AFC South Preview

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September 4, 2017 by coachcarter717

(Courtesy of Donn Jones Photography/AP)

Written by Carter Cotrupi

Largely considered one of the more underwhelming divisions in the NFL for the past several seasons, the AFC South has barely made an impact in the postseason in the past decade of football. All four teams in the division have made improvements to their current rosters, but are there still too many team needs for each to address? The Indianapolis Colts have not been relevant since their role in “Deflategate.” The Tennessee Titans were very close to becoming a completely irrelevant franchise. The Houston Texans thought that Brock Osweiler would take them all the way to the promise land. The Jacksonville Jaguars are still waiting for Blake Bortles to metamorpihize into the franchise butterfly they thought they had drafted.

Here I am: the man who pleaded to take the AFC South under my surveillance for The Nosebleeds’ division predictions series. Those who know me know that I am a sucker for a good Cinderella story. I believe one of these AFC South teams will have their Cinderella story in 2017.

Indianapolis Colts

2016-17 record: 8-8 (3rd)

Key additions: OLB John Simon, OLB Jabaal Sheard, WR Kamar Aiken

Key losses: ILB D’Qwell Jackson, S Mike Adams, TE Dwayne Allen, P Pat McAfee (Retired)

The Colts have no timetable for Andrew Luck’s return. Earlier in the spring after Luck’s surgery on his right shoulder, the front office was optimistic about his steady return. Now they’re not so confident that he will be ready to start against the Rams in Week 1. With no further updates, the Colts are forced to start Scott Tolzien who has been less-than-stellar in his preseason performances.

The Colts did address a serious issue with their 30th ranked defense for most of their transactions this offseason. Coach Chuck Pagano told reporters that the team is focused on forcing turnovers, keeping track of each player’s effort to get the ball on a point-based system which is displayed on a leaderboard in the locker room. It sounds like the Colts are finally taking some pressure off Luck and the offense, who had to put up big numbers nearly every game last year to salvage their 8-8 season.

Team MVP: When Luck returns, I have no doubt that he will lead this team with his usual toughness, outstanding leadership, and freakish athleticism. Supposedly the surgery on his right shoulder was the definitive solution to his long history of shoulder pain throughout his career. When he comes back, I have no doubt that he will finish out strong for his teammates.

2017-18 prediction: 6-10 (3rd, Pagano loses his job)

Jacksonville Jaguars

2016-17 record: 3-13 (4th)

Key additions: DE Calais Campbell, S Barry Church, CB AJ Bouye, VP Tom Coughlin

Key losses: CB Prince Amukamara, TE Julius Thomas

Blake Bortles or Chad Henne? Doug Marrone and the Jaguars coaching staff have to pick between the lesser of two evils to lead their offense into the regular season. Like the Colts, the Jaguars focused on improving their defense in the offseason. However, the rest of the team has to deal with the current sinkhole state of the Jaguars organization thanks to the front office and their poor financial decision-making. Picking up Bortles’ fifth-year option and rushing to lock-up WR Allen Hurns with one year left on his rookie deal highlighted Jacksonville’s questionable offseason transactions.

Team MVP: At this point, I don’t think any single player is going to carry the Jaguars offense to success. My pick for the shining beacon of hope comes from their defense and A.J. Bouye. Bouye had a phenomenal year at CB for the Houston Texans last season, ranking 9th among all cornerbacks in the NFL. Going into his fifth year of his professional career, Bouye will be lined up outside with second-year Jaguar and fan-favorite Jalen Ramsey. He will join an improved defensive unit that includes new additions like Calais Campbell and Barry Church.

2017-18 prediction: 5-11 (4th)

Houston Texans

2016-17 record: 9-7 (T-1st, won tiebreaker)

Key additions: T Breno Giacomini

Key losses: CB AJ Bouye, S Quintin Demps

With no cap space left, there was little room for the Texans to make any big splashes in the offseason. Houston’s defense has been the highlight of the franchise for the past few years and not much has changed about that team dynamic. The team is starting back at square one after shoveling money into a failed contract for the dumpster fire that was Brock Osweiler. The good news is that perennial backup-turned-QB1 Tom Savage showed signs of potential in the two games he started last year. I expect Houston to sink down in the division rankings to join the fellow lackluster Colts and Jaguars.

Team MVP: J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt holds the keys to the Texans once again in 2017. The defense is significantly better when he is on the field which has not always been the case due to his injury history. Teams are forced to commit two players on the line to block him, leaving guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus to pick on the quarterback. Bill O’Brien’s game plan for each game should be forcing turnovers on defense and allowing the offense ample time to sustain drives. Time of possession will be the Texans’ best friend.

Conference X-Factor: DeShaun Watson

As of right now, Tom Savage is leading the Texans offense into the regular season. We know what to expect with Savage, but inputting Watson into the offense later in the regular season could give the Texans a necessary adrenaline shot should they find themselves trailing in the division. If Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff feel that Watson can outplay Savage, they should usher the rookie into the spotlight as soon as possible.

2017-18 prediction: 7-9 (2nd)

Tennessee Titans

2016-17 record: 9-7 (T-1st, lost tiebreaker)

Key additions: WR Eric Decker, CB Logan Ryan, S Jonathan Cyprien

Key losses: CB Jason McCourty, ILB Sean Spence
The time has come for Marcus Mariota to lead this high-powered offense into the playoff picture. The addition of offensive weapons such as first round pick Corey Davis and free agent Eric Decker tells us that the Titans are addressing the gaps on offense that prevented the team from dethroning the Houston Texans last season. Now that Derrick Henry has gotten more comfortable at the pro level, expect a three-headed monster to highlight the Titans’ surge. Overall, the Titans have one of the easier schedules of all 32 teams, but they will face big challenges especially on the road in Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Team MVP: Marcus Mariota

Fans have not seen their Titans play in the postseason for almost a decade now. Since Mariota took the reins at QB, the Titans went from a 3-13 record in 2015 to 9-7 last season. He has the confidence of his teammates as a leader on and off the field. The more seasons that Mariota has under his belt as a starting QB, the more expansive his playmaking repertoire will be. The kid has shown incredible athleticism and arm strength, scrambling in and out of the pocket to extend the play. The 2017 season will be Mariota’s time to knock on the door of greatness.

2017-18 prediction: 11-5 (1st)

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