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Many feel the AFC South is the weakest division in all of football. Is that true? It looks as if the division will have three teams vying for a playoff spot and the Colts should be much-improved with Andrew Luck back on the field. The AFC East has the Patriots and no one else that could be in the mix for a playoff berth this year. It should be an exciting season down south for these four teams. Let’s take a look at how they stack up and then below we will post win totals and a predicted order of finish for each team in the division.
Texans Need Watson To Stay Healthy
DeShaun Watson played in just seven games his first year in the league before going down with a season-ending injury. He threw for 1699 yards with 19 TDs and eight INTs in those games while rushing for 269 yards and two TDs, which shows the potential he has. Watson is back and healthy, which means that this offense has a chance to shine this year. He must stay healthy though as they do not have much in the way of a backup quarterback. Brandon Weeden or Joe Webb just won’t cut it. The receiving corp will be solid with DeAndre Hopkins back after grabbing 96 balls for 1378 yards and 13 TDs a season ago. They also added Sammie Coates through free agency and grabbed Keke Coutee in the 4th round of the draft. The running game is in good hands with Lamar Miller toting the ball after rushing for 888 yards and three TDs last year.
The defense had their issues a year ago as they finished last in the league in points allowed, giving up 27.6 ppg. This is a team that is not used to struggling on that side of the ball. Having JJ Watt for just five games hurt them for sure. He has now played only eight games in the last two years, and the Texans need him on the field if they hope to make their defense go. The Texans used four draft picks on this side of the ball and also brought in defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu & Aaron Colvin through free agency. Getting more pressure on the quarterback from Watt, along with their upgrades through free agency and the draft will help a pass defense that was 24th in the league a season ago.
The Colts Are Happy To Finally Have Andrew Luck Back
The Indianapolis Colts had a miserable 2017 as they went just 4-12 on the year. The Colts went from 8th in the league in scoring in 2016 to 3oth last year. The reason was that quarterback Andrew Luck missed the entire season. He is back this year but must remain healthy as the Colts were also 24th in the league in scoring back in 2015, when he played just seven games. The problem for him this year is that he doesn’t have the weapons that he had in 2016, especially since Donte Moncrief departed in the offseason. The did grab a couple of receivers late in the draft and added Ryan Grant through free agency, but the unit is down overall from 2016. The one thing they did right was to take a couple of offensive linemen in two of their first three picks as they do need to protect Luck, who is injury prone. The offense won’t be as good as 2016’s version, but it should be much improved over last year. As long as Luck stays off the shelf.
Can the Colts stop the run? That is an important question. The Ponies have finished 25th or lower against the run in their last four seasons and they hope to have solved that problem by taking a linebacker and two linemen in three of their first five picks overall. They also added lineman Denico Autry and linebacker Najee Goode through free agency. With the offense being better and not putting the defense in bad positions, along with the upgrades, this unit should be a very solid unit this year. The defense will be much stronger overall, after ranking 30th in the league in points allowed a season ago.
The Defense Shall Lead The Jags Again
The Jacksonville Jaguars went just 3-13 in 2016 but turned it around last year to win the division with a 10-6 mark. They were top five in both scoring and points allowed and could be just as strong on both sides of the ball this year. They did lose a pair of wide receivers in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, who both have posted 1000 yard receiving years in the past. Still, they have Keelan Cole, who led them in receiving last year and Marquise Lee, who was second. The Cats have also added Donte Moncrief and DJ Clark, who they took in the 2nd round of the draft. If Bortles continues to grow, then this offense should be just fine once again. They do have a hole at tight end with the loss of Mercedes Lewis, but they hope to have filled the void by bringing in Austin Seferian-Jenkins from the Jets. The Jags may not top last year’s 26.1 ppg and 366 ypg they put up, but it is still a Top-10 offense.
The defense is where this team’s bread is buttered after finishing 2nd in the league in both points and yards allowed in 2017. The Jags did lose LB Patrick Posluszny and DB Aaron Colvin, but they brought in defensive backs DJ Hayden and Cody Davis through free agency. They also grabbed defensive lineman Taven Bryan with their first pick in the draft and DB Ronnie Harrison in the 3rd round. This defense has a good shot at finishing in the top three once again.
The Titans Could Have Best Offense In Years
The Tennessee Titans made to the postseason for the first time in nine years a season ago, and they also won their first playoff game in 14 years. Mike Mularkey is now gone and in steps Mike Vrabel who has been tasked with taking them to the next level. The Titans have run a rather vanilla offense, but they could be a thing of the past. They let DeMarco Murray go in the offseason and should focus more on a passing game that will be led by Marcus Mariota. The former Oregon Duck was not great last year as he threw for 3232 yards with 13 TDs and 15 INTs, after recording 26 TDs and only nine picks the year before. He has plenty of weapons, including Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and Eric Decker. The Titans brought in running back Dion Lewis and added some depth to their offensive line with a couple of free agent signings. They have not finished higher than 14th in the league in scoring since 2003. That could change this year.
Tennessee was 17th in the league in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed, and it was their defense that got them to the playoffs. The defense should be a solid unit once again, especially with the addition of defensive back Malcolm Butler., who has eight career INTs. He should greatly help a defense that was 25th against the pass last year. They also nabbed linebacker Rashaan Evans with their first pick in the draft and defensive lineman Haroki Landry with their second pick. They were 4th against the run and will an improved pass defense, they have a shot at being a top 10 defense overall this year.
Current Odds to Win the Division and Projected Order:
1st Jacksonville +185
2nd Houston +180
3rd Tennessee +350
4th Indianapolis +550
Win Total Predictions
Jacksonville: Over 9 (-145) – The Jags had an amazing turnaround last year, finishing with a Top-10 offense and a Top-5 defense. They look to be even better this season and should be primed to bring home their second division crown in as many years.
Houston: Over 8.5 (-120) - Look for improvements on both sides of the ball, and that will put them in the mix for a postseason berth, and a division title. As long as their key players remain healthy, they should easily exceed 8.5 wins.
Tennessee: Under 8 (-120) - Tennessee does have to go through new coaching scheme, but they could have a Top 10 offense and defense, and if that happens, it puts them in the mix for a division title in the South. The feeling here is too many things have to go right. Add improved teams throughout the division, and we think the Titans don't reach the .500 mark.
Indianapolis: Under 7 (+140) - The Colts have a lot of ground to make up, and while Luck is back, the supporting cast isn’t. Still, it will be better than last year and so will the defense, which should have Indy flirting with a .500 record this year. But too many positions neglected for too long spells another long season in Indy. We don't think they record six wins in 2018.