NFL Nation: Justin McCareins

2014 Predictions: New York Giants

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
7:59
AM ET
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ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Detroit Lions

The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Arizona Cardinals

This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Houston Texans

Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Washington Redskins

The short week and Washington's stellar crew of offensive weapons prove too much for the Giants to overcome. Will Beatty still sees Brian Orakpo in his nightmares. Prediction: Loss


Week 5: Atlanta Falcons

The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles

The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys

The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: Indianapolis Colts

After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks

You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss


Week 11: San Francisco 49ers

The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Dallas Cowboys

A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars

This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win


Week 14: at Tennessee Titans

I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win


Week 15: Washington Redskins

Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at St. Louis Rams

After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles

Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 8-8

 

2014 Predictions: Seattle Seahawks

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:00
AM ET
video
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Green Bay Packers

All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win


Week 2: at San Diego Chargers

The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win


Week 3: Denver Broncos

The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win


Week 5: at Washington Redskins

Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win


Week 6: Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win


Week 7: at St. Louis Rams

Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win


Week 8: at Carolina Panthers

The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: Oakland Raiders

Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win


Week 10: New York Giants

The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win


Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs

This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win


Week 12: Arizona Cardinals

The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers

It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles

This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win


Week 15: San Francisco 49ers

This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: St. Louis Rams

For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 13-3

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ESPN.com San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have a handful of new starters on defense. Two of Arizona's best players on that side of the ball definitely will not play in linebacker Daryl Washington (suspension) and defensive end Darnell Dockett (injury). San Diego appears to be catching the Cardinals at the right time. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' 41-14 manhandling of San Diego a month ago during preseason play at CenturyLink Field was not a good showing for the Chargers. The starters for both teams will play in this one, and the game is at Qualcomm Stadium. However, the Seahawks will have 10 days of rest after the team's season opener against Green Bay, while the Chargers are playing on a short week after a Monday night game in Arizona. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: at Buffalo Bills

The Bills are improved, with one of the better defensive front sevens in the NFL. They have a nice 1-2 punch at running back in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and a human highlight film in receiver Sammy Watkins. But EJ Manuel remains inconsistent at quarterback. Prediction: Win


Week 4: Jacksonville Jaguars

This game could be the first start for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles if Chad Henne struggles early. The Chargers haven't lost to the Jaguars at Qualcomm, but Jacksonville's defense should be better with the addition of defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. The Jaguars also get after the football defensively. Prediction: Win


Week 5: New York Jets

Will Michael Vick be the starting quarterback for the Jets instead of Geno Smith by Week 5? No matter the signal-caller, Rex Ryan will lean on the run game -- his Jets were one of 12 teams to rush for at least 2,000 yards in 2013. The Jets averaged just 15 points a game on the road in 2013. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Oakland Raiders

The Chargers lost 27-17 on the road against an awful Oakland team last year. San Diego will be ready and bring more effort this time. However, the Raiders do have a bye before this game, so they will be rested. Prediction: Win


Week 7: Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego has not lost to Kansas City at Qualcomm Stadium since 2007. That streak should continue, although the Chargers can't rely on a Ryan Succop missed field goal to bail them out again. Prediction: Win


Week 8: at Denver Broncos

A nationally televised game against the best team in the AFC last year will be a good, midseason test of where this team stands. San Diego traditionally plays the Broncos tough in Denver -- the Chargers are 6-3 against the Broncos in Denver, including the playoffs, since 2006. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: at Miami Dolphins

The Chargers let one slip away at Miami last year. The Chargers haven't won a regular-season game in Miami since 1980. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: Oakland Raiders

San Diego players should be well-rested for the Raiders coming off of a bye week. Since 2003, the Chargers are 9-2 at Qualcomm Stadium against Oakland. Prediction: Win


Week 12: St. Louis Rams

The Rams have one of the most dominant defensive fronts in the NFL, but Shaun Hill does not instill fear in the hearts of NFL defenders. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Baltimore Ravens

This game is the beginning of a brutal stretch of games to finish the season. San Diego has never defeated the Ravens in Baltimore. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: New England Patriots

New England runs the football, has an improved defense and one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. And that Bill Belichick is a pretty good coach. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Denver Broncos

This game is a late-season AFC West battle that the Chargers likely will need to win in order to stay in playoff contention. Expect San Diego to play with urgency in this one. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers

You can't discount how San Diego's defense handled San Francisco's offense in the preseason matchup between these two teams. But Jim Harbaugh should have his team playing much better by December. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs

For a second straight season, the Chargers finish against the Chiefs, but this time on the road. Since 2004, San Diego is 6-4 at Kansas City. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 10-6

ESPN.com Oakland Raiders reporter Bill Williamson makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at New York Jets

The Raiders traditionally don't play well on the East Coast. Plus, Rex Ryan's team will be tough to score on. I see a low-scoring defeat. Prediction: Loss


Week 2: Houston Texans

I think the Raiders slug out a win here. Houston has a tough defense, but I think the Raiders defense comes up big and they win a similarly low-scoring game. Houston will be questioned for passing on quarterback Derek Carr. Prediction: Win


Week 3: at New England Patriots

This, on paper, is one of the Raiders' toughest tasks and I think it will play out that way. Tom Brady is just too tough to beat at home. Prediction: Loss


Week 4: Miami Dolphins

I think the Raiders are going to rise up to being the home team in London. The Dolphins have given the Raiders trouble, but I think the Raiders win in England. Prediction: Win


Week 6: San Diego Chargers

The Raiders have had success against the Chargers at home, and while the Chargers are improved, I like this matchup for the Raiders on both lines. Prediction: Win


Week 7: Arizona Cardinals

Raider Nation will want to see Carson Palmer fail in Oakland -- they've seen it plenty of times. But I think the Cardinals are too tough on defense for the Raiders in a critical midseason game. Prediction: Loss


Week 8: at Cleveland Browns

Maybe the Raiders will be facing Johnny Football or maybe not. Either way, I think the Browns will be a mess and the Raiders will win a rare game in the Eastern Time Zone. Prediction: Win


Week 9: at Seattle Seahawks

This is where the season toughens -- in a big way. An Oakland win in Seattle would be one of the upsets of the season. Don't see it. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: Denver Broncos

Here's another tough task. Peyton Manning will be just too much -- as usual. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: at San Diego Chargers

While I like the Oakland matchup against the Chargers, I think San Diego will find its stride and win a pivotal game. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Kansas City Chiefs

I think the Chiefs will be up and down this season. This will be a down week. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at St. Louis Rams

The Rams are good and they may be playing for something at home. Tough spot for the Raiders. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: San Francisco 49ers

This will be a Super Bowl atmosphere for Raider Nation. But the 49ers will be hitting their stride in December. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: at Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs were down in Oakland and I think they will be up at home as they try to keep their wild-card hopes alive. Prediction: Loss


Week 16: Buffalo Bills

I'm not sure either team will be playing for much, but I think the Raiders give the home crowd a good showing to say goodbye to the season. Prediction: Win


Week 17: at Denver Broncos

Let's just say the Broncos will need to win this game. I don't like the Raiders' chances in that scenario. Prediction: Loss


Predicted Record: 6-10

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ESPN.com Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Tennessee Titans

Although it's ridiculous to label any season opener a must win, this is probably as close as it gets. The Chiefs face a minefield over the next five games, so they need to take care of business in this one. Prediction: Win


Week 2: at Denver Broncos

The Chiefs haven't beaten the Broncos since Denver was quarterbacked by Tim Tebow. They are 0-4 against Peyton Manning's Broncos, and this doesn't look like the game in which they will bust through. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: at Miami Dolphins

It's not unreasonable to suggest the Chiefs' ability to stay in the playoff hunt hinges on this game. They could get buried if they lose to the Dolphins. Prediction: Win


Week 4: New England Patriots

This would be only the third game Tom Brady has played at Arrowhead Stadium. The joint will be jumping for this Monday night matchup. Prediction: Loss


Week 5: at San Francisco 49ers

A taxing stretch of schedule, a short week and travel to the West Coast are too much for the Chiefs to overcome. Alex Smith will play well but not well enough to beat his former team. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at San Diego Chargers

The Chiefs are due for a win in San Diego. They haven't brought one home from Qualcomm Stadium since 2007 -- until now. Prediction: Win


Week 8: St. Louis Rams

The Chiefs have won all five of their games against the Rams since the Rams moved to St. Louis. They will continue to own the state of Missouri. Prediction: Win


Week 9: New York Jets

If the Chiefs' schedule has a flat stretch, the Jets are right in the middle of it. It's hard to see them having meaningful games down the stretch if they don't win this one -- but they will. Prediction: Win


Week 10: at Buffalo Bills

Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium had been a haunted house for the Chiefs until they busted through with a victory there this past year. But they won't be able to sustain the momentum. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: Seattle Seahawks

The Chiefs will put up a strong fight in front of a raucous home crowd. But they won't have quite enough to beat the defending Super Bowl champions. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: at Oakland Raiders

Another tough West Coast assignment for the Chiefs, again on a short week. But this time they rise to the challenge. Prediction: Win


Week 13: Denver Broncos

The Broncos can't be looking forward to coming to Arrowhead for a Sunday night game. Again, the Chiefs will make things difficult for one of last year's Super Bowl participants, but they won't quite pull off the victory. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: at Arizona Cardinals

The Chiefs' playoff hopes take a fatal hit in the desert. This loss guarantees the Chiefs won't be making a repeat trip here for the Super Bowl. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Oakland Raiders

The Chiefs take out their frustrations on the Raiders. In the process, they will get a second straight season sweep of their longtime rivals. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has been another place where the Chiefs have traditionally found it difficult to win. This game extends a losing streak that goes back to 1986. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: San Diego Chargers

The Chiefs haven't swept a season series from the Chargers since 2003. They get the job done this time against an opponent that will make the playoffs. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 8-8

2014 Predictions: Denver Broncos

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:00
AM ET
video
ESPN.com Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

The Broncos have opened at home, in prime time, the previous two seasons and scored 31 and 49 points, respectively. In last year's opener, quarterback Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes and this year's offense is primed for another big year. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs

Personnel executives around the league said throughout the preseason the Chiefs have some unresolved issues in the secondary and that's not a good place to have unresolved issues against the Broncos. Manning threw six touchdowns in two meetings against the Chiefs in '13. Prediction: Win


Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks

For months the Broncos have listened to and, no matter what they've said publicly, heard every word of criticism they were too soft, too intimidated to handle the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. A potential early-season classic. Prediction: Win


Week 5: Arizona Cardinals

The Broncos will be just a quarter of the way through the season and they will already be two games into their NFC West trek. The Cardinals were a 10-win team in '13 that didn't make the playoffs, but their defense will sorely miss the injured Darnell Dockett. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at New York Jets

The Broncos didn't like much of what happened the last time they played in MetLife Stadium and Rex Ryan will have some defensive surprises waiting. But if the Broncos beat their body clocks in this one -- kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. MT -- they'll get another win. Prediction: Win


Week 7: San Francisco 49ers

The Broncos haven't made it through a home schedule undefeated since an 8-0 run in 2005. The teams that will offer the biggest tests will be the teams that can pound the ball on offense and pressure Manning with a four-man rush. The 49ers can do both. Prediction: Loss


Week 8: San Diego Chargers

These two teams took decidedly different approaches in the offseason. The Broncos were active in the free-agency market, showering contracts on several new arrivals, whereas the Chargers took a far more measured approach. San Diego will see the new guys have made a difference. Prediction: Win


Week 9: at New England Patriots

Since the start of the 2006 season the Broncos have played five games in Gillette Stadium, including a playoff game to close out the 2011 season to go with the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: at Oakland Raiders

In the past five meetings with the Raiders, the Broncos have scored 34, 37, 26, 37 and 38 points. There is no reason to believe the Broncos won't add another 30-something output to the pile. Prediction: Win


Week 11: at St. Louis Rams

From a personnel standpoint the Rams, with quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season, aren't quite ready for prime time all the time just yet. But at some point, an early Week 4 bye and a stretch of six road games in eight weeks will kick in for the Broncos and they will lose one they shouldn't. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Miami Dolphins

It will be the Dolphins' first trip to Denver since 2008 -- Mike Shanahan's final season as coach. Miami, in a bit of a roster makeover, will find things have changed. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Kansas City Chiefs

Last season the Broncos scored a single-season record 606 points and still couldn't run the table in their AFC West games, losing to the Chargers in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Trouble spots this time around figure to be this game or the one in San Diego two weeks later. Prediction: Win


Week 14: Buffalo Bills

From all of the offensive struggles the Bills had in the preseason, things figure to be more than a little frayed by the time they get to this point in the season. The Broncos will be pointing toward postseason seeding. Prediction: Win


Week 15: at San Diego Chargers

No matter the time of the year, no matter the rosters on either side, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has usually played well against the Broncos and put the Chargers in position to win the game. But this is the point of the schedule when the Broncos' new look on defense needs to look playoff ready.
Prediction: Win


Week 16: at Cincinnati Bengals

Finally, right here, the Broncos conclude the long, difficult trek through the road games that dominate the second half of their schedule. The Bengals, if still healthy on defense by this point, can rush the passer in the middle of the field and can create matchup problems on offense. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Oakland Raiders

The Broncos nailed down home-field advantage with a win over the Raiders to close out the 2013 season. If all goes well for the Broncos, and a potential loss in New England would sting too badly, they should be in position to do that again in this one. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 12-4

 
  Don McPeak/US Presswire
  Keith Bulluck knows the window of opportunity for the Titans is getting smaller.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans believe they have all the necessary parts to contend for a championship: a top offensive line that facilitates two complementary running backs and a good decision-maker at quarterback; a swarming defense with at least one Pro Bowl talent in every unit; a clutch kicker with a big leg; a steady coaching staff under calm, cool Jeff Fisher.

Camp Confidential: AFC South
Titans: Mon., Aug. 3
Jaguars: Sat., Aug. 8
Colts: Sat., Aug. 15
Texans: Fri., Aug. 21

But while they have a young core to build around beyond 2009, it feels like a window may be closing. Among the players in a contract year are tone-setters such as longtime linebacker Keith Bulluck, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, center Kevin Mawae, cornerback Nick Harper and defensive end Jevon Kearse.

None has played longer or more consistently than Bulluck, the outspoken 4-3 outside linebacker who has long excelled in the Titans' system with his speed, athleticism and ability to hit.

He's seen good friends and good teammates disappear from the locker room as the team judged them unaffordable or done, and lamented the losses of Eddie George, Samari Rolle, the late Steve McNair, Robaire Smith, Derrick Mason and, most recently, Albert Haynesworth.

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
Ken Daube breaks down the 2009 season for Tennessee's backfield tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White, and explains why White has greater value in fantasy. Story

That makes him expect he'll be next, adding to his sense of urgency: This is his last, best chance to get to a Super Bowl with the Titans.

"That window of opportunity is only open but for so long," he said. "I've been on this team going on 10 years. The window's been open two times previously and we didn't jump through it, so I feel -- for me, for the organization -- this team has to be the one to take that bound and jump through the window of opportunity. It's fair to say that."

 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  The addition of wide receiver Nate Washington gives the Titans another downfield threat.

Last year's 13-3 team returns 20 starters, and Nate Washington is an upgrade over Justin McCareins. The team is confident it has a committee that can make up for the departure of Haynesworth, and has replaced defensive linemen well through the years.

"Now it's definitely straight business and trying to win the Super Bowl," Bulluck said.

The Titans may not match last season's 10-0 start or 13-3 record. Barring injuries, they should be a playoff team and if it does prove to be Bulluck's swan song with the franchise, it's reasonable for him to expect his last game with them will be one deep in the playoffs.

Key questions

1. Will the passing offense improve?

There are three reasons to believe so: Washington, the free-agent addition who will start opposite Justin Gage, and draft picks Kenny Britt and Jared Cook.

Washington gives the team a receiving speedster on the outside who should keep safeties honest, which can threaten defenses deep and help create additional room for the team's most dynamic weapon, Chris Johnson. Britt is a physical receiver who comes into the league having impressed offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger with his ability to get off the jam at the line of scrimmage. And when Cook was available 89th overall, the Titans felt he was such a value that they dealt their 2010 second-rounder to New England in order to take Cook. Such a trade is rare for them.

Kerry Collins will have solid protection. Now he should have better optio
ns downfield, who can do more once he delivers them the ball.

2. Will they rush and stuff the run as effectively without Haynesworth?

 Haye
 Jones

They will miss a player who could dominate and frequently drew double teams, and his fear-no-one, say-anything attitude gave the unit some of its swagger. But a year ago they lost their left end tandem of Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy as free agents after they'd combined for 14 sacks, and there was no talk in 2009 about how the team missed the duo. They plugged in people and moved forward.

Defensive line coach Jim Washburn has molded a lot of players into effective run-stuffers and pocket-collapsers. Free-agent addition Jovan Haye and second-round draft pick Sen'Derrick Marks are guys he wanted for the interior, just like Jason Jones, last year's second-round pick. The Titans will love it if opponents draw up protections expecting they won't be as threatening as they were with Haynesworth.

3. What will change under new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil?

Well, Fisher is a defensive coach who's overseen successful transitions at the post before. Cecil learned under the guy he replaces, current Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. So no matter how much people may want to believe Cecil will bring a blitzing mentality, the Titans won't be compromising coverage if they get sufficient pass pressure from their front four. (See No. 2 above.)

In his early days in the post, Cecil said if the Titans give up 6 yards on third-and-seven, he'll say yippee or hurrah as the defense leaves the field having held. Expect a Schwartz-like emphasis on third-down percentage and points allowed.

Market watch

 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  The Titans hope a lighter LenDale White can remain a steady complement to Chris Johnson.

LenDale White said he was as heavy as 265 in 2009 and reported to camp at 228. It's a contract year and that was certainly part of the motivation, but he's matured, too, and has been a good teammate for the bulk of his first three seasons. Given the same sort of key-situation carries he got last year, when he scored 15 touchdowns, he can be an even more effective complement to Johnson.

Newcomer to watch

Bo Scaife wasn't as much of a target down the stretch last season, and while he's got a knack for a tough catch in a crucial spot, Cook brings much more upside. If he can run the sort of routes and make the type of catches he did in OTAs and the early days of camp, he could become a prominent piece of the offense in short order. If he can earn his way onto the field, he will be able to outrun linebackers and outmuscle defensive backs. First he'll have to prove to be a reliable route-runner and show he's got dependable hands.

Observation deck

Leroy Harris worked as the starting center at the start of camp while Mawae completed his recovery from an elbow injury. It's unlikely the stronger but less experienced Harris can win the job, but he gives Tennessee great security at center and guard. Now the Titans need to find a swing tackle to back up Michael Roos and David Stewart. ... Rookie running back Javon Ringer could quickly seize the No. 3 running back job if he can show the skills the team needs from that player on special teams. ... Rookie corner Ryan Mouton has started out as Vincent Fuller's backup at nickel. Can he also get comfortable outside and provide depth behind Cortland Finnegan and Harper? Mouton, DeMarcus Faggins, Cary Williams and Jason McCourty will jostle for spots in the pecking order with Eric King and Chris Carr gone. ... The end looks to be near, mercifully, for two ineffective third-year players on offense -- running back Chris Henry and receiver Paul Williams. What might the Titans have been if they hit on their second- and third-rounders in 2007? ... After two middling years, receiver and return man Chris Davis looks like he's gained confidence and could be in line to break out, especially if Mark Jones doesn't mount a strong case for the return jobs and the last receiver slot. ... Look for high-motor defensive end Vanden Bosch, slowed by a groin injury last year, to make a strong return and rank among the league's sack leaders. ... The Titans remain hopeful that Vince Young can be a solid backup to Collins, but a roster bonus of more than $4 million in 2010 calls his future with the team into question.

 
  Getty Images
  Titans quarterback Kerry Collins has led three teams to the playoffs, but has yet to do so in consecutive years.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A year after finding a dynamic running back as fast as any in the league, the Titans set out to upgrade their passing offense.

Out went Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones and in came free agent Nate Washington and first-round pick Kenny Britt. The Titans' receiving corps, always a subject of discontent among their faithful, stands to be more explosive.

Can the veteran quarterback who led last year's 13-3 campaign be more productive with those additional targets?

Kerry Collins: By the Numbers
Quarterback Kerry Collins' playoff seasons and follow-ups, with his overall record in games that he started and his passer ratings:
Playoff season Follow-up season
'96 Panthers 9-3 79.4 '97 Panthers 6-7 55.7
'00 NY Giants 12-4 83.1 '01 NY Giants 7-9 77.1
'02 NY Giants 10-6 85.4 '03 NY Giants 4-9 70.7
It's June, optimism rules in all 32 NFL cities, so the Titans certainly believe so.

Those looking to punch holes in Kerry Collins as he prepares for 2009 point to this: He's never led a team to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

In Collins' follow-ups to three playoff appearances, he has a 17-25 record. Coincidence or trend?

"I really don't know what to say to that," Collins said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like I know the reasons for it. I don't. Trying to think back, I'll just try to avoid it this year. I don't know what the causes were or if there were any causes. It just kind of happened."

The 1997 Panthers were led by Collins, who at the time was entering a troubled personal phase in his life. Collins remembered a lot of injuries to the 2001 Giants and said he thought the 2003 Giants suffered a letdown after the Super Bowl year. His passer rating declined in each of those follow-up seasons.

With the 2008 Titans he's got a chance to prove himself again.

Now, he looks to join 10 starters across the league who've taken their team to the playoffs two years in a row or more. Twenty-three others who are in line to start or who are competing for the job have not. In terms of doing it over two or more seasons, is Collins going to wind up categorized with the likes of Tony Romo (2006-07) and Philip Rivers (2006-08), or will he be on the same list as Jake Delhomme (who can make it two in a row this season) and Carson Palmer?

After taking over for Vince Young during the season opener in 2008, Collins was cast as a game manager. Toss out the finale where he played only a little, and in 14 starts he attempted 23 or fewer passes five times. A lot of his critics focus a lot more on that than on the three games with more than one touchdown pass or the four games with a passer rating over 100.

When Chicago shut down the Titans' run game in Week 10, Collins produced his best game completing 30 of 41 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

Back To Back
A look at NFL starting quarterbacks and whether they've taken teams to the playoffs in consecutive years:

AFC East
Bills -- Trent Edwards: No
Dolphins -- Chad Pennington: No
Patriots -- Tom Brady: 2003-07 (5 straight)
Jets -- Kellen Clemens/Mark Sanchez: No

AFC North
Ravens -- Joe Flacco: No
Bengals -- Carson Palmer: No
Browns -- Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson: No
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger: 2004-05, 2007-08 (2 straight, 2 straight)

AFC South
Texans -- Matt Schaub: No
Colts -- Peyton Manning: 1999-2000, 2002-08 (2 straight, 7 straight)
Jaguars -- David Garrard: No
Titans -- Kerry Collins: No

AFC West
Broncos -- Kyle Orton: No
Chiefs -- Matt Cassel: No
Raiders -- JaMarcus Russell: No
Chargers -- Phillip Rivers: 2006-08 (3 straight)

NFC East
Cowboys -- Tony Romo: 2006-07 (2 straight)
Giants -- Eli Manning: 2005-08 (4 straight)
Eagles -- Donovan McNabb: 2000-04 (5 straight)
Redskins -- Jason Campbell: No

NFC North
Bears -- Jay Cutler: No
Lions -- Daunte Culpepper: No
Packers -- Aaron Rodgers: No
Vikings -- Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels: No

NFC South
Falcons -- Matt Ryan: No
Panthers -- Jake Delhomme: No
Saints -- Drew Brees: No
Buccaneers -- Luke McCown: No

NFC West
Cardinals -- Kurt Warner: 1999-2001 (3 straight)
49ers -- Shaun Hill: No
Seahawks -- Matt Hasselbeck: 2003-07 (5 straight)
Rams -- Marc Bulger: 2003-04 (2 straight)

-- Matthew Willis, ESPN Stats & Information

Now, the expectation is for more like that and more over the course of the season -- more than 12 touchdowns, more than 2,676 yards, more than an 80.2 passer rating, more than one and done in the playoffs.

"I think offensively our expectations in the passing game should be higher from what we did last year," Collins said. "We were productive when we needed to be, but if you look at the breadth of work during the season, it's not like we lit it up or anything. We were effective. We didn't need to throw it all of the time -- we ran the ball so well and we got up in games.

"I'm sure we're going to be committed to running the ball again this year, but I think we can get more out of the passing game this year with the people we brought in and the experience we've all had in [Mike] Heimerdinger's offense."

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. expects the Titans to slide this season, largely because he doesn't have great faith in Collins.

"Overall, I have a hard time completely buying into the fact that he is a totally changed guy all of a sudden," Williamson said. "His TD/INT ratio and overall decision making has been a real problem in the past. He certainly can throw the rock, but he can't get out of the way of the rush or create when things break down. The Titans' OL is excellent, but his movement skills really worry me overall. I would say that his accuracy is just average at best as well."

And this from back in May: "Remember, this is a quarterback with a lifetime passer rating of 73.8 and who has only thrown seven more touchdowns than interceptions over his long career."

Valid points in the con column for Collins.

But those are stat trends the Titans can handle if they are healthy, run well and play good defense like they did last year and like they are built to do. Jeff Fisher wants a quarterback who can lead, fight through adversity, take advantage of the solid run game, protection and defense, and Collins fits.

I took details of Collins' poor follow-up years to center Kevin Mawae and receiver Justin Gage to get their takes.

Mawae:

"You don't ever judge a guy on what he did last year. Every year it's about what can you do for us now. Whatever the history is that he had a great season and then didn't have a great season, I don't know, but it's a tough sport for anybody to have big years back to back. It happens. But it's few and far between...."

"For our situation the receiving corps was a question mark and we bring in Nate and we go draft Britt and we hope that they make a mark for us. If they do, it makes Kerry's job easier, it makes the offensive line's job easier and in return hopefully we have more success than we did last year."

Gage:

"I definitely think Kerry is going to be able to get us the ball. He has the playmakers that he's been looking for. Nate's an
experienced receiver, it's not like he's coming into something blind. Kenny is a young guy but he learns fast and he works hard. I definitely feel like this might definitely be one of Kerry's best seasons since he's been in the league.

"If everybody else knows [about the back-to-back stuff], I'm sure Kerry knows it and it's something Kerry is looking forward to and will take advantage of this year. He's a competitor, and his competitive nature rubs off on the rest of us."

"So here's comes. You've never had two good years back to back? Then you're looking forward to this year. This is the year when I usually set it back, but I am going forward this time."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

  • Gary Kubiak's hoping Mario Williams will compete for defensive player of the year, writes John McClain.
  • Owen Daniels thought about skipping the Texans' offseason workouts because of his contract situation, reports McClain.
  • A recap of McClain's chat.
  • In light of Kellen Winslow's deal, how much is Daniels worth? Alan Burge ponders.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Nothing so far for Marvin Harrison, writes Mike Chappell.
  • Bill Polian is a piece of Skip Wood's story on the additional pressure teams face in a bad economy to get the draft right.
  • A look at the Colts' first round in 2002 and Dwight Freeney, from John Oehser.
  • Kelvin Hayden is different than a lot of other Colts corners, Oehser says.
  • The top 25 picks of the Polian era gets to Oehser's No. 19.
  • A thorough look at Missouri defensive tackle Evander Hood, courtesy of Oehser.
  • Polian talks to colts.com about shuffling the draft board this month.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Gene Smith's first free-agent addition, Sean Considine, likes the GM, says Cole Pepper.
  • Reggie Williams is free on bail after a Sunday arrest for allegedly possessing a half gram of cocaine, says Dale Lezon.

Tennessee Titans

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

  • John McClain says the Texans will sink or swim with Matt Schaub and have no interest in trading for Jay Cutler.
  • A look at Texans' records that could fall in 2009, from Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Tony Dungy won't be doing anything for the union on a paid or staff basis, reports John Oehser.
  • The Colts are the "leading choice" to be the Bill's opponent in Toronto this fall, reports Vic Carucci.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • The release of Matt Jones had to happen, according to Cole Pepper.
  • End Paul Spicer signed with New Orleans, where he will be reunited with coordinator Gregg Williams and linemate Bobby McCray, says Vito Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

  • David Climer says the Titans ought to find a way to get Jay Cutler.
  • Terry McCormick feels compelled to dismiss the idea of a trade bringing Cutler to Nashville.
  • Receiver Justin McCareins could make a free-agent visit near the end of the week, says McCormick.
  • A video interview with Jovan Haye, by Gary Estwick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Our NFC West ace Mike Sando has been keeping track of free-agent movement by division and put together this excellent chart, which doesn't factor in any deals that may have been completed Friday morning.

Division Starting UFA Current UFA
Percent Still Unsigned
NFC North
40 33 .825
AFC West
34 28 .824
NFC West
58 45 .776
NFC East
33 25 .758
AFC North
46 32 .696
AFC South
39 26 .667
AFC East
45 28 .622
NFC South
41 22 .537
Who's still out there from the AFC South teams?

The most significant names by team, with asterisks denoting players still believed to be of interest by their current clubs:

Houston Texans

Cornerback DeMarcus Faggins, safety Nick Ferguson*, defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina*, fullback Cecil Sapp*.

Indianapolis Colts

Safety Matt Giordano, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, running back Dominic Rhodes*, punter Hunter Smith, defensive end Josh Thomas.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tackle Khalif Barnes, guard Chris Naeole, linebacker Mike Peterson, safety Pierson Prioleau, safety Gerald Sensabaugh, receiver Reggie Williams.

Tennessee Titans

Corner/returner Chris Carr*, punter Craig Hentrich*, cornerback Reynaldo Hill, tackle Daniel Loper*, receiver Justin McCareins.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Titans don't write monster checks to other teams' free agents on the first day of free agency. We all know that. But they're hardly alone in being conservative. Peter King wrote this week about how Green Bay's assistant coaches had the first weekend of free agency off -- the Packers weren't going to be players in the early market either.

There are miles between free agency conservatism and doing nothing.

And I've been shocked at the e-mails I've gotten and the talk on Nashville radio that give great amplitude to the idea that the Titans "do nothing" in free agency, that they are cheap and unwilling to pay quality players.

If they are cheap to steer away from the kind of guarantees and total package that Albert Haynesworth got in Washington, then, yes, they are cheap.

Personally, I think they are pretty well built. You have to be to go 13-3, no matter the schedule or the playoff failure.

This is a team that's been able to overcome gaffes like Pacman Jones and Vince Young, misses like Chris Henry and Paul Williams, weak additions like Justin McCareins and Ryan Fowler and misfortunes like David Givens.

There is a long way between cheap and fiscally prudent.

Cheap teams don't bring in quality veterans from outside like Kevin Mawae, Chris Hope, David Thornton and Nick Harper. Cheap teams don't step up to re-sign Kerry Collins, Rob Bironas and Vincent Fuller or put a franchise tag on Bo Scaife. Cheap teams don't bring in Nate Washington and Jovan Haye to try to patch holes and upgrade positions -- to deals worth a combined $8.55 million in each of the next four years.

Are you cheap or are you smart if you lock up Cortland Finnegan, Michael Roos and David Stewart well in advance of free agency while their prices are still reasonable?

The Titans make their fair share of mistakes in personnel, for sure. Imagine if they hadn't blown the No. 6 and No. 3 overall draft picks as they rebuilt?

But the idea that they are afraid to write a check or lock up very good players is just inaccurate.

People getting all bent out of shape over the Titans' absence from big-ticket free agency should take note that while the Redskins win a lot in February and March, like most good teams the Titans are more concerned with November and December.

Update: A clarification on Fowler after hearing from some of you. It was too strong to group him with McCareins under the heading of weak additions. I don't think he performed to the expectations of the contract, but he is not a bad player. It was a rare instance, however, where a youngster pushed through a veteran when Stephen Tulloch took over as the starting middle linebacker just four games into the 2008 season.

 
  Kim Klement/US Presswire
  Florida receiver Percy Harvin could be a first-round pick for the Titans or Colts.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Is Percy Harvin a multipurpose receiver who will automatically make an NFL offense more dynamic? Or is he an inexperienced route runner who will have a hard time when a team needs him to fill a somewhat conventional role?

That's the debate we can expect to hear for the next two months on the draft value of the Florida wideout, who could be in play in the late first round when two AFC South teams in need of a receiver -- the Colts and the Titans -- make their first picks.

Percy Harvin: Did You Know?
A look at Percy Harvin from Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Research:

• Of the 228 Division I players with at least 100 touches, Harvin was one of eight to average 10-plus yards per touch. Harvin's 11.9 yards per touch ranked fourth in D-I and first among BCS conference players. He and Jeremy Maclin were the only BCS conference players in double digits.

• The NFL's elite receivers such as Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald are serious threats in the red zone, while Harvin was a virtual non-factor inside the 20 in college.

• In his final year at Florida, Harvin had eight runs and 11 catches of 20 yards or more with seven TDs, including: Three runs and five catches of 30 yards or more with four TDs and three runs and three catches of 40 yards or more with three TDs. 


Not in
red zone
Red zone
Rec 37 3
Rec TD 5 2
Rec Yds 618 26
"I think there are two issues with him," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who rates Harvin as a first-rounder but offered the negative outlook. "I think, No. 1, are the durability issues. You're talking about a longer season and whether or not he can hold up. And No. 2 I think is all about usage. Is he Reggie Bush? Can he run the wide receiver route tree? At the University of Florida he really didn't have to run the type of NFL routes he's going to have to run... What kind of route runner is he? We don't know yet, that's part of the problem."

"He's a versatile player," one scout from the AFC South said, offering the positive outlook. "In those spread-type offenses instead of being polished route runners, they become versatile type players. Because you're a part-time running back, part-time screen guy, part-time reverse guy. You do a number of different things as well as being a receiver... The thing you have to keep going back to is he makes a lot of plays -- whether it's screens, reverses, catching the ball across the middle of the field and taking off. Somehow you've got to find players like that and find a position for them."

Come April 25, the Colts will be looking to restock at the start of the post-Marvin Harrison era and the Titans will need to consider, as always, a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field.

The case for Harvin in Indianapolis is that he'd be a dynamic and explosive weapon for Peyton Manning. But many insiders project him primarily as a slot guy. While Anthony Gonzalez played enough outside last season, he's more of a slot guy, too. Minus Harrison, that's not the Colts' big need at receiver.

A guy like North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks is more polished, more of an outside guy and could be more ready to step right in and produce.

The Titans saw the sort of major impact vibrant running back Chris Johnson had for their offense as they went 13-3 last season. Would a wideout cut from similar cloth give them a dynamic duo? Or, if they broke with their long tradition of avoiding receivers in the first round, would they be better served with Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland or Nicks?

Like Harvin, those three are leaving college early. The Titans should at least be looking to upgrade at the No. 2 spot that was held by Justin McCareins when healthy. But, despite the deficiencies in their pass game, the team is loathe to play rookie receivers much. The top six-rated receivers in this draft -- Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, who are expected to be gone early, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, Nicks and Britt -- didn't play full college careers. If one of them lands in Tennessee, the team is likely to preach patience. The Titans might have the pick spend more time on the bench than on the field.

ESPN had Harvin at 4.41 in the 40, while the NFL.com stopwatch had 4.37 at the combine. His speed wasn't going to be a question. He discussed durability in his podium talk where he also shrugged off the route-running questions, pledging to answer them for all at his March 18th pro day at Florida.

"I ran a lot of digs and posts, but as the season went on I didn't get to run a lot of them," he said. "A lot of our games were blowouts or they needed me to run the ball [as a back]. I've done it many times in practice so I don't think it'll be hard transition for me. I'm looking forward to my pro day, to show the coaches I can do it."

He didn't dismiss comparisons to Bush while saying he is this draft's most explosive player.

Florida WR Selected in First 2 Rounds Since 2000
Florida receivers have hardly been successful in the NFL in recent years, regardless of whether they played under Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook or Urban Meyer.
Year Receiver Round Team
2006 Chad Jackson 2nd Patriots
2003 Taylor Jacobs 2nd Redskins
2002 Jabar Gaffney 2nd Texans
2002 Reche Caldwell 2nd Chargers
2000 Travis Taylor 1st Ravens
"Both of us are used to create mismatches on the other team," he said. "You get the ball and can cut back across the field. A lot of the similarities are because we're both explosive on the open field."

Willing to talk about Bush, Harvin also boldly invoked the name of Carolina Panthers star Steve Smith. Perhaps he turns out to be as physical and tough as Smith, an explosive playmaker who's also shown those qualities, but Smith hasn't jumped to mind when I've seen Harvin play for the Gators.

"I'm a little bigger than him, but just as explosive in the open field and have a knack to make big plays," said Harvin.

The scout said it's easier to evaluate a running back who can do a lot of receiver work as opposed to a receiver who can do a lot of running back stuff. That could hurt Harvin, but it also could help ensure he lands with a team that has ideas for how to use him -- something that's taken a few years to happen in New Orleans with Bush.

For a front office that looks for players who fit in predictable boxes, Harvin is unlikely to be the guy. In Florida's offense, he excelled more often running to spots than following the sort of route tree an NFL team will present.

"At the end of the day, there are going to be a group of NFL teams that look at him and say, 'I don't care, we'll find a way to get him touches, we'll find a way to get the ball in his hands, he's just so explosive we have to have him,'" Mayock said. "I think I've got him No. 3 right now [among wide receivers] as a first-round pick. I like him. But I think there are going to be some teams that really like him and some that will say, 'I'm not sure what to do with him.'"

"If you're scared off, I don't think you're doing your work on a player like that," the scout said. "I don't think you can be scared of a player that makes plays and has great speed and scores touchdowns."

AFC South team evaluations

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
2:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans (8-8)
The Texans ultimately showed the progress they expected on offense, becoming one of the league's most threatening units. And for a hot stretch late in the season, they turned aggressive on defense despite some personnel weaknesses. But they failed to make the jump into playoff contender that they expected. Hurricane Ike shook them up early and an injury to Matt Schaub cost them continuity. Ultimately, their inability to close out close games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville highlighted their biggest issue: they are not competitive enough against their division rivals. Will the late-season upset of Tennessee prove to be a big turning point in that department? Grade: C

Biggest surprise: Whether they will admit it now or not, there were plenty of players in the Texans locker room that thought Steve Slaton would be a nice change-of-pace, third-down back. Instead, the rookie was a revelation, topping 1,000 yards and lining up as a Pro Bowl alternate. The slippery Slaton held up to the pounding and worked beautifully behind the first-year of the zone-blocking scheme under Alex Gibbs, who coordinates the run game. The Texans have their No. 1 receiver in Andre Johnson and now they have their lead back in Slaton. Next they need to find the right guy to take some of the carries so he's not overworked.

Biggest disappointment: Amobi Okoye didn't make the Year One to Year Two jump he and the team expected, with a high ankle sprain hampering him. That meant Mario Williams often had insufficient help from the middle of the line and it meant that middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans had more traffic to sort through because blockers weren't having as hard a time dealing with Okoye. He'll be out to re-prove himself in 2009, but like Williams, he'll benefit from upgrades along the rest of the line.

Biggest need: The Texans would really benefit from a dynamic safety who could contain the run, get downfield to help in coverage and deliver big hits after catches. Even when they get who they have healthy, the group is insufficient.

Thing that has to change: Schaub has proved an effective and productive quarterback, but needs two major improvements to approach elite status. The first is to stay healthy, which certainly involves some better fortune but also requires him to recognize hopeless situations or evaluate risk and reward and throw the ball away more often. The second is to stop throwing the ball away to the other team. Turnovers remain a big issue for the Texans, and fewer picks by their quarterback has to be the starting point for a major reduction.

Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Early season struggles like the Colts went through undo many teams. They could have easily given into the idea of a down year, conceded their string of playoff appearances would end and felt a bit sorry for themselves. Instead, they kept grinding, figured Peyton Manning would come around and talked about stringing together a win streak. And here they are, locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC field, riding an eight-game winning streak. Their ability to regain their balance and find ways to win close games was remarkable -- but their trouble running the ball keeps them from a top mark. Grade: B+

Biggest surprise: The secondary's ability to hold together even without top personnel. Safety Bob Sanders played just seven games and starting right cornerback Marlin Jackson was lost for the season after six games. Their other starting corner, Kelvin Hayden, went down for a six-game stretch. The Colts beat the Patriots without their three top cornerbacks. Players like Melvin Bullitt and Tim Jennings did admirable work filling in and now provide the team with quality and experienced depth in the defensive backfield.

Biggest disappointment: Yes, the offensive line dealt with a bunch of injuries early and had to scramble to patch things together. The group never got guard Ryan Lilja back from a knee injury that cost him the entire season. Whether it's been the line, the backs or the way teams have defended the run, the Colts have been a very poor rushing team, which means too much falls on the shoulders of Manning and the receivers. The 2007 Colts were hardly masters of the run game, but they averaged nearly 30 yards more than the 79.6 this group has gotten. Joseph Addai's been banged up, but his production is down and that's a concern heading into the playoffs and looking toward 2009.

Biggest need: This depends
on what the team decides about Marvin Harrison. He can still make a contribution, but he's not going to run away from people. It's possible the Colts cut ties with the future Hall of Famer and while they have other areas they needs to address, another threatening pass catcher to go with Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and tight end Dallas Clark could be a priority. Defensive tackle rates as a big need -- the Colts need some size to help their run defense. But the kinds of guys that can fill the job for Indianapolis don't necessarily need to be high draft picks.

Area of uncertainty: When they are finished, Tony Dungy will spend time with his family in Florida, then meet with president Bill Polian to tell him if he wants to coach the Colts in 2009 or if he's ready to hand over the reins to Jim Caldwell. It's hard to imagine such a successful coach giving up the job with such a talented roster, but Dungy is wired differently than most guys with his job and if he feels called to walk away, he will.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
The Jaguars failed to live up to expectations, and those expectations may have been a big part of their problem. This team gained an unrealistic confidence out of the playoff upset in Pittsburgh last season. Then the pieces it added to help against the Colts and Patriots didn't pan out. The pass rush was the big defensive issue, and the two top draft picks, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, were hardly the difference makers the team sought in its quest to sack quarterbacks. On offense, the Jaguars needed to be more threatening downfield and newcomers Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson did little to alter their limitations in that department. Offensive line injuries right at the start of the season meant the Jaguars couldn't run like they were accustomed to and everything came apart from there. Grade: D

Biggest surprise: Critics look at his 11.7-yard average and three-game suspension and downgrade him. But Matt Jones was never going to be a huge downfield threat. His legal troubles could have been the final straw and the team was not sure at the start of training camp that he would make the roster. Even though he only played in 13 games, Jones will finish the season as the Jaguars' leading receiver with 65 catches for 761 yards and early in the season when they were still competitive, he made a bunch of key third-down conversions -- eight yards on a third-and-seven aren't a bad thing. That catch total is the most for a Jacksonville wide receiver since Jimmy Smith was around. In a terrible season, there weren't a lot of options for this category.

Biggest disappointment: No, it's not fair to pin the disappointing season on David Garrard. His line included several backups, his weapons were insufficient and the defense didn't play up to expectations. Still, there were plenty of occasions when Garrard had the ball in his hands late in a game when he could have moved his team to a tie or lead and too often, he failed. While his contract assures him of time to again prove he's the right guy to lead the offense, he will have to do much more.

Biggest need: The needs are the same as they have been, which is disappointing. Jacksonville needs a dynamic downfield playmaker who can get the team a big chunk once in a while and it needs to upgrade personnel to help pressure quarterbacks. They undervalued Marcus Stroud and could use a physical defensive tackle that demands attention and helps motivate and free up John Henderson. Khalif Barnes' time is probably up as the starting left tackle and a reconstruction of the offensive line needs to be started.

Rebuilding project: Team chemistry was a major issue. This group never jelled in the right way and shifting guys around the locker room like Jack Del Rio did during the season was hardly enough to fix things. All the team's offseason moves need to be made with leadership and chemistry in mind. Del Rio didn't push the proper buttons and his in-season feud with linebacker Mike Peterson further fractured an already broken team.

Tennessee Titans (13-3)
Quick turnarounds in Miami, Atlanta and Baltimore were big surprises, but don't let them overshadow what the Titans did against expectations. They were a playoff team in 2007 that was expected to slip, and once Vince Young took himself out of the picture in the season opener and Kerry Collins was inserted as
the quarterback, who expected a 10-0 start, a 13-3 record, an AFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs? This team is greater than the sum of its parts, lacking major star power but featuring a confident and poised mentality that trickles down from Jeff Fisher. He and his staff did some of their best work with this group, which has set itself up to be rated a failure if its season ends with anything less than a trip to the Super Bowl. Grade: A

Biggest surprise: When Collins took over, many presumed he would take more sacks than Young would have. But calm and efficient in the pocket, he simply wouldn't allow people to take him down. It started with top-flight protection from an offensive line that also run-blocked quite well. But Collins also mastered check downs and throwaways and only got sacked eight times. He didn't give the ball away very much either, with just seven interceptions.

Biggest disappointment: Receiver Justin McCareins was inefficient as the starter opposite Justin Gage. While McCareins made solid contributions as a run blocker and had his moments pulling in balls on the sideline, he was the symbol of what the Titans simply don't get often enough from their wideouts. He rarely got good separation, dropped too many passes and gave up too early on others where he seemed more interested in getting back to the huddle or the sideline than selling out and hoping to make something big happen. He's a good guy and a good player, but this spot can be and should be easily upgraded.

Biggest need: An answer at quarterback. Collins is a free agent to be, as is third-stringer Chris Simms. Meanwhile Young waits in the wings and is expected to get at least one more big chance at the starting job. But there is great uncertainty at the spot now for 2009. The Titans deserve credit for drafting Chris Johnson, and they were far more explosive because of him. No Matter who's at quarterback, the logical next step is to find a dynamic receiver to go with Johnson.

Pending shakeup: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will be on the list of hot prospects for a number of head coaching jobs that will open up. If he leaves, it will be interesting to see if he is able to take anyone else from Jeff Fisher's staff with him. Fisher's got multiple options to fill the spot, starting with his linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, his defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil and his old coordinator, Gregg Williams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple thoughts on what might help the Titans if they're going to beat the Steelers today at LP Field, where the skies are clear but the wind chill is in the 20s.

-- Chicago started to figure things out, they shut down the run and dared the Titans to beat them throwing. Kerry Collins answered with a big game, relying on Justin Gage and Tennessee won. Houston took it a step further, controlling the run and Gage, and making the Titans beat them with Justin McCareins as the main receiving threat. They couldn't do it. Will the Steelers try to stick to the same formula? What's the logical counter for Tennessee? Well, we've been waiting all year to see the Titans line Chris Johnson up wide and have him run some longer routes. He's got a lot of catches, but do you remember many where he was even 10 yards downfield? If the Titans give him more than screens, dump-offs and checkdowns against the Steelers, maybe they create a whole new kind of threat.

-- Jeff Fisher is usually good for a special-teams trick play at least once a year. We haven't seen one yet. The Titans are going to need to flip the field once or twice on defense or special teams to give the offense a shorter field and a chance to get to the end zone. A fake field goal or punt is one way they could do it.

-- Tight end Bo Scaife hasn't been as big a presence in the Titans' passing game in recent weeks. Collins has been starting slow. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger should try to get the two connected on some short stuff early to build some rhythm and confidence.

-- This is my first double-blogger game. AFC North expert James Walker is sitting next to me. If you're checking in here during the game, you'd be wise to check his page, too, for some Steelers perspective.

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