by Robert Ferringo - 07/25/2005
One of the lasting memories of my pre-teen years is spending hundreds of hours in front of the Nintendo playing Tecmo Super Bowl. Not Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64, but just plain, old school Nintendo. For my money, it's the best football video game ever, simply because at the time it was such a quantum leap for sports games.
I bring this up because watching the Indianapolis Colts last year, the only thing I could think of was when I used to play Tecmo Bowl and ring up about 70 points a game, throwing for 500 yards, having three 100-yard receivers, and having a 100-yard back. Well, Peyton Manning and his boys made it look just that easy last year. He passed for an NFL record 49 touchdown passes while totaling 4,557 yards, completing 67 percent of his 497 passes, and averaging 9.2 yards every time he dropped back to throw.
But here's the most impressive stat about the Colts offense last year: they were 25th in the NFL in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of only 28 minutes, 40 seconds each game. They were so good that they stopped competing against the defenses, and started competing against time - as in "How quickly can we score this possession?" It was both terrifying and impressive how coolly efficient they were.
Which made what the Patriots did in the Divisional Round of the playoffs - holding Indy to just 3 points - one of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history. The Colts showed on that day, yet again, that they can't win in New England in January. So this year, the goal is win home-field advantage and stretch the Patriots out in the RCA Dome in Indy.
Trying to tame the Colts are the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans. For those people that think that the Travis Henry pickup by the Titans matters, just remember that he's a backup running back on a team that has gaping holes on the offensive line, defensive line, secondary and special teams. Yeah, they're not very good.
Jacksonville, the team that I felt should have been falling over itself to give up the third-round pick that Buffalo was asking for Henry, could have a chance at catching Indy. They split two games with the Colts last year, and made some moves to upgrade their already solid defense. However, the Jags were 7-2 in games decided by six points or less in '04. That either means they're very poised and will only get better with experience, or they were very lucky and will probably take a step back this season.
Houston is in a similar situation. The three-year expansion grace period is up. They're only 16-32 since they entered the league, and if they don't show marked improvement this year heads will probably roll. There is a real nice nucleus of young players on this team. They're making some defensive adjustments to combat Indy's offense, switching to a 3-4. Also, they now have a secondary that just might be able to keep up with Peyton's receivers. Might be able to.
2005 AFC South PreviewINDIANAPOLIS COLTS
2004 Record: 13-5 (8-1 home, 5-4 road)
2004 Rankings: 2nd offense (1 pass, 15 run); 29th defense (28 pass, 24 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 10-7-1 (6-3 home, 4-4-1 road); 12-6 vs. over (7-2 h, 5-4 r)
2005 Odds: 15-2 to win Super Bowl, 7-2 to win AFC, 1-3 to win AFC South, 11.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 14th (.504 opponents win %)
Returning starters: 19 (9 offense, 10 defense)
Key acquisitions: Marlin Jackson, CB (draft)
Key departures: Idrees Bashir, S (to Carolina); Rick DeMulling, G (to Detroit); Jim Nelson, LB (to Balt.); Marcus Pollard, TE (to Detroit)
Key stat: In their 18 games (16 regular, 2 playoff) the average score was 33-22. The total score went over 60 in six of those 18 games.
Offense: I don't think I need to say anything. Peyton won't hit 50 TDs this year but, well, maybe he will. There is nothing to stop them from putting up Tecmo Bowl numbers - again. If Edgerrin James holds out, that could slow things down. But they have plenty of depth at running back to make up for his absence.
Defense: Because they've sunk so much money into their offense, this is about as good as it's going to get for the Colts. Resigning LB Rob Morris was key. If Mike Doss can stay healthy, he'll join CB's Nick Harper and Jackson in the secondary. With any luck, those three can create some turnovers and do something - anything - to help the offense.
X-factor: Dallas Clark. Saying the Edge here would be too obvious. Pollard was one of Manning's favorite targets near the goal line. Clark will now fill that role. However, he needs to realize that his primary role is as run blocker. And then he needs to actually block someone.
Outlook: Yeah. 12-4 sounds about right. Their defense sucks, which will keep them from getting home field advantage. No home field advantage means a January game in Pittsburgh or New England. We know how that story ends.
2004 Record: 9-7 (4-4 home, 5-3 road)
2004 Rankings: 21st offense (19 pass, 16 run); 11th defense (16 pass, 11 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 10-6 (5-3 home, 5-3 road); 4-12 vs. over (1-7 h, 3-5 r)
2005 Odds: 30-1 to win Super Bowl, 14-1 to win AFC, 17-5 to win AFC South, 8.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 13th (.504 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 20 (10 offense, 10 defense)
Key acquisitions: Reggie Hayward, DE (from Denver); Marcellus Wiley, DE (from Dallas); Tony Williams, DT (from Cincy); Nate Wayne, LB (from Philly)
Key departures: None.
Key stat: Their nine wins came by an average of 5.6 points.
Offense: They're still relying on Jimmy Smith (who's 36) to be the go-to receiver. Not good. They really need 2004 first-round pick Reggie Williams to step up as a wideout. They just don't score enough points. The good news is that their offensive line returns intact, and they've only given up an average of 1.9 sacks per game over the last two years.
Defense: They overpaid for Hayward because they were that desperate for a pass rusher. However, with Pro Bowler DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, they'll again control the line of scrimmage. Their defense gave up over 24 points only three times last year, and will be just as solid this season.
X-factor: Fred Taylor. He missed the final two games of 2004, and then had offseason knee surgery. He has serious durability issues. If they don't score a big-time back before Week 1, they're in serious trouble.
Outlook: They took strides last year, but they were also extremely lucky. Their defense is stout and I'm a huge Byron Leftwich fan, but I just don't know if they have enough offense to make a serious run at Indy.
2004 Record: 7-9 (3-5 home, 4-4 road)
2004 Rankings: 19th offense (18 pass, 18 run); 23rd defense (24 pass, 13 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 9-7 (5-3 home, 4-4 road); 6-9-1 vs. over (4-4 home, 2-5-1 road)
2005 Odds: 65-1 to win Super Bowl, 30-1 to win AFC, 8-1 to win AFC South, 7.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 15th (.504 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 19 (11 offense, 8 defense)
Key acquisitions: Philip Buchanon, CB (from Oakland); Morlon Greenwood, LB (from Miami)
Key departures: Jaimie Sharper, LB (to Seattle); Aaron Glenn, CB (to Dallas)
Key stat: Teams completed 64.9 percent of their passes against the Houston secondary. That was second worst in the NFL.
Offense: They return all 11 starters on an offense that showed serious potential last year. If David Carr, Andre Johnson and Dominick Davis stay healthy, those three could victimize plenty of defenses. The offensive line is still very suspect though. They've given up 140 sacks over the last three years, and the Texans only averaged 3.9 yards per rush last year.
Defense: Another team that's struggling to make the 3-4 work. They have three new linebackers and very little depth at defensive line. Picking up Buchanon to team with Dunta Robinson and Demarcus Faggins ensures that the secondary will be much better. They were only involved in three games decided by less than a touchdown. The defense has to play well enough to keep them close and let Carr win some games for them.
X-factor: Run defense. They were 13th last year, and they need to be there or close in order to have a chance in the AFC. If other teams can pound the ball on them, they'll wear down in the fourth quarter and teams will have their way with them.
Outlook: Last year they lost three games that they led entering the fourth quarter. If they can close out games and find ways to steal games the way Jacksonville did last year, I think they could be a dark horse playoff team. Try 9-7 and in the mix.
2004 Record: 5-11 (2-6 home, 3-5 road)
2004 Rankings: 11th offense (10 pass, 14 run); 27th defense (26 pass, 18 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 5-11 (2-6 home, 3-5 road); 10-6 vs. over (5-3 h, 5-3 r)
2005 Odds: 80-1 to win Super Bowl, 45-1 to win AFC, 12-1 to win AFC South, 6.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 21st (.492 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Key acquisitions: Adam Jones, CB (draft); Travis Henry, RB (from Buffalo)
Key departures: Samari Rolle, CB (to Balt.); Derrick Mason, WR (to Balt.); Kevin Carter, DE (to Miami); Andre Dyson, CB (to Seattle); Fred Miller, OT (to Chicago); Lance Schulters, S; Joe Nedney, K (to S.F.)
Offense: Can Kris Brown stay healthy enough to run for 1,200? Just the fact that they made a deal for Henry (and they robbed Buffalo by the way) shows that even the Titans don't think Brown won't get hurt. And why is it that Travis Henry didn't want to be a backup in Buffalo, a potential playoff team, but he can stand to be a backup in Tennessee?
Defense: Just look at what they lost, and look at what they gained. Let's just say Peyton and the boys will look like an Arena League team against these guys both times they meet.
X-factor: Steve McNair. We know he's good,but is he good enough to carry a team through a rebuilding period? He almost retired last year because of how abused his body is. No way is he making it through 16 games this year.
Outlook: These guys are screwed. They're in salary cap hell and if they win more than 4 games I'll be absolutely amazed. However, they should be able to put some points on the board.
If you enjoyed Doc's 2005 AFC South preview, check back throughout the week for more NFL division previews.
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