Ryan Bradley continues his 2013 NFL preview with the AFC South and West.
Editor’s note: Yesterday, we ran the first part of Ryan Bradley’s NFL preview, covering the the AFC East and North. You can read it here.
The Texans seem to be one of those teams that just can’t get over the hump and it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is to blame. Is Matt Schaub just not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback? People said that about Joe Flacco. Is it just bad luck? Do they psych themselves out for big games? Who knows, but they are certainly trying to address whatever the problem might be. They signed Ed Reed, and drafted another wide receiver for Schaub to throw to (DeAndre Hopkins), but the rest of their draft was fairly uneventful. I don’t think Schaub is the man to take the Texans to a Super Bowl, but they don’t have a QB on the roster who can, and a lot of their success hinges on Arian Foster and J.J. Watt staying healthy.
They finished 12-4 last year, but they are at a crossroads, either they can take the next step or they can take a step back. I have a feeling it will be the latter.
The Colts had a storybook season last year, one of those years that can be incredibly hard to build on because of the role that emotion played in the success. A lot has been made of bringing in Andrew Luck’s offensive coordinator from Stanford, but I think that’s placing some pretty hefty expectations on a new coordinator. I was also mostly unimpressed by their draft and I don’t expect Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield will be enough to take the pressure off of Luck. The one thing they have going for them is a relatively easy schedule. Still, expecting a repeat of last year’s 11-5 season is unfair.
Oh, the poor Jaguars. I am one of the few who thought Blaine Gabbart could make a good NFL quarterback, but I always contended that it couldn’t happen with the Jaguars. So I suppose there is still hope for him yet. If he can make it out of Jacksonville alive, that is. At least they beefed up their offensive line with the second pick in the draft (Luke Joeckel).
A 2-14 season isn’t hard to improve on, and I think they will do at least that much this year. Four wins seems doable, especially if Maurice Jones-Drew stays healthy.
The Titans are not so different from the Jaguars. They have a quarterback I expected to be better (Jake Locker), a running back (Chris Johnson) who could destroy the team’s season by getting injured, and they seem to think they are improving when they aren’t. What’s worse, the Jaguars actually had a marginally better draft. I was a bit surprised, in fact, the Titans didn’t hedge their bets and pick a quarterback, though that may have something to do with the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who, as it stands, could wind up in the starting job before the end of the season.
With a fairly tough schedule in 2013, the Titans have no direction to go but down from their 6-10 season last year.
There may be no team facing greater expectations in 2013 than the Denver Broncos. With Wes Welker joining the Peyton Manning show, they are a trendy pick to make it to the Super Bowl, but the expectations are equal to the concerns that still linger. Von Miller, the defense’s lynchpin, is out for the first six games, Welker and Manning are both one injury away from retirement, and they face a pretty brutal schedule (not counting two games each against the Raiders and the Chargers, and one each against the Jaguars and Titans). They added depth in the backfield drafting Montee Ball in the second round, but I question his durability.
A 13-3 season might be a harder act to follow than many think.
Kansas City Chiefs
People might be giving Andy Reid more credit than he deserves thinking he can right the ship in Kansas City. Still, the Chiefs could be a sleeper team this season. The 49ers made the right choice going with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith last year, but Smith is a quality quarterback who could provide stability for a team desperate for it. The Chiefs had a decent draft, but they remain a team that gives the impression they will be quick to hit the panic button, which might mean players like Smith end up scapegoats instead of innocent bystanders.
Coming off a 2-14 season, it’s not hard to imagine some improvement in 2013, but will it be enough for it to be considered successful?
The Oakland Raiders are kind of like the West Coast version of the New York Jets. They are a disastrous team, that seems unable to right the ship, no matter how they try to do so. They had a lot of picks in the draft and chose to do strange things with all of them, and coming out of the preseason with major questions at quarterback is just one of many bad harbingers. In the face of Terrelle Pryor looking like the only feasible choice for a starting quarterback on the roster, they are the latest team rumored to be considering giving Tim Tebow a chance. Isn’t that sign enough that the Raiders’ losing ways are far from over?
San Diego Chargers
If the Jets and the Raiders have competition as the biggest messes in the NFL, it might just be the Chargers. Everyone but the San Diego front office and coaching staff seems to recognize that Phillip Rivers is not the quarterback he was even a few years ago. He needs a change of scenery for the twilight of his career or he might as well just retire now. Despite their ineptitude, the Chargers had a surprisingly solid draft, getting a much needed offensive lineman in D.J. Fluker and a wide receiver who could end up being a major star if he gets out of San Diego (Keenan Allen). Still it was baffling they didn’t go after an heir to Rivers. There were a lot of potential quarterbacks in the draft and San Diego skipped them all.
The Chargers went 7-9 last year, but they are on a steady decline. They’ll give the bottom dwellers a serious run for their money this year.
Photo: AP/David Zalubowski