2017 NFL Preview: AFC South

afc-southThings have not been going very well in the AFC South as the division has struggled for a number of years.

It isn’t that there are all bad teams in the group, although many have had their moments at the bottom of the league.

Instead, the South has just become a division full of teams that can’t seem to put everything together when they need to put everything together.

They have all struggled to find quarterbacks at one time or another but that is the least of their problems.

Everybody knows that this era of NFL football requires a quarterback that can change the game and put the team on his shoulders.

The problem for many teams is that they go out to get that quarterback and hope that it will fix everything.

That has never been the case as there are great quarterbacks who can lead a team and seemingly do things all by themselves.

The reality is that every quarterback in the league needs help and even if that help isn’t a superstar they simply need someone that can help them carry the load.

Whether that comes in the form of a great running back that can provide balance and open up the passing game or a good receiver that can be his go to, the QB needs someone else.

The AFC South has fallen into an issue that many teams have fallen into as they go out to get the quarterback and struggle to build anything around him.

The Indianapolis Colts were the last team with a truly great quarterback in this division as Peyton Manning ruled the division for years.

He even had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to throw to while he was with the Colts providing him with two very reliable receivers to work with.

Now the Colts remain the team with the most proven quarterback in the division as Andrew Luck is the top pivot in the South.

Without much of a team around him, he has struggled though as he has been sacked far too much.

He struggled to stay on the field and has no time to make the decisions that make him a great quarterback.

The Colts have not been able to build much around him and so he still struggles despite being a potentially great QB in the league.

In Jacksonville, they thought they had the answer when they drafted Blake Bortles to take over the team.football-sidebar

Without a lot of reliable receivers that can play consistently though he has lost a lot of his confidence.

Not to mention the lack of a running game since Maurice Jones-Drew left the team a few years ago.

He has the talent to be great but some wonder if his time has passed and his confidence is too shook to be great.

For the Tennessee Titans, the solution seemed to come a couple of years ago when they took Marcus Mariota.

He was supposed to be the solution to all of their problems but like Jacksonville and Indianapolis, the Titans struggled to find the players to compliment him, although things are looking up.

The Texans are the only team that have taken the opposite approach in the division as they have a lot of talent at the quarterback position.

Their issue has been trying to find that quarterback to compliment all of the talent that is on the team.

They tried to find him in Brock Osweiler but it turned out to be a massive waste of money.

Now the AFC South heads into another season hoping that they can find the solutions to their issues and become a competitive group.

There are a lot of questions for every team though and being competitive is not going to be an easy thing.

The need for these teams to find all of the pieces is becoming dire as the South is quickly becoming one of the pushover divisions which is not a title that anyone wants.

houston_texans

Last year was a rough one for the Houston Texans’ brass as they made a big off-season decision that never really worked out. In an attempt to finally find a quarterback before the window closed for their great defence they went out and signed Brock Osweiler to a monster contract. It turned out that signing an unproven QB to a massive contract was not the best idea. Osweiler never worked out and throughout the year began to slowly hou-statslose grip on his starting job. Despite the struggles under centre, the Texans rode their league-leading defence to the playoffs and eventually took a loss to the New England Patriots that ended any hope of a serious run. The Texans are entering a new season somewhat free of their mistake after trading Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns getting rid of his massive contract. They also went out to get the future of the position when they drafted Deshaun Watson out of Clemson. For the 2016 season, they will let Watson learn and develop while Tom Savage takes over the reins of the offence. Despite his lack of experience as a starter, Savage has a good group around him that should make the transition a little easier. The biggest help comes in the passing game where DeAndre Hopkins has the talent to be among the best in the league and with a new contract should have plenty of motivation. Will Fuller and Braxton Miller will hope to develop into solid secondary options as well. Savage won’t have to do it all alone either as Lamar Miller is a 1,000-yard back in a system that prefers balance to airing things out. Miller might share some reps with third round pick D’Onta Foreman but Miller is still a feature back in this group. Where the strength really lies is on defence where one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position hopes to return to form after an injury shortened 2016. J.J. Watt is simply a game-changer as he can take over any game at any time. A healthy Watt should help Jadeveon Clowney as well giving the Texans a very tough attack up front. Whitney Mercilus adds to that attack from the second level while Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing are a strong pair in the middle. The team will miss A.J. Bouye in the secondary but Kevin Johnson should return after an injury ended his season early which should offset the gap left by Bouye. The Texans have the defence and the offensive talent and it is going to be hard to beat them for the division. The real question is whether or not Savage can be the quarterback that leads them deep into the playoffs or are they forced to be a really good team without that one key piece for another year?

indianapolis_colts

The Colts are in a seriously bad situation as they are coming out of years of making poor decisions with a lack of attempting to build around their star quarterback. Andrew Luck was a solution to a major issue as Peyton Manning was just about to leave and the Colts needed a QB. They got a great one in Luck but over the years failed to build anything around him and eventually, it caught up to them in the worst way. Their inability to add ind-statsany protection for Luck resulted in a serious injury for the QB, one that he played through for a long time until it was too much. Their .500 season was the last straw and so the Colts fired GM Ryan Grigson and brought in Chris Ballard. The damage was done though and now Ballard has a lot of work to do building a team that can compete with Luck at the helm. He has done a good job so far but the biggest challenge for the Colts is that Luck is still recovering from off-season surgery and nobody really knows how long he will be out. It seems clear that he will miss at least the first week if not longer meaning that Scott Tolzien will take over. The team has not put a time on his return leaving uncertainty at the position for the start of the season. It is going to be tough to get over the loss of Luck for however long he is gone but Tolzien hopes to take advantage of the skill he will have around him. That includes T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief who hope to provide him with the support he needs until Luck returns. Tolzien will also miss Dwayne Allen as the Colts traded him to give Jack Doyle a shot at starting but that reliable veteran is important for a new QB. In the backfield, Frank Gore was good last season but he isn’t getting any younger which might mean that Robert Turbin more chances to prove he can be the next man up. The defence needs a lot of improvement and the new regime looked to make things better, especially in pass rushing. The new regime looked to fix this as they added Jonathan Hankins to the middle of the line with hopes that he can be the anchor in a line that has struggled. At the second level new addition Jabaal Sheard will need to get into the backfield to increase the Colts’ ability to get to the QB and disrupt things. If they can the secondary led by Vontae Davis and with rookie Malik Hooker will have a little support, although Davis may miss some time with a preseason injury. The Colts are holding their breath to see the future of Luck and while they wait they begin building a team that can compete. It won’t compete this year though as they will miss the playoffs again.

jacksonville_jaguars

It has been a rough go for the Jaguars as they have struggled to be competitive since they entered the league as a part of the 1995 expansion. That year things looked good for the new team as they made the playoffs from 1996-1999 and were a true expansion success for the league. Then they started performing a lot more like an expansion team struggling to get back to the playoffs. Their latest attempt to get back to the playoffs jac-statsconsistently will be a look back to the old days when they were a consistent playoff team. They brought in the coach from those times, Tom Coughlin but this time he won’t be on the sidelines he will be in the executive suites. Coughlin was hired as the Executive VP of Football Operations giving him final say on all things football. The hope is that he can work his magic in the place that he made a contender by using his vast knowledge to change this team. He had an interesting first off-season as the Jaguars were one of the busiest teams in the market throughout the off-season. As many people as they have added they still will have some big questions to answer and one of them is in the most important position in the league. Blake Bortles has been good in his three years but he hasn’t been great and there are people wondering if he can be the leader under centre that the Jaguars need. He has help in the receiving corps as Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are all great receivers. The problem with all of them is that they are not consistent enough to get into a groove but if they can get there they can be dangerous. In the backfield, the Jags are hoping that they have finally found their Jones-Drew replacement in Leonard Fournette who has been one of the best running backs in the country since he was in high school and hopes to continue that into the pros. A lot of the work in the off-season was done on defence where there were already some promising signs. Yannick Ngakoue led the team in sacks last year with 8 proving to be a good pick up while Dante Fowler hopes to continue his development in his second year. The addition of Calais Campbell is a big one for the line as the veteran should help the young guns. At linebacker, Myles Jack will move to the middle while Paul Posluszny moves outside as he nears the end of his career. The addition of A.J. Bouye is another big move as Bouye will team up with Jalen Ramsey to make one of the best corner tandems in the league. The Jaguars are on the right path, especially on defence, but the lack of consistency on offence will be what keeps them out of the playoffs.

tennessee_titans

The Titans are coming out of the darkness that was trying to find a quarterback and then trying to build a good team around them. They have set the road map as things are looking bright for the team that went from last place to almost making the playoffs. A lot of that has to do with the development of Marcus Mariota as a legitimate starting quarterback. It isn’t all about him though as last year the Titans refocused on their ten-statsoffensive line and added a top-tier running back to help Mariota out and give him some relief. He doesn’t have to worry about getting hit like Luck and has the support in the backfield that a lot of other teams are looking for. Now they enter a big year though as the stage has been set and the Titans are expected to make the playoffs. Anything less would be a disappointment so the pressure is on Mariota and the rest of the team to make that legitimate run and get into the postseason. The Titans attempted to help Mariota out in the offseason as they went out and added a number of receivers to give him more options. Kendall Wright is gone but things never seemed to gel between the young QB and the receiver. Instead, Mariota will look to new additions Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews to help him out while the Titans wait on rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor to adjust to the NFL game as they are the future of the position in Tennessee. In the backfield, the Titans enjoyed the veteran presence of DeMarco Murray who utilized the great offensive line to run for over 1,200 yards. That type of support in the running game takes more pressure off of Mariota which is essential for a young QB trying to find confidence. Defensively there were a number of changes for the Titans as they entirely reworked a secondary that was among the worst in the league last year. They will lack some leadership without McCourty but the signing of Logan Ryan gives them a veteran that will help rookie Adoree’ Jackson develop in his first season. In the linebacking corps, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan proved to be the strength of the defence last year putting up great numbers, although the rest of the group lacks experience leaving a bit of a concern. On the line the group is not overly impressive but they do get the job done as Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones won’t light up the scoreboard but both can do work in the middle of the line. The Titans are moving in the right direction and if Mariota can stay on the field, he was hurt late in the season, the playoffs are a good possibility but beyond that is the question.

Prediction:
The AFC South has some promise but a lot of that is further in the future when some serious questions are answered for a few teams. For 2017 the same team will rise to the top as the Houston Texans are easily the best team. Their defence alone can carry them even if they struggle at quarterback and with the return of some key defensive players they should be the class of the division again. The Tennessee Titans will come up right behind them and although they won’t take the division title they will see the playoffs thanks to a healthy Mariota. Beyond them, the Jaguars and Colts have some serious questions that nobody will be able to answer until the season starts. The fact that the Colts are without their best player to start will sink them to the bottom while the Jags made some good additions that will at least put them into third place.

afcs-prediction

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 159 other followers

%d bloggers like this: