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Predictions in Review: AFC South

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West and the NFC West. Today, the AFC South, beginning with a straightforward case in Tennessee.

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Can Kenny Britt become the next great wide receiver?, July 9, 2013

Spoiler alert: Kenny Britt did not become the next great wide receiver, at least in 2013 (apparently, I still can’t quit him). Britt is an easy player to fall in love with, if you ignored the warning signs. He was just 20 years old when he played in his first NFL game in 2009. In 2010, he led all players in yards per route run according to Pro Football Focus, but his raw numbers underhwlemed because the Titans were a run-heavy team and Britt missed 30% of the season with a hamstring injury. In 2011, he matched his elite YPRR production, but a torn ACL/MCL tear ended his season after 94 pass routes.

He struggled in 2012, but I was willing to write that off due to recovering from the ugly knee injury, additional hamstring and ankle injuries, and a first-year starter in Jake Locker. That set up 2013 as a season where I thought Britt had great breakout potential. I interviewed Thomas Gower, of Total Titans and Football Outsiders, and asked him his thoughts. Gower was more pessimistic than I was about Britt, and for good reason.

As it turned out, Britt never seemed quite right mentally (in more ways than one); he struggled with drops and was eventually dropped behind Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright on the depth chart. He finished the year with 11 catches for only 96 yards and no touchdowns. In late December, Britt said he would definitely be a #1 wide receiver somewhere in 2014, which means I’m susceptible to falling into the Britt trap again. [click to continue…]

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Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Kenny Britt’s story is hardly a secret. As a freshman at Rutgers in 2006, his 64-yard catch turned the tide in the biggest win in school history. The next year, he was part of a dynamic offense: Ray Rice rushed for 2,012 yards, Tiquan Underwood caught 65 passes for 1100 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Britt was the big play threat, gaining 1,232 yards and 8 touchdowns on 62 catches. In 2008, Britt caught 87 passes for 1,371 yards and 7 touchdowns. After his junior year, the dynamic college receiver made the obvious move and declared for the NFL Draft. He then watched his hometown Giants take Hakeem Nicks one pick before the Titans made Britt the first Rutgers player ever to be selected in the first round.

Before analyzing his NFL career, I think it’s important to remember that Britt is young for his class year: he played in his first NFL game before he was old enough to legally drink. Despite the young age, Britt didn’t disappoint, producing 701 receiving yards as a rookie in ’09. He even produced a signature moment, catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Vince Young in what was one of the greatest comeback drives of all time (no, really — I swear).

Britt’s 2010 season looks like modest improvement on the surface, but his 775 yards and 9 touchdowns don’t tell the full story. According to Pro Football Focus, Britt only ran passing routes on 253 snaps that season, but averaged a whopping 3.1 yards per route run, easily the highest rate in the league. The obvious follow-up question is why didn’t he run more routes? Well, the 2010 Titans were a run-heavy team centered around Chris Johnson; Tennessee finished 30th with just 474 pass attempts. Britt also missed nearly five full games with a hamstring injury, and Tennessee tended to place Nate Washington on the field in their 1-WR sets. Those seem like reasonable explanations for overlooking why a 22-year-old would play a limited number of snaps. The impressive part is his insane production.
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Season in review: AFC and NFC South

Last week I reviewed the seasons of the teams in the AFC East and NFC East and in the AFC North and NFC North. Today we’ll review the interesting seasons from the AFC and NFC South divisions.

In the AFC South, I had the bottom three teams projected for between 5 and 6 wins for a five week stretch starting after week two. As we now know, that was resolved quite definitively by the end of the year:

AFC South

Houston Texans

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 14 (after week 15)
Minimum wins: 10 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: Going to win the AFC South going away; this team could win 12 games, but concerns about injuries and the potential to rest starters late keep them at 10 wins for now.

A miserable December ruined what should have been a marvelous season in Houston. At no point did I project any of the other AFC South teams to finish within even three games of the Texans. When they were 5-0, I wrote: Not only do the Texans still have 6 home games remaining, but they have 4 more games against the AFC South and get the Bills and Lions. Even without Brian Cushing, I don’t see why they don’t win 8 more games.

The Texans schedule was easy, but they also had dominant seasons out of J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson. Left Tackle Duane Brown was outstanding, and Houston is as good as any other team in the league when they’re at their their best. Unfortunately, they might be undermanned in a gunfight with the Broncos or Patriots, and it looks like now they’ll have to beat both of those teams to get to New Orleans. Still, I give the Texans a fighting chance; Matt Schaub has struggled in primetime games, but that doesn’t really mean anything. In the end I think the week 17 loss submarined their playoff hopes, and the team will be left wondering how good they could have been if Cushing stayed healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Pre-season Projection: 5.5 wins
Maximum wins: 10 (after week 12 through the end of the year)
Minimum wins: 4 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: There will be growing pains in Indianapolis. But nobody feels bad for their fans, nor should they; the Colts will be contenders each year for a decade, starting next season.

I never got on board with the Colts this year and it only looks worse in retrospect. On the other hand, even though Indianapolis finished 11-5, they were still outscored by 30 points in 2012. They struggled to beat Brady Quinn and the Chiefs and split with the Jaguars. The Colts won just two game by more than a touchdown.

While I missed on the Colts overall, I was on board the Andrew Luck bandwagon early on even when his numbers were terrible. I wrote this before the Colts-Packers game: Andrew Luck-Aaron Rodgers I won’t steal the spotlight from Tom Brady-Peyton Manning XIII; by the time these two teams play again in four years, we may be looking at the best two quarterbacks in the league. I highlighted how Luck was being undervalued by conventional statistics after week 7, and wrote this after week 8: A wildcard darkhorse? I don’t think the Colts are very good — they’re just 29th according to Football Outsiders — but a win over Miami this weekend puts them in the driver’s seat. I finally projected them at 10 wins after week 12, and noted: Basically clinched a playoff berth with win over Buffalo and Steelers loss. Hard not to like this team.

They may not be very good, but they certainly are likeable. Even after the upset win over the Texans, Houston is just the 10th team to make the playoffs after being outscored by at least 30 points.
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The Tennessee-Detroit game was an instant classic today, with one of the wildest fourth quarters anyone will ever see. The 46 points scored were the second most in NFL history, trailing another recent game involving the Lions.

The scoring was crazy. Tommie Campbell had a 65-yard punt return at the end of the first quarter; a few minutes later, Jared Cook caught a 61-yard touchdown, and both were more incredible than I’m describing. But that was about it until the 4th quarter, save a one-yard Mikel Leshoure touchdown. Then, in the 4th, Nate Burleson (3 yards), Darius Reynaud (105), Nate Washington (71), Alterraun Verner (72), Calvin Johnson (3) and Titus Young (46) scored touchdowns, the last coming on a Hail Mary.

All told, there were 9 touchdowns scored in the game, and those touchdowns covered a total of 427 yards. The Titans became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of 60 or more yards. But that 427-yard mark? That just sneaks into the top 10 all-time for yards on touchdowns in a game (click on any of the boxscores below to take you to that game):

That top game was one of the most memorable games of the ’60s and remains the game with the most points ever scored in an NFL game.

Of course, a lot of the craziness was coming from Tennessee, which managed to gain 374 yards on their touchdowns. That’s good enough for 2nd place — in the Redskins-Giants game, Washington’s touchdowns covered 403 yards. Here’s a list of the single teams to cover at least 300 yards on their touchdowns in a game:

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