Photo Credit to George Walker IV via The Tennessean
Since we went through the divisions clockwise for the NFC, let’s switch it up and go counterclockwise for the AFC, meaning we are going to talk about the AFC South. The AFC South had a pretty strong split between good and bad teams last season. At the bottom, you have the Jaguars and Texans, who both had top five picks while at the top, there were the Titans and Colts, who both made playoffs. Considering what’s happened to these teams this offseason, we may be seeing the same again this year.
Tennessee Titans, 2020 Record: 11-5, Lost Wild Card Round to Ravens
Tennessee has continued to look better every year under Mike Vrabel. However, despite having a defensive-minded HC, their offense has been their strength. Ryan Tannehill continued to show that playing for Adam Gase is a career suicide by posting another impressive season while Derrick Henry had a career season, rushing for 2000 yards and 17 TDs. However, did they do enough to improve the worst pass rush in football, allowing them to take a big step forward this year?
Offensively, this team made one big move this offseason: traded for Julio Jones. While Julio is on the wrong side of 30, he’s still an excellent receiver who should still have plenty in the tank. While they now have two elite receivers in Jones and AJ Brown, they also lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. After Jones, Henry, and AJ Brown, this team really lacks good-skill players. Josh Reynolds is the third receiver while Geoff Swaim is now the starting tight end. Backing up Henry is Khari Blasingame. This team is very top-heavy on the offensive side of the ball and could be one injury away from a disaster. On defense, this team didn’t make any huge upgrades. Their pass rush was historically bad last year and they did nothing to improve it. However, this team still boasts some good defensive players such as Jeffery Simmons, Rashan Evans, Harold Landry, and Kevin Byard, as well as new additions Bud Dupree and Janoris Jenkins. The Titans used a first-round pick on Caleb Farley, which has been met with skepticism. While Farley is a good player, he’s coming off a back injury. Considering how poorly their first-round pick in 2020 went (traded him for a seventh-round pick less than a year after drafting him), people thought they’d make a safer pick. Instead, they could be looking at back-to-back wasted first-round picks if Farley isn’t the same after his injury.
This team will be fine this year. They have Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and a strong offensive line. However, nothing about this team stands out. They lack depth, they lack playmakers on defense, and they will be sporting a new offensive coordinator. While this team will likely still win double-digit games, I don’t expect them to make much noise come playoff time.
Titans 2021 Record Prediction: 9-8
Indianapolis Colts, 2020 Record: 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round to Bills
Despite the QB carousel, Frank Reich managed to put together his best season as the Colts’ head coach. Unfortunately for him, he lost the tiebreaker for the division, meaning playing a road game in Buffalo rather than a home game in the first round of the playoffs. However, since Reich may have finally found some stability at QB, we could be looking at the beginning of a powerhouse in the AFC South.
As many know, the biggest move by the Colts this offseason was trading a conditional second and a third for Carson Wentz. Carson Wentz had his best season while Reich was coaching in Philly. Considering Wentz only had one bad year, Reich is likely hoping he can bring him back to his MVP form. The running back room is the deepest in football, sporting four guys who could be starters or solid backups on any team with Johnathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, and Marlon Mack. However, where this team is weakest is receiver. While they have some young guys who could be good like Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman, they don’t have standout, clear-cut WR1s. TY Hilton recently had neck surgery and will miss at least the first three weeks of the season but will be a huge boost to an otherwise inexperienced WR core. On defense, this team used their first-round pick on DE Kwity Paye, who should help an already strong defensive line. The centerpiece of the Colts defense returns as well, with Darius Leonard sporting a new 5-year, nearly $100 million contract. This defense was 7th last year in DVOA according to Football Outsiders and there’s no reason to think they won’t be top 10 again this year.
The strength of this team, like the last few years, has been their defense and offensive line. However, the injury bug is already biting them early, affecting Wentz, Quentin Nelson, and TY Hilton. However, if this team can remain healthy for the full season, they are complete enough top to bottom to be a dark horse Super Bowl contender.
Colts 2021 Record Prediction: 11-6
Houston Texans, 2020 Record: 4-12, 3rd Place
The Texans have been one of the most drama-ridden teams this offseason. First, their star QB, Deshaun Watson, wanted to be traded after watching Bill O’Brien completely ruin the team’s present and future. Then, Watson was accused of sexual assault by 20+ women, making him virtually untradable and unplayable. Now, the Texans and new HC David Culley will just look to not be the worst team in football.
Whether it’s suspension, jail, or a trade, Deshaun Watson is never playing for the Texans again. Taking his place is captain check down, Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor won’t make many mistakes, he also isn’t known for pushing the ball downfield. The Texans also used a third-round pick to draft Davis Mills, who they are hoping might develop into their QB of the future. Their running back room is a Who’s Who of former 1000-yard rushers, sporting Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and David Johnson. At receiver, this team lacks a true number one, with Brandin Cooks leading the way. He’s backed up by Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, and rookie Nico Collins. On defense, this team lacks any kind of playmaker. Their best player is linebacker Zach Cunningham and outside of him, they don’t really have anyone worth mentioning. This defense was one of the worst in football last year and I expect the same again this year.
Because of some horrendous moves by Bill O’Brien, this team is in a rebuild. The issue is, they don’t even have the picks to rebuild because they were traded away. Barring some serious luck or getting a haul of picks for Deshaun Watson, Texans’ fans won’t have much to root for years to come.
Texans 2021 Record Prediction: 1-16
Jacksonville Jaguars, 2020 Record: 1-15, 4th Place
Except for that miraculous 2017 where they made it to the AFC title game, this team just has not been good. After a great win in week 1 last year against the Colts, the Jags managed to run off 15 straight losses, securing the number one overall pick. The good news is, that means they got to take the prize of the draft, generational prospect Trevor Lawrence.
As previously mentioned, the biggest move for the Jags was drafting Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. Lawrence is touted as one of the greatest QB prospects of all time, being mentioned alongside guys like Andre Luck, Peyton Manning, and John Elway. Unfortunately, despite how good Lawrence may be, he still needs other players around him. Urban Meyer, who is making his NFL coaching debut after a very successful college career, attempted to do exactly that. First, he used his second first-round pick to draft Lawrence’s backfield mate, Travis Etienne. Unfortunately, Etienne was lost for the season due to a preseason foot injury. The Jags also brought in Marvin Jones to go along with DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault at wide receiver. They also looked to strengthen an already strong offensive line by drafting Walker Little with their second-round pick. On defense, has some interesting players such as Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson, and Myles Jack. Unfortunately, these interesting pieces are surrounded by holes. If everything goes perfectly, maybe this team is looking at being average on defense but they just lack the depth and playmakers to be any better than that.
This year should be about one thing: developing Trevor Lawrence. This roster certainly has some talent but not enough to really compete with the Titans or Colts. Fortunately, a lot of their talent is on the offensive side of the ball. While they don’t have any true, number one receivers, they have a good mix of good receivers who should be able to help Lawrence out. Add that along with a 1000-yard rusher in James Robinson and a strong offensive line, and this team should at least be fun to watch on offense this year.
Jaguars 2021 Record Prediction: 5-12
Final AFC South Standings
Indianapolis Colts 11-5
Tennessee Titans 9-8
Jacksonville Jaguars 5-12
Houston Texans 1-16