NFL Divisional Preview: AFC South

In the AFC South, I feel like at least two teams are always rebuilding. This season, one could say it’s the Jaguars and the Titans, though both squads are better than last year on paper, and both have the tools in place to be really competitive teams in a few years. But right now the race for the division seems to be a two-horse (God, I love these puns) race. I’ve got a surprise up my sleeve, though.

Houston Texans 

My mom’s friend asked me who I would bet on in the AFC to win the Super Bowl if I wasn’t allowed to bet on the Patriots. At 40-1 odds, I would take the Houston Texans. And yes, I mean that 100%. One could argue that the only reason they won the division, got into the playoffs, and were awarded a home game was due to the injury of Andrew Luck. True or not true, I don’t think that’s fair to how much talent Houston has on their team.

Last year, the offense was lead by Brian Hoyer… yes, Brian Hoyer. Now they have a real quarterback in Brock Osweiler. To be fair, he’s still relatively unproven, since he hasn’t even started a full season yet. But he’s been learning from Peyton Manning, he worked with some solid weapons in Denver, and the Texans didn’t even overpay him. He’s come to Houston to work with Bill O’Brien, who’s had excellent success in the past (namely with Tom Brady) with quarterbacks. To boot, he’s throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, who is the third best receiver in the NFL, trailing only Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown. But Hopkins isn’t alone either, with the additions of Notre Dame’s Will Fuller and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. Those three receivers make this offense FAST. Throw in Lamar Miller instead of the oft-injured Arian Foster, and now the Texans aren’t pushovers when they have the ball anymore.

Defensively, they were already a top-five-unit last year. Everyone talks about JJ Watt, and as much as I don’t like him because he’s a complete try-hard, he’s fake, and he’s just a weirdo, he’s the best defensive player in all of football, at any position, without any sort of debate. But as much as it starts and ends with Watt, he’s not alone. Kareem Jackson, Quintin Demps and Jonathan Joseph anchor a great secondary, and if he tries, Jadeveon Clowney can be a force of nature. They seriously do have the total package, and I don’t think they have an exceptionally tough schedule. One of their hardest games, a Week 3 trip to New England, will be against a Patriots team that will be missing Tom Brady, which obviously helps them out big time.

Do not sleep on the Houston Texans. While most would probably put them at around 10-6, I think they’re one of, if not the most complete teams in the entire league.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts’ season last year was derailed once Andrew Luck went down with his injury. That’s not to say he was lighting it up before he was hurt, but I’d be willing to bet that he wasn’t exactly a model of health before he got injured.

Either way, he’s back, but his offense is still average. If TY Hilton is your best receiver, you don’t have a good receiving corps. Yeah, I can see Donte Moncrief eventually being really good, but at the time of me writing this prediction, he still hasn’t truly broken out. While it was a good move for the Colts to extend Andrew Luck, who has won like one or two playoff games and could never win the big game at Stanford, they overpaid for him. I get the argument that you have to, but how are they going to improve their offensive line that continuously lets him take a beating? How are they going to find a running back that can take the load off his shoulders?

Defensively they’re just not good. That’s really all there is to it, they’re just not a good defense. And they show no signs of getting any better any time soon.

They probably should’ve fired Chuck Pagano at the end of the season, since he’s so awful at doing what he does. But alas, they didn’t. And alas, I think they’ll end up paying the price. And being a Colts hater, that couldn’t make me smile any bigger.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are heading in the right direction. I don’t think they’re quite there yet, but the rebuild under head coach Gus Bradley is going about as swimmingly as one could ask for.

Blake Bortles led the league in touchdown passes last year at the lowest of keys. He seems like he’s the guy that Jacksonville football has been waiting for, as they haven’t had a good option at quarterback since maybe David Garrard (there’s a throwback). His receiving corps is ridiculous, with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee. Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis anchor them at the tight end position, while they added Chris Ivory to compliment Denard Robinson out of the backfield. Offensively, they could hang 35 on you easily…

… the problem is that they could give up 45 just as easily. But, not to fear, because Bradley is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. The Jags got lucky, as the best player in the draft fell to them at the #5 pick in Jalen Ramsey. Personally, I see him as a safety, but Bradley likes his bigger corners. They sound like they’re going to try him out there first, opposite newcomer Prince Amukamara. Up front, Jared Odrick leads a young line, which includes Michael Bennett and Sheldon Day (I have to shout out the relevant Irish rookies). In the linebacking corps, they took a chance in the second round and took Myles Jack, who would’ve been a top-5 pick himself if he didn’t have his knee injury. If he recovers, which I fully expect him to, then Jacksonville got two of the top-3 best players in the draft.

It’s a good time to be a Jaguar fan, if those even exist. Maybe this is the year they’ll stop chilling in the pool in their stadium to actually watch their team play. But I think it’ll be a better time to be a Jaguar fan next year, when I expect them to make the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans

I don’t think the Titans are on the same steep trajectory upward that the Jaguars are on. Irregardless, they’re still improving, and improving fast. Despite having the #1 overall pick, the Titans moved their pick before it was cool to do so, taking home a big reward from the now-Los Angeles Rams.

Marcus Mariota looked better last year than I thought he would. To me, I thought he was basically another college quarterback that was a bust waiting to happen. But he made some good throws, rarely made bad decisions, and showed off the running ability that makes Oregon football famous. He’s not the only Titan that can run, as they drafted Heisman-winner Derrick Henry in the second round and trading for DeMarco Murray, who I think will benefit from being away from the mess that is the Philadelphia Eagles. They really need to continue to beef up their offensive line, which they began to do by drafting Jack Conklin. Also, they probably will eventually need another receiver, as the jury is still out in my opinion on Dorial Green-Beckham. They started to do that, by taking UMass-great Tajae Sharpe in the fifth round, who at worst is a solid third or fourth option in the slot, and at best is a quality outside possession receiver.

On the other side of the ball, talent is scarce. The only guys I would deem worthy of writing home over is cornerback Jason McCourty, rookie Kevin Dodd out of Clemson, and veteran safety Da’Norris Searcy.

While they’re improving offensively, the Titans still aren’t quite there yet, and they still need to come a long way on defense before they begin to make some noise. But some of the building blocks are there, and it’s undeniable.

My AFC South Standings Prediction

Texans (12-4), 1

Jaguars (9-7)

Colts (8-8)

Titans (5-11)

*** Italicized numbers indicate predicted playoff seeding

Cover Photo from blackandteal.com.

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