Houston Texans - When Wade Philips came aboard in Houston, he did the unimaginable. He took that miserable squad and turned them into a dominant defense. Transforming a defense alone is hard, especially when shifting to a new philosophy. When they made that shift, they wisely drafted Brooks Reed out of Arizona State. In some scouting circles he was considered a poor man's Clay Matthews. Well, poor or not, he played above expectations last year down the stretch as he got more playing time. This year with Mario Williams gone, he will start opposite the emergent Connor Barwin, to help for one of the newest pass rushing duos in the NFL. Barwin believes the sky is the limit for Reed, who is currently believed to be the strongest guy on the team after an amazing off season. I expect Reed to build on his dominant post season performances from the get go in 2012. Reed and Barwin could surprise this year with 10 plus sacks each.
Tennessee Titans - Maybe I am wrong, but I don't like what the Titans are doing. I don't fully understand how they are trying to build this team. It seems like each year they are letting go of players, while only pulling in a modicum of talent to replace them. They do have some core players left on both sides of the ball, but it appears that it is becoming slim pickins. This is a hard selection for me to make, because there are a few players that I go back and forth on. I like Akeem Ayers potential, but I think he needs to develop a little more, and he may not have a lot of help on that side of the ball this season. On the opposite side of the ball, I think Nate Washington is going to be the go to guy this season due to Wright being a rookie and the unpredictable nature of Britt's availability. Then I look at the possibility of Jake Locker, who played well above anyone's expectations last year in his limited opportunities. I feel that if he makes it on the field, it opens up the running game as well as forces defense to handle passing situations differently, because of his running ability. But, with all that said, Locker is still an unproven second year player, who may only get to play a few games this season. So with that, I have to say that a motivated Chris Johnson will the the most impactful player on the Titans squad in 2012. He got the money he wanted, but it cost him production and effectiveness last season. He was not in game shape, nor did he fully grasp the new offense the way he needed to. This year there are no excuses. Plus I think, or at least I hope he was a little embarrassed about his Top 100 ranking by his peers.
Indianapolis Colts - Things are going to be ugly in Indianapolis this year, but unlike in Jacksonville, at least the Colts are going in the right direction. The defense is changing over to Chuck Pagano's 3-4 base, and even with Freeney and Mathis' talents, this transition could take a while. I do expect them to get comfortable in their new roles, but it could be several weeks into the season before that happens. That is the only reason why I don't select Dwight Freeney here. So instead I feel forced to look on the other side of the ball, and I don't see much that I like. Reggie Wayne is still capable of being one of the games most productive players, but he is not as explosive as he once was. Donald Brown will be in the backfield, and I am not sure that he has done anything since he left UConn. The next option is Coby Fleener, but quite frankly he probably won't scare anyone. So the only choice that remains is Andrew Luck. Luck has more pressure on him to succeed than probably any other single draft pick in the last 20 or so years, but he seems like it is just part of the job description. While he will have his ups and downs this season like all rookie quarterbacks do, I think he will carry this team farther than anyone would think possible in just his rookie season. Luck will have a better rookie season than Peyton Manning, and this fan base will have something to cheer about for a long time.
Jacksonville Jaguars - I have kinda pulled for the Jaguars since they came into the league, but I can't say that I have been a fan of the way the organization has been run for a long time. Their personnel and coaching decisions have been awful for a long time. Then you add in the fact that MJD is probably not going to play at all this year without a new contract, and this team goes from bad to worse. There are already reports out of camp that Gabbert is spending more time scrambling than throwing passes because his receivers can't get open, and Justin Blackmon still isn't in camp. So with this in mind, I look to 5th year defensive end Jeremy Mincey to be have the largest impact on the Jaguars in 2012. Mincey came on strong last year with his best season as a pro, registering 8 sacks. This year he will have a good chance at having a double digit sack season and being a real impact player for this team. I think this team will have plenty of struggles, but Mincey should be one of the brightest spots.