When the question is asked ‘What is the best/toughest division in the NFL?’, generally the answer is ‘AFC North’ (with a few NFC West fans thrown in). However, when the opposite question is asked, the answer is almost unanimous, every single time. The AFC South. So I’m going to do my best to predict each team’s future, but don’t quote me, because this division is a free-for-all at the bottom of the NFL ladder.
Down on their Luck – The Indianapolis Colts
Where can you have a bad season (in comparison to your others), get injured, play only part of the season, and then get a $140M with $87M guaranteed? Indianapolis.
A year ago, with the flurry of off-season signings and a good draft class, I would have said that the Colts’ front office was finally moving to the big kids’ table. Then 2015 happened, the Colts went 8-8, even with all the talent on their roster, and they lost the division title that they have grown so accustomed to, to the Texans. Yes. Houston. Since then, they have been quiet for the most part, having a decent-but-not-good draft, and signing the above-mentioned massive contract, making him the highest paid QB – excuse me, PLAYER – in NFL history. The man hasn’t even won a ring yet.
Anyway, on to 2016. We will assume that the players signed last year have gained some synchronicity, and Luck is 100%. They have a bye week later in the year, week 10, and play the AFC West, which actually might have more than one contender for once. Both detrimental. Their rankings from last year don’t impress either. Offensive? PPG – 23rd. Pass Yds – 22nd. Rush Yds – 30th. TOs – 28th. Here’s the defensive. PPG – 25th. Pass Yds – 25th. Rush Yds – 22nd. TOs – 14th. Those numbers don’t lead me to believe that they will be a great, or even good, team in 2016. I have them at 5-4 going into the bye week, and then only winning 4 of the last games. They end at 9-7, but engage in battle for the division title throughout the year. (More on that later.)
A Titan in the Making – The Tennessee Titans
Okay, so this one is a BOLD prediction, and I’m probably going to eat crow (hidden Ravens joke for extra points) after the end of the season. However. Follow along. They have a bye week at the end of the season, so any injured players can heal, and any uninjured players can rest. They face an inherently weak division, as they do every year, and then they face the AFC West, which could go either way, like I said. While that is detrimental in the Colts’ case, I think it is a good thing here.
Marcus Mariota had an ‘okay’ rookie campaign, even given the horrible record they finished with. The secondary was far worse, missing key grabs and stops in the red zone. The offensive line was one of the worst in recent memory. Their offensive rankings are what you would expect from a 3-13 team, but their defense isn’t all that terrible. Offensive: PPG – 28th. Pass Yds -26th. Rush Yds – 17th. TOs – 31st. Defensive: PPG – 27th. Pass Yds – 7th. Rush Yds – 8th. TOs – 26th. The offense needs to step WAY up, especially Mariota’s decision making ability. You can’t get ahead if you’re giving the other team the ball the entire game. The defense takes a couple steps forward, in the endzone, and the secondary in general. I think they split with all 3 division rivals, and win 3 out of 4 in the West. Call them at 8-8.
No Longer Pussycats – The Jacksonville Jaguars
It pains me, as a Ravens fan, to talk nice about the Jaguars, given that we lost a game to them last year on a referee’s bad call (shocker, right?). But here we are. And I have some nice things to say about the 5-11 squad. But we will start with their rankings. Offensive: PPG – 14th. Pass Yds – 10th. Rush Yds – 15th. TOs – 23rd. Defensive: PPG – 31st. Pass Yds – 29th. Rush Yds – 5th. TOs – 27th. So the offense was spectacularly mediocre (Blake did throw for 4,400 yards, and 35 TDs against 18 INTs, for what it’s worth), but the secondary was terrible. Stopping the run didn’t seem to be an issue, but a halfway decent QB could wreak havoc through the air.
2016 will be different for the offense, as well as the pass defense. Bortles has some new weaponry, and in OTAs, he looks much improved over his 2015 campaign. Julius Thomas looks close to unstoppable (hard to judge when you’re playing against your own guys, to be fair), while Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both look like they will cause matchup problems for a variety of defenders. Bortles has a bit of a run game to help him out, in T.J. Yeldon, but let’s not put too much faith in that until they find a solid No. 2 option. On defense, they added Jalen Ramsey, and made some other, less meaningful moves, so their secondary should be able to provide the adequate front 7 with some help. Jacksonville has a tough start to their schedule, and it doesn’t get easier in December, where they face back-to-back-to-back 2015 playoff teams, but I figure them for 9-7, and a battle for the title.
Turn Down for Watt – The Houston Texans
J.J. Watt fans and Texans fans alike aren’t going to like what I have to say. But hey, that’s why I write. My opinion differs from the homers. First, let’s talk about the fact that there’s two teams in one division that wildly overpaid an undeserving quarterback. We’ve already discussed Luck. That actually makes an odd sort of sense, if you look at it with your head tilted and your eyes squinting. But Brock Osweiler at $72M, with $37M of that guaranteed? Why, because he was decent with a team that had a killer defense, so he didn’t have to do much? Somebody draft me. I’ll be somewhere in between Johnny Manziel and Brock. Easy money. Anyway. Here’s the rankings for Dem Boyz.. oh wait, that’s the OTHER team in Texas. Offensive: PPG – 22nd. Pass Yds – 18th. Rush Yds – 29th. TOs – 12th. Defensive: PPG – 8th. Pass Yds – 3rd. Rush Yds – 17th. TOs – 12th. All in all, not too bad for a team that finished 9-7, and then got positively demolished by Kansas City in the Wild Card (30-0).
The WR trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts, and Jaelen Strong will not disappoint. Braxton Miller will make an impact as well. J.J. Watt continues to lead the#3 overall defense from 2015, but he himself takes a step backwards. A week 9 bye comes just in time, and gives both injured and uninjured players time to rest. They start the season strong, but finish weak, ending at 9-7 again, and fighting to retain the AFC South title for the second year in a row.
Credit: Michael Telford, Original article on NFL Chalk Talk