By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
Houston – Passing-game pieces in place
2005 records: 2-14 overall; 0-8 vs. quality opponents
In their four years of existence, the Texans have yet to produce a winning team. A franchise-best 7-9 record in 2004 was followed by a league-worst 2-14 mark last season. Despite considerable talent on offense, Houston ranked 30th in passing, ahead of only rookie-led Chicago and San Francisco.
Hidden Truth: The Texans have the highest-drafted combination of quarterback and receivers in the league. QB David Carr was the expansion team's first-ever pick (No. 1 overall), and he and receiver Andre Johnson (No. 3) were selected earlier than any other tandem in the league. With the offseason trade for Eric Moulds, another first-round wideout (No. 24), Houston also boasts the highest-drafted trio. (Last season, Dallas held both distinctions, with former No. 1s Drew Bledsoe and Keyshawn Johnson joined by Terry Glenn, a No. 7 pick.)
Looking at the top five quarterback-receiver trios based on combined draft position, the Cold, Hard Football Facts show that two others are from teams within the division:
Overall (Year)
QB David Carr
WR Andre Johnson
WR Eric Moulds
1 (2002)
3 (2003)
24 (1996)
QB Matt Leinart
WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR Bryant Johnson
10 (2006)
3 (2004)
17 (2003)
QB Byron Leftwich
WR Reggie Williams
WR Matt Jones
7 (2003)
9 (2004)
21 (2005)
QB Eli Manning
WR Plaxico Burress
WR Amani Toomer
1 (2004)
8 (2000)
34 (1996)
QB Peyton Manning
WR Marvin Harrison
WR Reggie Wayne
1 (1998)
19 (1996)
30 (2001)
Outlook for 2006: The Houston air attack will improve under new coach Gary Kubiak, the longtime offensive coordinator for Denver. A big key is getting better pass protection from an offensive line that surrendered a league-high 68 sacks last year.
Indianapolis Records but no rings
2005 records: 14-2 overall; 5-2 vs. quality opponents
It was another tremendous regular season for the Colts, who flirted with immortality by winning their first 13 games. They eventually finished 14-2, recording the most victories in franchise history. The postseason brought more disappointment, however, as the wild-card Steelers knocked off the most balanced team Indy had fielded in years.
Hidden Truth: The Colts became just the second AFC team since the merger to lead the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The only other team to accomplish the feat was the 1972 Dolphins, who capped an undefeated season by winning Super Bowl VII. The last NFC team to register the most points scored and fewest points allowed was the 1996 Packers. Like Miami in '72, Green Bay led the entire league in both categories and finished off the season as champions, capturing Super Bowl XXXI.
Outlook for 2006: Outscoring your regular-season opponents by almost 200 points (439-247) is certainly impressive, but truly great teams don't then self-destruct in the playoffs. The long-suffering Indy faithful won't be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Super Bowl XLI.
Jacksonville Inflicting sudden death
2005 records: 12-4 overall; 3-3 vs. quality opponents
Powered by a stout defense and a run-oriented offense, the Jaguars made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Given their conservative nature, it should come as no surprise that eight of their 12 wins were decided by a touchdown or less. And when an extra session was required, Jacksonville came up particularly large.
Hidden Truth: The Jaguars possess the league's best winning percentage in overtime games. By taking both of its sudden-death tilts in 2005, Jacksonville now owns an all-time record of 4-2 (.667). The team has won four straight in OT, with all of the victories coming by touchdown (3 passes, 1 interception return). That fact is especially remarkable when you consider that 70 percent of the NFL's overtime games end with field goals.
Outlook for 2006: Since other teams are just percentage points behind, an overtime loss will bump the Jaguars from the top spot in the all-time rankings. But their ability to win close games should serve them well in the coming season.
Tennessee – Remember the tight ends
2005 records: 4-12 overall; 0-8 vs. quality opponents
Norm Chow was college football's premier offensive coordinator, first at BYU and then at USC. After assuming the same duties with the Titans, he implemented his trademark system, which features a variety of short throws. His first season resulted in a passing offense that ranked ninth in the league and that saw 11 different Tennessee receivers record at least 10 catches.
Hidden Truth: The Titans completed more passes to tight ends than all but one team in NFL history. Players at the position totaled 149 receptions. Erron Kinney and Ben Troupe led the way with 55 catches each, followed closely by Bo Scaife's 37. Only the 1984 Chargers, who starred Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow, had more receptions by tight ends in a season (163).
Outlook for 2006: Chow (shown at right) will continue to develop the passing game, and free agent signee David Givens may well be its focal point. But with Billy Volek becoming a full-time starter at quarterback and rookie Vince Young waiting in the wings, Tennessee will again rely heavily on its tight ends.