Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:51 PM
There’s got to be a “worst division in football” every year. It looks safe to say right now that the AFC South has taken over shame rights from the NFC West after what happened last season. Things would have been even uglier if everyone didn’t get to play six games against each other!
Indianapolis went 2-14 against a league average schedule
Jacksonville went 5-11 against a very easy schedule
Tennessee went 9-7 against the second easiest schedule in pro football
Houston went 10-6 against the easiest schedule in pro football
Give everyone an average schedule, and it’s possible nobody even finishes over .500. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances with Houston. They did suffer some important injuries, and didn’t have a star quarterback down the stretch. Had the team stayed healthy…we think Houston was a legitimate title threat on the short list that includes New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and occasionally the AFC West champ. Though, admittedly, those teams all had flaws last year that helped Houston catch up to them. Nobody in the AFC last year represented the best of what the AFC can offer in its peak seasons.
Things may get a little ugly, so shield your eyes. It’s time to run through the key indicator stats from 2011 as we try to project best expectations for the coming season. Keep in mind that both Jacksonville and Indianapolis have new head coaches…and that Indianapolis is hoping Andrew Luck out of Stanford can be the next Peyton Manning sooner rather than later. Maybe things have bottomed out! Or, maybe that won’t happen until 2012 is in the books…
2011 FINAL AFC SOUTH STANDINGS
Houston: 10-6 (+7 turnovers, 32nd rated schedule)
Tennessee: 9-7 (+1 turnovers, 31st rated schedule)
Jacksonville: 5-11 (+5 turnovers, 25th rated schedule)
Indianapolis: 2-14 (-1 turnovers, 18th rated schedule)
Notebook: Turnovers weren’t much of a factor in this division last year, so you can’t say that any of the horror stories were the result of bad turnover luck. Jacksonville and Indy played very conservatively because of inexperience at quarterback. The helped them avoid turnovers, but kept them from being much of a threat against any real teams they faced. They needed to catch opponents flat, and THEN catch additional breaks. Tennessee can’t be happy with only +1 against such a weak schedule. Even though they finished 9-7, they’re basically the same as the 6-10 entries from the AFC East (Buffalo and Miami) once you adjust for schedule strength and the like. Let’s move on before gawkers slow down traffic.
Notebook: At its best, Houston was a lethal team that could beat you in a variety of ways. Well, who could beat a soft schedule in a variety of ways. They’re known for their air game. But, a bruising ground game allowed them to pile up strong YPP numbers and sit on leads when they had them (a far cry from prior seasons when they were always finding ways to lose because they couldn’t protect leads). Anything below 5.0 is embarrassing. Indy and Jax were running rudimentary offenses with QB’s who were in way over their heads. It will be up to the new coaches to find ways to improve on YPP this year while not suffering turnover debacles.
YARDS-PER-PLAY ALLOWED DEFENSIVELY
Notebook: The biggest news in the whole division last year was that Houston finally had a defense they could trust. Only three teams in the AFC or the whole NFL were below 5.0 defensively last year. That’s Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston. If you’re on a short list with those teams, then you’re doing a great job on that side of the ball. Even after you adjust for strength of schedule, Houston grades out as an elite. Jacksonville deserves credit for hanging tough all year defensively too. Be sure you monitor Houston’s defense this year against quality offenses. If they are destined to be a championship threat (as some are expecting), it will show up in that critical area. Defenses win Super Bowls. New England stopped winning Super Bowls when their defense took a few steps backward. Houston needs to continue taking steps forward.
OFFENSIVE THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE
Notebook: Only Houston could move the chains. Tennessee would have dropped down in a virtual three-way tie with the others if they hadn’t played such an easy schedule. Just ugly football last year in the AFC South. There aren’t going to be any stats for the quartet to be proud of. Important lesson for you here is to evaluate young quarterbacks by their third down conversion rates. This is the stat where important players announce when they’re arriving.
DEFENSIVE THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE
Notebook: League average was in the high 30’s last year, as more teams decided punting was the better part of valor rather than running high risk plays on third downs. So, Tennessee’s 41% is a disaster in context. They were 7th worst in the whole NFL despite playing a very easy schedule. That seems to be the lesson today. Tennessee is worse than their won-lost record from last year by a lot more than you might have imagined. Be sure you take that into account as you compile your Power Ratings for 2012.
Let’s see what the betting markets in Las Vegas and offshore expect for the coming season. The regular season win projections are certainly skeptical. Are they skeptical enough?
AFC South Regular Season Win Projections
Tennessee 7 or 7.5
Jacksonville 5 or 5.5
If Houston can keep their quarterback on the field, they surely have a chance to break 10 wins. The market tends to keep teams tightly packed early on because of the illusion of parity. That’s been a MISTAKE in recent seasons with the win totals…as successful franchises continue finding success. We believe there’s enough evidence right now to suggest that Houston is for real as a potential Super Bowl team.
Can both Indy and Jacksonville make it to five wins? Well, Andy Dalton led Cincinnati past the .500 mark last year, so maybe Andrew Luck can have a dramatic first year impact.
The AFC South has to play the NFC North this year, which means Green Bay, Detroit, and Chicago. They also have to play the AFC East this year, which could be a tough task depending on how the Jets, Bills and Dolphins sort themselves out. So, even though the South gets six games against each other, the group is far from a sure thing to show meaningful improvement outside the division. We think Houston Over makes some sense (and you cross your fingers for health), but we’re not optimistic about the other three reaching their projected marks. Tough for all three to fail because of the games against each other. But, two of the three? Reasonable.
Thank goodness that’s over. None of the remaining divisional previews are going to be as gloomy as that!
If your 2011 performance was gloomy, or if you’ve been struggling to reach your own expectations the past few seasons, now is the perfect time to sign up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK. We have great rates that take you through the full season at very reasonable prices. Or, you can try out the Preseason to test the waters…and then use those profits to get the rest of the season once September arrives.
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Back with you Thursday to preview the AFC South just in time for the San Diego-Green Bay game that will be televised by ESPN. We’ll pick up again with NFL divisional previews next Monday-thru-Thursday with the NFC (starting with the NFC East on Monday since Dallas plays Oakland that night on ESPN). Weekends are reserved for college football conference previews this summer. Next up are the Big 12 (Saturday) and the Big East (Sunday).
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