay and Jared Allen going to Chicago.  What better way to get back at Minnesota than to go for 200 on them??? Detroit is on the rise folks and Peterson is that missing piece.

3. New England Patriots – Now here is where folks will think The Chancellor of Football has lost it. Until I remind you when the 2003 defending champion Patriots acquired Corey Dillon…remember that??  Again Peterson is 30 with a few prime years left and just like Dillon never had a great team around him. Well in 2009 the Vikings with Favre did make it to the NFC Championship but the balance of his career has been spent with very average talent.

Peterson may be willing to take a little less for the chance to play for the game’s ultimate prize. Take a look at the long list of veterans who have signed with New England to play with Tom Brady. Look at last year alone in acquiring Darrell Revis, Brandon Browner, and Brandon LaFell.

It could even be on a 1 year proposition. Remember when Deion Sanders bypassed several 4 yr – $15-17 million contracts to sign with the 49ers for $1.1 million in ’94?? Of course the collective bargaining agreement would force the Pats to pay him a minimum around $4 million but you get the point. Bill Belichick always has an ace up his sleeve and to pull in a Peterson is within range.

4. Indianapolis Colts – After the Trent Richardson trade cost them this year’s #1 draft pick, the Colts would overpay to get Peterson. Everyone says you can get a quality running back in later rounds. Well not this team. The Colts haven’t had a running back pay off since they drafted Joseph Addai in 2007. That is 8 years ago!!

Signing Peterson would shift the balance of power in the AFC and Andrew Luck could have the weapon that would propel him to the Super Bowl. Luck has proven he can carry the organization but he needs help to topple New England. Painfully we have seen this for several years.

Adrian Peterson has a decision to make but one thing is certain, he will play with a serious chip on his shoulder this first year back. If the performance is anything like his 2012, he will get stronger by the game. He should have at least 3 prime years left as a work horse runner. That is his Super Bowl window.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Everyone, including Peterson is saying the Dallas Cowboys but lets give this some thought… Why would the Cowboys get a 30 year old runner over a 27 year old runner who just set the season record for rushing?? Why would you challenge the collective adhesiveness of the offensive line, running back, and huddle temperament with QB Tony Romo??

In reality, the Cowboys are taking a hard negotiating stance with Murray and Dez Bryant as they have with black players throughout the team’s history. Remember when Troy Aikman received a new contract for $50 million before his contract was up and Emmitt Smith had to hold out just to get $13.5 million?? Us old timers do and know several other stories…so Peterson beware. You’re just a bargaining chip to Dallas.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??

 

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

Playoff time in the National Football League begins now and you can smell it. Listening to all the pundits talk about the team no one wants to play, they keep talking about the wrong team. The team no one wants to play isn’t the San Diego Chargers, it’s the Indianapolis Colts. They are the giant killers that toppled Denver from the ranks of the unbeaten, beat the Seahawks, bludgeoned the 49ers, and three weeks ago upended the Chiefs to keep them from winning the AFC West.

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Keep in mind they are coming into this playoff match-up with a higher defensive ranking than the Chiefs. They have to contend with Jamaal Charles who represents 35% of the Chiefs offense. Today Andy Reid has to get Alex Smith to go downfield with DeWayne Bowe while the Colts are keying on Charles.

He led the Chiefs in rushing (1,227 yards) receptions (70) and the league in touchdowns with 19. Right now Reid’s offense is too one dimensional. Dexter McCluster could be a wild card here but we have to see some new wrinkles.

Today the Colts will win 30-21 as they are plus 5 in takeaways at home. Take out the aberration when they turned it over 5 times in a 38-8 loss to the Rams, that number jumps to plus 10.  In the last seven games, Kansas City has forced only 6 turnovers in 6 games and 7 versus the Raiders. The problem is they’ll be missing Tamba Hali although LB Justin Houston is back. The playoffs start with a win in Lucas Oil by the Colts.

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Legends of The Fall: Eric Dickerson

If you traveled back to the 1980’s in the NFL, Eric Dickerson was described as a running back from the future. Everything from his upright running style to the way he wore so much in the way of protective equipment. He had the speed of a sprinter yet at 6’3 220 lbs he could run over small defensive backs who came up to support the run. Now that we’re 30 years removed from his rookie year of 1983 there is only one player The Chancellor thinks is the 2nd coming of Dickerson. It’s Adrian Peterson.

Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton in 1984. Payton eclipsed Jim Brown to become the all time leading rusher  that year. Not to be outdone Dickerson broke OJ Simpson's single season record with 2,105 yards.

Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton in 1984. Payton eclipsed Jim Brown to become the all time leading rusher that year. Not to be outdone Dickerson broke OJ Simpson’s single season record with 2,105 yards.

One of the greatest open field sprinters in NFL history, Dickerson was a threat to break it the distance every time he touched the football. What made him great was his sprinter’s speed in the open field with his size. He’d break into the open field and cornerbacks tried to take angles on him and couldn’t run him down. Only Peterson can be compared to him for how far above the rest of the running backs they competed against.

In 1983, you have to remember the Rams wanted to shake up their offense. You had the great quarterback class of 1983 and the bright star from SMU. The Rams had a 1,000 yard rusher in Wendell Tyler but saw a more explosive runner in Dickerson. It was interesting because we hadn’t seen Dickerson carry the total load since he alternated series with Craig James while in college. With the Rams desperate to catch the 49ers, who had risen to power in the NFC West, they took Dickerson.

The clear understanding was he would pay immediate dividends over the quarterbacks who would take 4 to 5 years  to develop. At least that was the NFL’s thinking of QB development at the time. Dickerson took the National Football League by storm rushing for 1,808 yards and 18 TDs as he powered the 9-7 Rams to a wildcard playoff entry. The Rams had missed the playoffs the previous two years and were energized by their rookie rushing champion. He was the first to do so since Earl Campbell and second to do so since Jim Brown in 1957. They were a run oriented team with spartan quarterbacking and Dickerson still got his yards. Going into 1984 most pundits weren’t predicting a sophomore slump but a possible run to the record books. Dickerson delivered in grand style.

Although the 2,000 yard season has been achieved several times in the 29 years since Dickerson’s magical 1984, his was the most appreciated because teams saw it coming but couldn’t stop it from happening. Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson were both coming off knee reconstructions when they accomplished theirs. He was a sight to behold and led the league in rushing in 3 of his first 4 seasons. Each of which with over 1,800 yards which is amazing. No runner in league history can touch that. The only reason he didn’t do it four straight times was his holdout in a contract dispute before the 1985 season.

Without training camp that year he had a slow start and finished with only 1,234 yards. Marcus Allen led the league in rushing that year with 1,759 yards. Yet he hit his stride as the playoffs loomed. In the divisional round he torched the Dallas Cowboys with a National Football League playoff record 248 yard performance. That 20-0 win sent the Rams to Soldier Field where they lost to the Bears 24-0 in the NFC Championship Game.

However if you’re keeping score, after three years he held league records for most yards rushing as a rookie, most yards in a season, and most ever in a playoff game. Aside from a Super Bowl, the biggest fight he had was with the front office. Yet nothing prepared us for his being traded to the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of the 1987 season.

For all he had accomplished in Los Angeles it was his 1987 and 1988 seasons that cemented Dickerson as a greatest ever runner. The argument when a player is accomplishing these feats is what fuels it?? Is it the offensive line or the running back?? You just heard that Charles White, in Dickerson’s absence, won the 1987 rushing title with 1,347 yards rushing. Dickerson was second with 1,288. The ’88 year saw him reclaim the rushing title with 1,659 yards and 14 TDs where back in LA, White only gained 328. More importantly he had legitimized the Colts as a franchise in Indianapolis.

Before his arrival in ’86, the Colts were 12-36 in their previous three years in Indianapolis. In fact HBO’s Inside The NFL was there to chronicle if they were going to join the ’76 Bucs as the second winless team after an 0-13 start. They acquire Dickerson and he powers them to the 1987 playoffs with a 9-6 record.  His ability to control the ball allowed what was a laughingstock of a defense in ’86 to be the league’s 2nd toughest to score upon at only 15.9 points per game. Ladies and gentlemen that is tilting the field.

The only record he didn’t have at this point of his NFL career was the late Walter Payton’s 275 yards in an individual game. You can blame the Denver Broncos for that. During what was probably the most electrifying game of his career, the Broncos couldn’t keep pace on the scoreboard and eventually he was pulled in a 55-23 blowout. Thanks John Elway. Personally I pulled for Denver to keep scoring so he’d stay on the field for a chance at the record. No such luck….take a look

One of the unique aspects of that game against Denver:  Had the Colts beat the Cleveland Browns in the ’87 AFC Divisional Playoff, this would have been the AFC Championship Game the year before. Dickerson would go on to rush for 13,289 yards 90 touchdowns while catching 281 passes for 2,137 yards and another 6 scores. As the game seems to be phasing out the dominant rusher, he starred as the league took to the air.

He was the equivalent of the great quarterback class of 1983 and captured the imagination of NFL fans everywhere. Although I compare him to Adrian Peterson, no other runner ever truly looked like him. If I could splice some film side by side, the person that looked most like him when they ran was Deion Sanders. He ran with an effortless gazelle like stride and when he broke into the open field it was curtains. You weren’t catching him. Well unless you’re Darrell Green.

Dickerson and his former Ram teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Jackie Slater.

Dickerson and his former Ram teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Jackie Slater.

What would he have accomplished had he completed his career in Los Angeles?? Would he have gone past Walter Payton for the all time NFL rushing champion had he stayed?? Would the Colts franchise have moved again without his arrival?? What would he have rushed for had he not spent time off the field fighting for a higher salary?? He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Ironically when the Colts and Rams were involved in another trade of a Hall of Fame running back in Marshall Faulk.

Eric Dickerson was a one of a kind talent. At his best he was an unstoppable force. Sure his career left us with many questions but at his best none put fear in modern defenses like he did.

A last look back at his 1986 season:

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