NFL

NFL Preview: AFC South

Following years of cellar-dwelling play in the AFC South, the division emerged in 2017 with two playoff teams, both of which won playoff games. Was that the start of an upward trend or just a blip on the radar? Andrew Luck is back. Deshaun Watson is back. If it is a trend, we could see two AFC South teams winning playoff games again in 2018–this time in different uniforms.

AFC SOUTH

2017 Standings

  1. Jacksonville 10-6
  2. Tennessee 9-7
  3. Indianapolis 4-12
  4. Houston 4-12

Jacksonville won the AFC South last year. Tennessee finished second and STILL made the playoffs. Both teams won games in the playoffs. Sounds crazy, right? The worst division in the NFL for nearly a decade turned into one of the most successful in just a year’s time. Had Andrew Luck not missed the season with a shoulder (between the ears) injury, we could have possibly seen 3 playoff teams from the South. That won’t likely happen any time soon, or ever, but we can hope. The Colts were dreadful without Luck. The Texans had injury issues of their own named JJ and Deshaun. Both teams, with fully healthy rosters, look to climb to the top of the division this season. My fear is that once again the AFC South will be relegated to their traditional status as laughing-stock of the league, and a surefire first round exit for whoever limps to the top of the division. But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

Indianapolis Colts

Key Addition: ANDREW LUCK

The former #1 overall pick is back after sitting out all of 2017 with a mysterious shoulder injury. Colts fans were promised a healthy Luck in 2017 by owner Jim Irsay. That did not happen. In fact, he missed the entire season and was even called ‘weak mentally’ by the fearless leader, I mean owner. Luck looked good in limited action in their first preseason game in Seattle. I fully expect Luck to compete for league MVP honors with Aaron Rodgers this year, and Luck playing at that level will lead this Colts team to the South division summit once again. The Colts were awful without Luck, as many expected. But for some reason the entire league, Jalen Ramsey included, has lost all faith in good ol’ Andrew. Reminds me so much of my former favorite quarterback in Indianapolis who many thought would never play again, only to resurface in Denver and win MVP while setting every all-time passing record worth mentioning. While I don’t expect Luck to set any passing records this year, I do expect an MVP type performance. Call me crazy, but getting Luck back is the single biggest addition to any team in the NFL since Denver added the Sheriff.

Eye Test: Astigmatism

The Colts are close(-ish) with Luck coming back. I believe they will win the division this year, and I don’t think that makes me crazy. As far as a Super Bowl run goes, the light in the tunnel is a little blurry. The defense is not going to be a “deep playoff run” type of defense. There is no pass rush, the linebackers are young, and the secondary is even younger. Promising safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers are coming off of injuries and shouldn’t be counted on too much. In fact, the colts secondary is projected as dead last in 2018. Guess it’s a good thing Marlon Mack is healthy (kind of), TY Hilton is still in Indy, and Andy Luck is back slinging the pigskin (not HS size, the real thing), so the Colts have a chance.

Prediction: 10-6

Houston Texans

Key Addition: Deshaun Watson

Watson lit the league on fire to start 2017. His TD ratio led the league early on and many haters will say that’s because of the extremely limited sample size. But the haters, in this case, are wrong. Watson’s playmaking ability extrapolated across a full 16-game NFL season will launch him into the top 10 QB’s in the league. He has talent and depth around him at WR. The only question mark for me is the offensive line and whether they can protect Watson. If they can, this team will be successful. If they cannot, this team will be bad. It’s as easy as that.

Eye Test: Extremely Near-Sighted

This team is so close they can smell it. With a healthy JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney the defense will be elite once again. They need an offensive line and the front office made some moves to add depth in that spot. Will they improve enough to get the Texans into the playoffs? Doubtful, but they are so close they can see it.

Prediction: 9-7

Tennessee Titans

Key Addition: Mike Vrabel

Vrabel comes from Houston, by way of New England, by way of The Ohio State University. He’s got winning in his blood. He’s got a talented roster that overachieved and made the playoffs last year. Vrabel and the front office, led by Assistant to Head Coach John Streicher, bolstered the defense by adding Super Bowl hero (and zero) Malcolm Butler as well as other cogs in the secondary. The Titans ranked 13th in overall defense last year, and I can see Vrabel’s unit surpassing that ranking this year. We may also see a spike in defensive players scoring touchdowns for the offense given Vrabel’s past.

Eye Test: Blurred Vision

This team still seems to be missing major pieces to take the jump over any of the other AFC South clubs. A good defense will win several games, but without a true identity on offense I see the Titans delivering some confusingly good victories, and some confusingly bad losses. Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry could be a top-5 tandem in the league. But they could also sputter and underperform, resulting in way too much pressure put on Marcus Mariota.

Prediction: 8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key Addition: Andrew Norwell

The Jags offensive line was already pretty good. Now they should be great with the addition of left guard Norwell who signed an enormous contract in the offseason, coming over from Carolina’s run-first system. Blake Bortles will need all the time he can get to scan the defense and figure out where to throw his interceptions. Leonard Fournette will need the widest holes possible to run through before getting tripped up in the secondary and fumbling the ball. Norwell will anchor the line that will surely rank in the top 15 in efficiency again this year (they were ranked 15th in 2017).

Eye Test: Color Blind

The only thing more obnoxious than the Jags two-toned, ugly, teal, gold, and black uniforms are the Thursday night color rush versions of the same uniform. Gross. The team itself made it to the AFC Championship last year, somehow, much the same way the Colts did it in 2014. But Jalen Ramsey just jinxed the team before they’ve even stepped on the field for a real game. Bottom line here is this: The Jags are not going to win with Blake Bortles at QB. Many people are penciling the Jags into the #1 spot in the South with a first round bye in the playoffs, but not me. I am apparently the only real journalist seeing this team for what it is, an injury or two away from going from first to last.

Prediction: 8-8

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