- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

HOUSTON TEXANS

Last season: 6-10, fourth place.

Coach: Gary Kubiak (6-10), second season.

Story line: Can the Texans build off last season’s four-game improvement?

Power game: Wideout Andre Johnson is superb. DeMeco Ryans was an oustanding rookie, and fellow linebacker Morlon Greenwood doesn’t miss tackles, either.

Achilles’ heel: The offensive line returns intact after allowing only 43 sacks last year. The D-line and secondary are more potential than production. QB Matt Schaub is untested.

On the hot seat: Schaub. He was acquired from Atlanta to replace David Carr, the first pick in team history. Schaub has started only two games but is expected to be the leader QB Carr failed to become.

Bottom line: The Texans won three of their last five, beating the Colts in the process. However, Houston is still a year or two from liftoff.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Last season: 12-4, first place.

Coach: Tony Dungy (123-70, 67-24 with Colts), fifth season.

Story line: Winning a Super Bowl is hard, repeating is harder.

Power game: Start with the game’s top QB, Peyton Manning. Add dynamic wideouts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Add last year’s top rookie rusher, Joseph Addai, hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders and pass-rushing ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Don’t forget kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Achilles’ heel: A defense that was awful in December lost cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David, linebacker Cato June and defensive tackle Booger McFarland and didn’t replace them. Offensive tackle Tarik Glenn, Manning’s blindside protector, retired.

On the hot seat: Rookie Tony Ugoh. He replaces three-time Pro Bowler Glenn.

Bottom line: After years of postseason failure, the Colts got hot in January. They won’t collapse this season, but a repeat isn’t likely, either.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Last season: 8-8, third place.

Coach: Jack Del Rio (34-31), fourth season.

Story line: Is this it for Del Rio and QB Byron Leftwich in J’ville?

Power game: Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, both first-rounders in their prime, are as formidable a defensive tackle duo as there is. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are a formidable running back tandem.

Achilles’ heel: The Jags haven’t had a passing game to speak of since former wideout Jimmy Smith’s last big year, 2002. Leftwich never quite gets it done and none of his targets has come through. The linebackers are ho-hum.

On the hot seat: Del Rio. The Jags were 8-5 and playoff-bound after pounding the Colts but lost their last three to finish at .500.

Bottom line: The Jags have just four games against 2006 playoff teams. With a semblance of a passing game, Jacksonville can be a darkhorse.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Last season: 8-8, second place.

Coach: Jeff Fisher (110-97), 13th season.

Story line: Can QB Vince Young top his outstanding rookie year?

Power game: Young took over an 0-3 team and went 8-5 the rest of the way, accounting for 19 of the Titans’ 28 touchdowns. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, linebacker Keith Bulluck and cornerback Nick Harper are all playmakers.

Achilles’ heel: Top running back Travis Henry signed with Denver. Eric Moulds, 34, is the only proven wideout. Eight starters are back from the NFL’s worst defense and suspended cornerback Pacman Jones isn’t one of them.

On the hot seat: Running back Chris Brown. Unhappy behind Henry in 2006, Brown’s the starter again. He needs to make the most of this second chance.

Bottom line: The schedule starts brutally and doesn’t finish much better. There aren’t any real weapons to further Young’s development.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Colts

2. Jaguars

3. Titans

4. Texans

MVP candidate: QB Peyton Manning, Colts

Best coach: Tony Dungy, Colts

Top newcomer: QB Matt Schaub, Texans

Most missed: Running back Travis Henry, Titans

Top rookie: Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, Texans

Best stadium: Reliant Stadium, Houston

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