Jacksonville Jaguars – 1st in the AFC South
Last Season Record: (10-6)
Key Additions: D.J. Chark, Donte Moncrief, Andrew Norwell, and Taven Bryan. The Jags had, what was quite possibly, the best defense in the league last season and managed to keep their key players going into next season with new pieces on offense. D.J. Chark is an explosive 6’3” receiver coming out of LSU and he will be joined by the newly acquired Donte Moncrief as new weapons for Blake Bortles to try to find his rhythm with. The Jags were able to strengthen their offensive line and attract free agent Andrew Norwell who is coming off his first-team All Pro season with the Panthers. Taven Bryan was Jacksonville’s first round draft pick this year and is likely to see some minutes at defensive tackle.
Key Losses: Chris Ivory, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Paul Posluszny. The loss of Chris Ivory means a heavier workload for Fournette and Yeldon, with any future injury likely leaving Corey Grant as the backup running back. This does not bode well for a team that was very hesitant to let Bortles see a lot of action last season. Losing the two Allens at receiver will be hard to overcome, but the combination of Chark and Moncrief has potential. Losing a veteran like Posluszny means someone else will have to step up in the locker room and help lead this team that was just one win away from a Super Bowl appearance last season.
Prediction: (13-3) In my opinion, the Jags will have the best defense in the league next season. Combine that with another offseason of training for Blake Bortles to get his act together while Fournette improves his game and you’ve got something special going on. A schedule with very few significant challenges will pave the way for an extremely successful regular season in Jacksonville. For example, their toughest wins will be against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Texans in Houston, and the Cowboys in Dallas. Other than those games, the only competition capable of overcoming the Jags defense is New England, Philadelphia, and the Texans in Houston.
Houston Texans – 2nd in the AFC South
Last Season Record: (4-12)
Key Additions: Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemente, Seantrel Hederson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Aaron Colvin. The Texans are fully invested in Deshaun Watson. They acquired three new offensive linemen during free agency that are all between the ages of 26-28, showing a desire for a balance of youth and experience. Along with Watt and Clowney on defense, the Texans will now have a motivated Tyrann Mathieu that is looking to impress other teams before his contract expires in 2019. Aaron Colvin at corner is also a solid addition, having played with and learned from some talented guys down in Jacksonville. Not to mention the team will hope to have Watson back for more than a handful of games this coming year.
Key Losses: Brian Cushing, Marcus Gilchrist, Chris Clark, and Breno Giacomini. It will be tough for the Texans to overcome the loss of leadership that comes with over half of your starting offensive linemen becoming free agents, but the front office has brought some talent in to help overcome this obstacle. It will be interesting to see how this change plays out over the season and to see how much of a priority the coaching staff has made protecting their quarterback. Other than the aforementioned losses, the Texans didn’t really lose anyone too significant. They look poised to have a successful year with a very high ceiling.
Prediction: (11-5) With Watson and Watt returning to the field this season, the Texans are in an incredibly optimistic position. Last season, Houston went 3-3 in games that Watson started at quarterback and 1-9 in the other ten games. Watson finished the season with a QBR of 81.5 after facing experienced teams like New England, Seattle, and Kansas City. To put that into perspective, ESPN invented the QBR rating system and their definition of the scaling is “and average QB will have a QBR around 50 and a Pro Bowl-level player will have a QBR around 75”. The Texans are going to have a great year with impressive wins over the Jags, Cowboys, and Redskins. However, they aren’t invincible and should be expected to lose to the Eagles, Pats, and Broncos all on the road.
Tennessee Titans – 3rd in the AFC South
Last Season Record: (9-7)
Key Additions: Dion Lewis, Kevin Pamphile, Bennie Logan, Rashaan Evans, and Malcolm Butler. The addition of Dion Lewis to compliment Derrick Henry and play a role in the receiving game will add a dimension to Tennessee’s offense. Pamphile will be a boost to the offensive line under their new offensive coordinator. Bennie Logan is likely to be the new starting nose tackle over Austin Johnson and Rashaan Evans, the first-round draft pick out of Alabama, is also likely to start early in the season. Malcolm Butler is coming off his recent Super Bowl drama and odds are he is looking to redeem himself and prove any doubters what a huge mistake the Patriots made by benching him in the big game.
Key Losses: Demarco Murray, Avery Williamson, Eric Decker, and Karl Klug. Demarco Murray played a significant role in the Tennessee offense last season and his veteran leadership will definitely be missed. Avery Williamson’s departure to the Jets means that the Titans will have to heavily rely on the rookie Rashaan Evans to step up at linebacker. Eric Decker was the one shining beam of hope still remaining as far as Tennessee wide receivers go and Mariota is sure to be unhappy with him being gone. Karl Klug’s absence on the defensive line will mean that unproven David King is likely to see minutes at some point this year and that could prove to be troubling for the seventh-round pick from two years ago.
Prediction: (8-8) A new offensive coordinator and head coach means a lot of change coming in a very short amount of time for Tennessee. That can go one of two ways. One way is that the changes will help improve areas of weakness and the Titans have a great season. The other way—and the far more likely way, in my opinion—is that they try to change too much too fast and have a lackluster season full of struggles. The Titans have a tough schedule and will most likely finish middle of the pack. Expect wins against weaker teams like the Jets, Giants, Dolphins, and Bills, but losses in the many tough games, such as Houston, Philadelphia, New England, and Jacksonville twice.
Indianapolis Colts – 4th in the AFC South
Last Season Record: (4-12)
Key Additions: Ryan Grant, Eric Ebron, Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, Austin Howard, Denco Autry, and Najee Goode. The Colts had a very busy offseason. They’ve done almost everything possible to give Andrew Luck talent around himand fill out the rest of the roster. Ryan Grant and Eric Ebron will act as options other than just T.Y. Hilton by himself. Nelson, Smith, and Howard will all be new starters on the offensive line to protect Andrew Luck. Denico Autry is expected to be the new starting defensive end and Najee Goode is looking like a solid option at linebacker.
Key Losses: Donte Moncrief, Frank Gore, Rashaan Melvin, and Johnathan Hankins. Moncrief and Gore are two huge losses for the Indianapolis offense and that adds unnecessary stress to an already complicated situation involving Andrew Luck. Rashaan Melvin’s leaving means that youngsters Quincy Wilson and Kenny Moore will have to step up and prove themselves at cornerback. Johnathan Hankins is also gone and he was one of the best defensive linemen on the team.
Prediction: (6-10) The success of the Colts in the upcoming season completely hinges on what version of Andrew Luck we see. He is overcoming a shoulder injury unlike anything I believe I’ve seen in recent NFL history. Unfortunately, I think Luck’s missed too much time and been away from the action for too long to have a productive year. An 0-5 start shouldn’t be surprising as Luck gets back in the swing of things. From that point on, wins against average and subpar teams like the Jets, Giants, and Dolphins shouldn’t be surprising. Losses against Jacksonville twice, Houston, and the Cowboys seem unavoidable.