From 2002-2014, the AFC South has been a division that has mostly been dominated by the Indianapolis Colts as they won the division nine times during that thirteen year span, mainly because they had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning, and were lucky enough to draft Andrew Luck after Manning left for Denver following the 2011 season.
However, throughout the past few years, the AFC South has all of a sudden become one of the more intriguing divisions in football as it has become loaded with young talent. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars each have two of the top tier defenses in the league, the Indianapolis Colts have one of the better young quarterbacks in the league with Andrew Luck, and the Tennessee Titans have an explosive fast paced offensive thanks to speedy quarterback, Marcus Mariota and running backs, Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. The Jaguars won the division for the first time in franchise history and were one win away from the Super Bowl in 2017 thanks to their #1 ranked defense, can they repeat as division champions in 2018?
- Houston Texans: 12-4
Even though the Texans finished 4-12 last season and tied for last place in the AFC South, there was one point in the season where they were 3-3 and in competition for first place in the AFC South. However, everything fell apart for Texans after their sensational rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson suffered an ACL tear during practice prior to week 9. The Texans went 1-8 in their final nine games without Watson, but now he is back and poised to have a breakout 2018 season. In just seven games last season, Watson threw 19 touchdowns and completed over 60 percent of his passes. If he can put up those types of numbers again with that defensive unit Houston has, the Texans can be one of the scarier teams in the AFC.
The Texans offense also have solid veteran pieces around the second year quarterback Watson as they have a top five wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, a solid number two receiver in Will Fuller, and a very consistent running back with Lamar Miller. Even though they don’t have a great offensive line, I think that Watson is a guy who is capable of making quick decisions and make big plays.
While on the defensive side, the Texans will have two of their big name guys returning from season ending injuries as both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus each had their season cut short a year ago. Jadeveon Clowney has started to show last couple seasons that he was worthy of being a former number one overall pick in 2014 after a disappointing first two years in the league. And on top of those three elite defensive guys up front, the Texans also improved their already dominant secondary by signing free agent safety, Tyrann Mathieu.
In both 2015 and 2016, the Houston Texans won the AFC South by going 9-7 each year, and won the division thanks to an elite defense, even though they never had a solid solution at quarterback. Well in 2018, that defensive unit should be back after an injury plagued 2017 and with the Texans finally seeming to have some stability at quarterback in Deshaun Watson, Houston could be a very scary team in the AFC, not just in 2018 but for years to come.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 10-6
Even though the Jaguars had the number one ranked defense in 2017, had rookie running back, Leonard Fournette have a dominant season last year, and were one win away from reaching the Super Bowl a year ago, they still have one glaring hole that will prevent them from winning the AFC South in 2018……. BLAKE BORTLES IS NOT THE ANSWER AT QUARTERBACK.
Since being the Jaguars first round pick in 2014, Bortles has shown some flashes of potential, but has been very inconsistent. He has never completed more than 60 percent of his passes in a single season, threw more than 25 touchdowns in a season only once, and always seems to be towards the top of the league in turnovers.
However, the Jaguars just have way too much talent defensively headlined by the best cornerback duo in the league with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and a defensive front that can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and stop the run with Dante Fowler Jr., Calais Campbell, and Myles Jack. With a defensive unit like that, they are going to win some football games, regardless of who your quarterback is.
As for their running game, Leonard Fournette very quickly burst onto the scene last year and showed that he is more than capable of being a top 10 or even top five running back in the NFL. In his rookie year, he rushed for over 1,000 yards, nine touchdowns, and averaged nearly four yards per carry, running behind an average at best Jaguars offensive line.
With the combination of that top tier defense and Fournette handling the running duties, the Jaguars are certainly in the playoff conversation once again in 2018 as this Jaguars team reminds me A LOT of the 2009-2010 New York Jets teams that were each one win away from getting to a Super Bowl. A bottom tier quarterback in the NFL, but they make up for it with their elite defense, dominant running game, and a decent group of receivers built around the quarterback with Donte Moncrief, Marquise Lee, and Dede Westbrook.
- Indianapolis Colts: 8-8
One thing makes all the difference for the Colts entering the 2018 season. That thing is franchise quarterback; Andrew Luck is back after missing the entirety of the 2017 season due to shoulder surgery. Regardless of how poorly the Colts have built around their quarterback the past few years, Luck is a kind of guy who immediately turns the Colts from a bottom of the division team to a legit contender.
Andrew Luck got drafted as the first overall pick by the Colts prior to the 2012 season, and what have the Colts records been in years that he has played? 11-5, 11-5, 11-5, 8-8, and 8-8 before going 4-12 last season where Luck didn’t play a down. For the first time since the Colts got Luck out of Stanford, the Colts finally seem to have some stability on that offensive line. Even though that line still needs some work, they have a good start with two solid younger guys with Anthony Castonzo and 2018 first round draft pick, Quenton Nelson.
Even though the Colts still don’t seem to have a good consistent running back to support their quarterback, Andrew Luck still has some weapons to work with such as number one wide receiver, TY Hilton and tight ends Jack Doyle and newly acquired Eric Ebron. So overall, I think the Colts can be an above average offensive team in 2018 which can help get them to .500.
However, their defense seems a little inconsistent as last season, their defense allowed the third most points and yards per game, and the Colts didn’t really seem to do much during the offseason to help improve that unit. Much like with their running game, the Colts have never really had much consistency out of their defense since Andrew Luck joined the franchise and six years later, it still looks like the Colts front office isn’t doing any favors to help improve that defense, which is why I have the Colts as a .500 team, despite their franchise signal caller, Andrew Luck returning in 2018.
- Tennessee Titans: 7-9
It is pretty hard to picture the Titans going from a playoff team in 2017 to a last place team in 2018 considering that this organization made some very nice additions during the offseason to improve their team, but unfortunately that is how things are going to go for the Titans in 2018. I am not saying that the Titans don’t have talent on their team as they certainly have good pieces such as quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Derrick Henry, and tight end Delaine Walker, but the Titans sort of lucked out last season that not one, but two of their in division rivals had their franchise quarterbacks go down with season ending injuries last season.
Last season, the Titans went 5-1 against their own division and remember, this is the Colts without Andrew Luck all of last year and the Texans without Deshaun Watson for most of the season. But guess what, now they are both back and if they stay healthy, the Titans would be lucky to get two wins against their divisional foes in 2018.
Even though I like Marcus Mariota and think he is a serviceable NFL starter, he is not an Andrew Luck or Deshaun Watson type that can immediately put his team over the top, regardless of what he has around him. The Titans do have a solid offensive line and good running back duo with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis to compliment Mariota, but the Titans wide receiver group is definitely below average, but do have one of the most consistent tight ends in the league in Delaine Walker.
On the defensive side, the Titans squad was towards the middle of the pack last season and did make some nice offseason additions by bringing in cornerback Malcolm Butler from the Patriots and linebacker Will Compton from the Redskins. So their defense is good, offensive line and running game are good, but their offense lacks the big play makers. They don’t really have a consistent number one receiver and have a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who is very average with good speed for a quarterback, but has inability to make big plays in the passing game, which could hold the Titans from making the playoffs in back to back seasons.