Let’s continue taking a closer look at each division by previewing the AFC South and giving final predictions.
First: Tennesee Titans (10-6)
The Titans flew under the radar last season, going 9-7 and winning a playoff game in Kansas City, and continue to get overlooked They look much improved this season, with an upgrade at head coach with former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, and the additions of former Patriots in running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler. Those two additions give them the most complete team in the AFC South. It all relies on quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose development will get a boost under new offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur. Lewis will give Mariota a good checkdown option, and running back Derrick Henry looks primed for a breakout season now that he is the #1 running back. Another player who looks primed for a breakout is receiver Corey Davis. The 5th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft is finally healthy after an injury-riddled rookie season and will give Mariota another target to trust along with tight end Delanie Walker. On defense, Tennessee’s strong defensive line and solid linebacking core should help them continue to stuff the run (4th last season) and their pass defense is much improved from last year (25th). Rookies Rashaan Evans (MLB from Alabama) and Harold Landry (EDGE from BC) should give an extra jolt to this defense as well. Add in the fact that their schedule is just the 31st toughest in the NFL, and they should be considered the front-runners to win the AFC South this season. They may not be flashy, but they are the most complete team in this division.
Second: Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
The Jaguars came out of nowhere to win the AFC South at 10-6 last season and should finish with the same record this season. Jacksonville still has arguably the best defense in the NFL with a fearsome pass rush led by Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, a solid linebacking core lead by Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, and the cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye that is easily the best in the NFL. On offense, they should have a solid rushing attack once again, with second-year running back Leonard Fournette, especially since they signed All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. The passing game, however, is a much different story. Quarterback Blake Bortles is a game manager at best, and the receiving corps is weak after losing Marquise Lee for the season. One of Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, or DJ Chark will need to step up to become the #1 receiver, and it’s unclear if any of them are capable of doing that. Despite having the same record as the Titans, Jacksonville will lose the division due to head to head, as the Titans match up well against them (Titans swept them last season) and should sweep them for the second straight year. With that 10-6 record, however, Jacksonville should be able to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
Third: Houston Texans (9-7)
The Texans have a lot going for them after finishing last in the AFC South a year ago. Quarterback Deshaun Watson returns after tearing his ACL after starting out strong last season, as does superstar defensive end JJ Watt and edge rusher Whitney Mercillus. They also have the easiest schedule in the NFL and added one of the best defenders in the league in free safety Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. However, it’s unclear if Watson, Watt or Mercillus will be the same after their injuries, especially Watson, whose mobility may not be the same after this injury. They also have one of the worst offensive lines in football and the worst tackles. That’s especially worrisome considering Watson will need time to get back in form, which won’t happen if he’s constantly getting beaten up by defensive lines. Houston’s poor offensive line will cost them in division games vs the Jaguars and Titans, which will cost them the division title and will put their playoff aspirations in jeopardy. The talent is there though if the offensive line can hold up.
Fourth: Indianapolis Colts (5-11)
Like the Texans, the Colts will get their franchise quarterback back in Andrew Luck. However, it’s unclear how long it will take him to get back into form after missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury. Even if he performs at a high level, there are too many holes on this team for them to compete. Indianapolis has no answer at running back, no depth at receiver behind TY Hilton, and a good-not-great offensive line. Even worse is their defense, which lacks a pass rush, and has the worst secondary and linebacking core in the NFL. With such a poor defense and little offensive talent outside of Luck, the Colts should sit at the bottom of the division and will continue to waste Andrew Luck’s prime years with yet another underwhelming team.