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2014 NFL Division Preview: AFC South

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Unlike their NFC counterpart, the AFC South is not as unpredictable as recent history has had two teams, the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning and the Houston Texans with Matt Schaub battle for division supremacy.

With both Manning and Schaub now in the same division again—this time in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders respectively—the Colts and Texans stand to once again vie for division bragging rights thanks to Andrew Luck and J.J. Watt

The two best players in the division, both Luck and Watt couldn’t be more diametrically opposed as one is regarded as the best young quarterback in the NFL and the other—fresh after inking a six-year, $100 million contract, with $51.8 million guaranteed—in Watt, both standouts are leaders of teams that are built in different ways on offense and defense.

While Jacksonville and Tennessee both have talent on their respective rosters, both are not in the same league as Indianapolis and Houston.

Without further ado, here are my predictions

4th place: Tennessee Titans (5-11)

Forgive this writer for saying that there is no Steve McNair(may he rest in peace),Chris Johnson, Jevon Kearse or Ken Dyson coming thru that door for Tennessee as the Titans under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt look to be in rebuilding mode.

Lacking the type of talent that Indianapolis has on offense and Jacksonville and Houston have on defense, the Titans are like the little brother of the AFC South.

While Jake Locker has shown flashes of potential, he has never been able to put it together for an extended period of time, and with the Titans selecting former LSU gunslinger, Zach Mettenberger, Locker could be on a short leash in Knoxville.

While selecting former Washington running back, Bishop Sankey, signing Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington via free agency may help the Titans running game, but wide receivers Nate Washington and Kendall Wright are not enough to take them to the next level, plus the loss of Kenny Britt to the St Louis Rams will hurt them on third down.

On defense, there is talent in the form of Jason McCourty, Michael Griffin and Derrick Morgan, but again, not enough to challenge the likes of Indianapolis and Houston.

3rd place: Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)

Call this going out on a limb, but thanks to second-year general manager, David Caldwell, the Jacksonville Jaguars are quietly becoming the Seattle Seahawks of the South.

Think about it, they have their former defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley who runs the same 4-3, former defensive ends, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, the Jaguars could be a sleeper to keep an eye on in the AFC South.  They may not be able to go toe-to-toe with Indianapolis offensively, they have the personnel and talent to hang with anyone in the league.

On offense, they have a capable caretaker at quarterback in Chad Henne, who has experience and weapons on the outside in second-round picks Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson, current No.1 wide out Cecil Shorts III and tight end Mercedes Lewis.

Free agent acquisition Toby Gerhart is the new feature back in Jacksonville, filling the shoes of long-time franchise back, Maurice Jones-Drew and second-year scatback Denard Robinson.

Then of course, there is Blake Bortles.

The first quarterback taken third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, Bortles is set to become the franchise quarterback of the future for the Jags, who made the wise choice in letting Henne start and allow the former Central Florida standout to watch and learn from the sidelines.

While Bortles is not ready now, he will be soon, and so will Jacksonville to become a threat to both Indianapolis and Houston in the very near future.

2nd place: Houston Texans (8-8)

A bit of a stretch here, but in inking Watt and drafting Jadeveon Clowney number one overall out of South Carolina, the Texans are loaded on defense and built to chase down Luck and the Colts.

Under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien and veteran defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel—who worked together in New England—the Texans have on paper a potentially stout defense headlined by Clowney and Watt, but also has Brian Cushing, Jared Crick, Brooks Reed, Johnathan Joseph and first-round pick Louis Nix III designed specifically to pressure and contain Luck and the speedy and quick Colts.

With hard-hitting safety D.J. Swearinger able to come into the box, Houston could prove difficult to both run and pass against in 2014.

On offense, the Texans still have All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson and Pro Bowl running back Arien Foster to lead Houston’s attack. The question is, who will be running it?

While former Pitt Panthers quarterback Tom Savage is seen as a developmental project, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely be on a short leash due to the recent trade landing former New England Patriots backup, Ryan Mallett—whom O’Brien has been rumored to covet since first being named Texans head coach.

Due to Mallett’s familiarity of O’Brien’s system while in new England, it will be a matter of when—not if—he takes over s the starting quarterback in Houston.

1st place: Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

A trendy pick to go deep in the playoffs—and possibly to Super Bowl XLIX—the Indianapolis Colts are loaded on offense and  talented on defense.  In Indianapolis, it all begins and ends with Andrew Luck, the cerebral third-year quarterback out of Stanford and the successor to Peyton Manning.

After losing Darius Heyward-Bey to free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Colts landed former New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks and draft former Ole Miss wideout Donte Moncrief to add to an impressive stable of wideouts in Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. In addition to having former first-round pick in running back Trent Richardson and capable tight ends in Dwyane Allen and Cody Fleener, the Colts are set to once again rule the AFC South.

On defense, the Colts have talent in the form of Arthur Jones, Cory Redding, Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner and longtime Cleveland Browns middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson via free agency to help boost an otherwise average defensive line and linebacker core.

In the secondary, the Colts have also upgraded in the form of Mike Adams and LaRon Landry.

If the Colts defense is able to play to the very best, and the offense plays at it’s true potential, there is no team that would would to see the Colts in January.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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