Hot take alert! Hot take alert!
Well, lukewarm or room temperature take alert. The AFC South, for years was dominated by Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. But once Manning left for the Denver Broncos, the division was left in flux. It has bounced back and forth between the Colts and the Houston Texans.
The Texans won it most recently, and all four teams have a legitimate claim to the throne. The Texans have an elite defense, the Jacksonville Jaguars (on paper) have the best team, the Colts have Andrew Luck.
Then there is the Tennessee Titans who were just one bad game against the Jaguars away from a division title. They should have won the division last season, and this season they will. Here’s why.
Colts’ Woes Continue
The Colts are somehow worse off than when Andrew Luck took over the team in 2012. They have no offensive line to protect Luck, and his injuries of late are proof of that notion. Outside of T.Y. Hilton, who I think is the most undervalued receiver in the game, no receiver has given Luck consistent help.
Some examples would be Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (yes, I know those are tight ends), Donte Moncrief, and Philip Dorsett. Moncrief and Dorsett are still on the team but leave a lot to be desired as young players.
The offensive line, as mentioned already, is patchwork at best and sadly the defense is in worse shape. There are no stars on the defense, Malik Hooker has All-Pro potential as the Colts 2017 first round pick but everyone else should be stop gaps, save for Vontae Davis and Quincy Wilson, for a defense that will be giving up touchdowns at ease once again this season.
The team is being held together by Andrew Luck, who is being wasted, and he hasn’t even thrown a football in months as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The house that Peyton built continues to fall apart in his absence.
Bortles Holds Back Jags
I love Blake Bortles, he has all the tools to be a great quarterback. He just has yet to put it all together.
His up-and-down play affected the team in the worst way. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns had bad years, and the offense was abysmal for most of the 2016 season. Now Tom Coughlin seems to be taking the ball out of Bortles’ hands and giving the team a more physical tone.
Leonard Fournette was drafted this year to give the team a downhill back and take pressure off Bortles. They have a sneaky good defense so if Fournette and new Head Coach Doug Marrone can stabilize the offense this team can go 10-6.
After how much Bortles regressed in 2016 though I do not see him magically regaining his form, cutting down on interceptions, and finally being a franchise quarterback. Bortles keeps the Jags a few years away from being real contenders.
Houston, We Have A (Quarterback) Problem
The Texans found out the hard way that betting on a quarterback who had a few good games never works out. Brock Osweiler failed in Houston and joins the likes of Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn, and Charlie Whitehurst as quarterbacks who were all hype and no results.
Now the Texans head into the 2017 season sans Osweiler’s awful contract, and hope rookie Deshaun Watson or Tom Savage can take the reins with some form of success. Savage has been a player to watch for some time, and he never put it together due to injuries. It looks like this is Watson’s team, it is when he takes over this season not if he will.
Whoever will be under center come week one will have plenty of weapons. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller III, and Lamar Miller are enough firepower to make sure that the offense will succeed if the quarterback can play okay.
Osweiler showed us just how bad this offense can look with bad quarterback play, and I do think that Watson/Savage will be an improvement but not enough to get over the 9-7 hump.
Remember the Titans
I am sorry for the cliché Titans joke, but Mariota is hard to fit into a pun.
Let’s just move on and talk about how these Titans are in a perfect position to take the AFC South crown. First, they fixed the wide receiver problem in the draft. Since Mariota came into the league in 2014 he never had a true No.1 receiver.
Now he has one in rookie Corey Davis, who will be a big-time playmaker for the offense. Rarely do receivers come into the league and immediately make an impact. Luckily the Titans have one of the most dynamic backfields featuring Derrick Henry and Demarco Murray.
Side Note: Demarco Murray for a fourth-round pick swap was one of the best trades of this decade.
But I digress, the Titans can bring Davis along slowly if need be and ride Murray and Henry. Mariota will be coming back from injury, so odds are the running game will be heavily featured in the first month.
The defense was a sore spot for the Titans last season but they brought in Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson from the New England Patriots and the draft, respectively. Ryan is a great all-around corner, he can cover and tackle well. Jackson brings speed and athleticism and will be a plug and play starter.
Five of Tennessee’s seven losses were by one score, and the small tweaks they made to the roster will be enough to give them the AFC South crown.
Tennessee Titans- 11-5
Houston Texans- 9-7
Jacksonville Jaguars- 7-9
Indianapolis Colts- 7-9