This Division preview was scheduled to be the AFC North, but with the recent retirement of QB Andrew Luck, it felt appropriate to weigh in on the AFC South.
WINNER: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-6)
Don’t get me wrong, the loss of Andrew Luck is enormous for the organization, and their chances of winning a Super Bowl.
The Colts were projected to be one of the only threats to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC. However, I don’t downgrade the team’s Power Rating as much as most might expect. Back-up QB Jacoby Brissett is still more than capable of leading this star-studded team to the Playoffs. The drop off from Luck to Brissett is not enough to bring Indianapolis below the likes of Houston and Jacksonville.
In 2017, when Brissett took over for Luck, the Colts were a completely different team (4-12). He had no QB guru/Head coach/Offensive mastermind in Frank Reich, as well as no O-Line (this year they have the best O-Line in the game). What Reich was able to do in Philadelphia with Nick Foles en route to winning a Super Bowl, is a big help for Brissett in Indy. Last time he replaced Luck, he had defensive minded Chuck Pagano for a head coach. A couple years wiser (granted maybe a step slower), and Brissett has the opportunity of a lifetime in front of him.
The Colts Defense will also help keep them in games, which is another thing that couldn’t be said in 2017. The addition of DE Justin Houston (Chiefs), is sure to reek havok on opposing QB’s and running games. The Colts also have above-average Offensive weapons, Secondary, and a very good Linebacking corps. Having the reliable veteran K Adam Vinatieri doesn’t hurt either. With a relatively easy schedule, and weak Division opponents, Mr. Brissett certainly has everything around him to take the Colts back to the Playoffs. Just take care of the ball!
HOUSTON TEXANS (7-9)
Unlike the Colts, the Texans have a brutal schedule. The only AFC South team to draw the Patriots, also goes on the road for their matchups with KC, Baltimore, LAC, and New Orleans. Because of this gauntlet of a schedule, they will start a dreadful 4-8, before finishing strong 3-1. The only reason Head Coach Bill O’Brien isn’t a good bet to be fired first, is he will probably be given the benefit of the doubt to finish the season.
Also opposite of Indy, they have a porous O-Line. They may have drafted a couple O-Lineman, but their highest rated pick came with a Defensive player in DE Charles Omenihu (Texas). They may need him though, as it’s reported the Texans are likely to trade star DE Jadeveon Clowney.
The biggest bright spot for Houston of course is QB Deshaun Watson. He is certainly more talented than Jacoby Brissett. However, it’s the supporting cast around Watson that will fail him this season. If Indy and Houston swapped QB’s, the Colts would still have a shot at the Title. The Texans are actually a lot like the Packers. Great QB, Great star WR, and poor coaching/front office. It’s no wonder the two teams held joint-practices in Green Bay, before their Week 1 Preseason game.
Luckily the loss of RB Lamar Miller (torn ACL) won’t be felt too harshly, as they traded for the Browns RB Duke Johnson who is more than capable of filling the shoes. The Defense will also help keep them in a lot of close one’s, but a bad kicking game to round things out for the Texans, and they will be watching the Playoffs from their couches at home.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (6-10)
Another AFC South team with a brutal schedule ahead of them. In their first 7 games, they are projected to lose against the Chiefs, @ Texans, @Broncos, Saints, @ Panthers, and @Bengals. Later on, they get @Atlanta, LAC, and the Colts twice.
The Jaguars problems are simply threefold; They need to improve their O-Line, Linebacking corps (Telvin Smith taking the year off), and Secondary. Jalen Ramsey and company are highly overrated. The O-Line being the worst of the trio, will make QB Nick Foles look like a different player, void of the comfy Offensive front he had in Philly. The health of OL Cam Robinson will be vital for any chance of a sustainable front in Jacksonville. In un-Coughlin like fashion, the Jaguars are ill prepared for the 2019-20 season.
An average Wide Receiver/Tight end unit should also frustrate Foles. They have a lot of potential, but also tons of youth. In the backfield, Leonard Fournette is talented, but at the same time he’s a combustible head-case. Other than a strong D-Line, led by DE Calais Campbell, it will be tough watching a team with plenty of holes (think Swiss cheese). There just isn’t the right mix of players this year in “Sacksonville”, more growing-pains ahead.
TENNESSEE TITANS (2-14)
It’s the double-whammy for the Titans. A tough schedule, and inferior roster.
QB Marcus Mariota still ranks near the bottom of the league for starting QB’s, and yet the Titans are desperate to be proven right. Meanwhile, head coach Mike Vrabel, is looking like another surprising bust of a former Belichick disciple. Even though they picked up talented OL Rodger Saffold (Rams) in the offseason, star OL Taylor Lewan is out 4 weeks (PED violation), and the rest of the O-Line is well below-average. On the other side of the trenches, the D-Line is also sub-par.
Much like Jacksonville, the WR room is promising, but very young. One bright spot (other than a decent Secondary), is the Running Back stable. RB’s Derrick Henry, and Dion Lewis are extremely useful backs, but Tennessee forgot they need a O-Line to go along with great RB’s. A QB with an elite arm would also help alleviate the pressure up front. Opposing defenses will surely be stacking the box, making it hard for the Titans to move the ball. They’re going to need another Miracle in the Music City to have any chance of competing this year.
Next Division to be featured: AFC North
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