AFC South Season Preview

By The TFL Staff

What was once a division made fun of numerous times for lack of skill, now has the opportunity to break away as a top-dog competition between four teams who are trying to win the South! Spoiler alert, it’s not gonna be th

Offensive Player of the Year- Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

While there’s a whole lot of offensive talent within this division, there’s no reason Mariota shouldn’t end up as top dog.

Statistically, Mariota had a huge leap from rookie to sophomore year, just take a look:

Rookie year: 12 Games, 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 Ints, 62% Pass Completion

Sophomore year: 15 games, 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 Ints, 61% Pass Completion

This was all due in part, thanks to the team the titans crafted in recent years. But that’s not just it. The former heisman also has great footwork on the run with an arm that slings cannons. With draft pick Corey Davis and veteran Eric Decker joining the mix, it gives Mariota potential to take this Tennessee franchise to Minnesota this February.

One small concern that surrounds Mariota (and any all-star QB) is injury. While he’s only played two seasons he has not played a full year yet. Add to that the type of injuries he’s endured. An MCL sprain ended his rookie year, and a right fibula fracture ended his sophomore year. These injuries recoverable, but too much for Mariota, especially in the wrong places, could ruin his play-style. When your main man under center keeps having his seasons ended by surgeries and injuries, you are asking for the risks that come with it too. However, the power of the Titans offensive line, and the revamped offense with new weapons should allow Mariota to stay safe and excel.

Predictions: 32 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 4,100 yards, 450 rush yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, and some lovely gifts from Honolulu for the squad.

Defensive Player of the Year-

Rookie of the Year- Adoree’ Jackson, CB, Tennessee Titans

There is only so much a 5’10 corner back can do in this league. Jackson wont come in an impact his defense like a Marcus Peters has, but he will impact his team greatly.

Adoree’ was the true definition of an athlete during his time at USC. He played offense, defense, and special team, and he excelled at all three of those phases. In todays NFL it really isn’t about size too much, speed kills… excuse me, murders. And Jackson has plenty of speed. He ran a 4.42 at the combine, and his speed allowed him to have 15 total TDs in college. We see a lot of corners come into the NFL and have upside to be used on offense a la Patrick Peterson, but its not like Jackson is an elite cover corner like Peterson, so its worth throwing him out there a few times a game.

There is a certain value in playmaking ability from players on the defensive side of the field. He wont play offense like he did in college, but the Titans would be dumb not to give him a reverse or two every now and then to utilize his game breaking speed. That is what makes him my ROY over the likes of Leonard Fournette. I see his return ability capable enough to take the league by storm. You see a team like the Chiefs being a playoff team just from having an electric weapon that changed their return game, I expect Jackson to have the same impact Tyreek Hill had last year.

He cannot survive as an outside corner early in his NFL career. Going against Deandre Hopkins, TY Hilton, and Allen Robinson six times a year will stunt his development. Tennessee will most likely throw him in the slot and let him use his speed to cover the smaller receivers. The Titans defense is one of the most underrated units in the NFL, their backfield presence is for real and causes havoc. They totaled 40.0 sacks last year (tied sixth in the NFL), as a slot corner Adoree’ can sit back in his zone as just have a field day with errant throws. In a division with some weak o-lines and Blake Bortles, Jackson can capitalize on hurried throws sitting near the hashmarks.

Jackson wont be a great defensive corner year one, but his ball skills and speed aren’t things a lot of NFL corners possess. It helps the Titans are close to a 50-50 split between man and zone coverages last year, so Adoree’ can excel in zones like he did in college. He will have a few pass break ups and INTs, but his size and shaky tackle ability will keep him off the field enough to have enough juice to take punts to the crib, and maybe a few screens or reverses from Mariota.

Predictions: 25 total tackles, 3 INTs (one INT return TD), 4 passes defended, 4 return TDs, 7 total TDs.. maybe one Music City Miracle???

Team(s) playing in January:

Houston Texans 

It is hard not putting the Texans in as early favorites to not only make the playoffs, but win this division. However, this season is going to be different for the Texans, and not in a good way what so ever. You have to start out by evaluating the Quarterback position. Tom Savage for me isn’t a good enough starting QB, and while I love Deshaun Watson’s game it is hard for me to see him blossom the way the Texans will need him to. What stood out to me this offseason for the Texans was how much of an “all in” mentality they had. They traded away their first-round pick (to draft Deshaun Watson and their second-round pick to dump Brock Osweiler in 2018 to the Browns. If Houston craters, they could owe Cleveland a pair of top-40 picks.

But while it is easy to point out the negatives,  if Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson pulls through, this could be the start of a new lively chapter in Houston. They shouldn’t be a disaster, if only because Bill O’Brien teams usually outperform themselves. Tom Savage or Watson is an upgrade over Osweiler. Adding D’Onta Foreman gives the Texans good depth behind Lamar Miller, who was poorly used early last season. DeAndre Hopkins should bounce back. J.J. Watt is going to play again, Jadeveon Clowney should only improve and Whitney Mercilus remains underrated. Zach Cunningham was a fantastic second-round pick who could impact this defense. There’s reason to think the Texans can make a run here.

So after all of this you’re thinking, “well you’re right QB is an issue, but everything else is in check correct”. Well everything except their schedule. Opening with the Jaguars is nice, but games at Cincy and New England are followed by home games against the Titans and Chiefs. The Browns are a welcome respite before the Week 7 bye, but playing in Seattle coming out of the break isn’t easy. Four of the final six are on the road. This alone makes it hard for me to really love the Texans to take this division, in this season in particular.

Prediction: 9-7….Will play till the last game for the Division 


Teams tuning in on TV:

Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts will always be relevant in this division, even when they do not “play up to standards”. It has been a really solid offseason for new Colts GM Chris Ballard, who has done the polar opposite of Ryan Grigson, eschewing big names in order to build a quality roster. This defense isn’t going to magically be top-10 or anything, but Sean Spence, Johnathan Hankins and Margus Hunt are going to make this defense bigger and meaner. Malik Hooker can be Chuck Pagano’s Ed Reed, a ball-hawking safety with crazy range. If the offensive line can play well and Andrew Luck is healthy the offense will put up points; there are just too many weapons for the Colts not to produce points.

Yet something seems off. This number feels high for a team that has several easy wins on its schedule early — the Browns, Jaguars and 49ers at home before the Week 11 bye — but a ton of toss-up games too, including the Cardinals at home in Week 2 and a road combo against the Bengals and Texans in Week 8 and 9. Still i like them at a very solid record of 10-6 just because i believe they are still capable of running through this division. With all these new defensive pieces, i’m feeling very bold about this colts team.

Prediction: 9-7

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee titans boast one of the most exciting teams to watch for in 2017. Since the Colts have lost their throne as the AFC south Czar, the competition has been real in the division, giving the Titans a rocky road ahead to the playoffs.

On Offense, This is where the Titans get real. We already know what Mariota can do under center, but what makes the rest of this offense so magical? Let’s start with the line. The number one Pro Football Focus (PFF) offensive line contains a consistent starter in each category. Tackles Taylor Lewan (Left) and Jack Conklin (Right) dominate the line and prevent pressure from the edge constantly. Guards Quinton Spain (Left) and Josh Kline (Right) rank a little lower than the rest but you never hear anything bad about them when it comes to protecting their QB. Center Ben Jones, who was considered a top prospect in the 2012 draft, and was one of three centers drafted that year (only one left) is making scouts salty they did not select him.

So who’s going through that line? If it’s not defense its one of the Titans 1-2 punch running-backs. Demarco Murray will return after a successful first year in Tennessee. Although Murray is 29, and nearing the big THREE O, 23 year old Derrick Henry proved last year he can pick up the pieces after Murray’s departure. Titans are gonna be playing a lot of power football this year, and that line with powerful backs will not be silenced.

If you’re a Titans fan, you’re gonna love the receiver battle this season. Expect Rishard Matthew to keep a number one role (or at least starting role) as WR. However, his production may drop only because the Titans brought in so much talent this offseason. Eric Decker will solidify his spot as the number two receiver and touchdown guy. Rookie receiver Corey Davis will see reps all throughout the year in different spots to find his place in Tennessee. Eric Weems from Atlanta, if not cut, could become a special teams threat with his speed and ball skills. And the addition of Harry Douglas as well as second year Titan Tajae Sharpe will complement an already tough looking receiving corps.

On defense, the Titans look a little spotty, but it could be worse…

One thing that can be said is that the front seven is underrated. two-time pro-bowler DE Jurell Casey, along with the help of OLBs Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, provide enough for the Titans to get past the edge. According to PFF, ILB Avery Williamson was the number one run-stopping LB in the league last year, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll slow down. The Titans ranked third in stopping the run in 2016, and the addition of NT Sylvester Williams from Denver should help add some depth to a strong front.

In terms of secondary, the Titans did some upgrading. First-round pick Adoree Jackson could explode as a slot corner and turn into an INT machine. Additions of CB Logan Ryan and SS Johnathan Cyprien will definitely help a secondary that ranked 25th last year according to PFF. 2-time Super Bowl Champ Logan Ryan led CBs in the league in tackles with a career high of 92 last year, and Johnothan Cyprien was ranked as one of the best safeties in 2016 when it comes to stopping the run. The departure of cornerback Jason McCourty leaves a big void for the Titans to fill. Brice McCain is 30 and is losing touch as a CB. Leshaun Sims was forced in last year due to injuries in the secondary and played poorly throughout the season. That leaves Kalan Reed, who had one tackle last year… one tackle. It’s this depth issue right here, that could leave Titans players on their sofas come January. If Ryan or Jackson were to sustain an injury, the “next man up” phrase won’t be said with full confidence in Nashville.

Prediction: 8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars

Print the t-shirts, hang the banners, and start the dynasty talk, the Jaguars are now back-to-back offseason champs. It was yet another great spring in Jacksonville. The roster on paper looks better than last year after we all though the Jags were going to blow up. With former Jags coach Tom Coughlin now in the front office, Jacksonville can finally have that break out year.

Additions this offseason include AJ Bouye, Barry Church, and Leonard Fournette, via the draft. Now this team is loaded with talent. They took a Giants approach of sorts by unloading almost every dime they have for the defense and building the offense through the draft. Now we are looking at an elite defense, and an offense with scary upside.

Last season their defense finished 6th in the league in overall ranks, thats hard to do and go 3-13, like extremely hard. But they somehow managed to do that. If you throw in Bouye, Church, and savvy vet Calais Campbell to the mix, why can’t that defense be in the top-5 this year? It is hard for me to find that answer. After only giving up 215 passing yds/game last season, an upgrade to the secondary is only going to help, And Campbell is a big DE that is well rounded and will help Jacksonville finally stop the run. The defense should show a ton of improvement from last year, and if their offense can help them out just a tiny bit more than last year, were talking 3-4 more win like that.

Speaking of the offense… Blake Bortles gives me headaches. Two seasons ago Bortles was balling and carrying fantasy teams to championship glory, thanks Blake! But last season was a let down to say the least. He did throw for nearly 4000 yards, but only had a 3.7% TD rate on his throws, in comparison to the 5.8% TD rate in the 2015 season. How good this offense can be will depend on their QB play. Its not like its hard for him to be good. If Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas were most NFL QBs weapon, more times then not that team is playing in January. Thomas was shipped to Miami this offseason, so Robinson and Hurns have to keep up their fast starts to their career.

But we can slowy shift away from the misery of Bortles throwing 600+ times in a season. With their 4th overall selection the Jags snagged Leonard Fournette. We all thought the running back position was halfway down its grave but now we have back-to-back years of a RB selected in the top five. Jacksonville is banking on Fournette to have a Zeke-like impact year one. I think that could happen, but it is highly unlikely. The o-line in Jacksonville is in an awkward spot. They thought they had their LT after sending Thomas to Miami for Brandon Albert, but he just retired out of nowhere so that sucks. So now a tackle spot is open for either rookie Cam Robinson or Earl Watford most likely, and neither of them are options you can throw out as a starting LT week one. Fournette will get a huge amount of carries as new HC Doug Marrone tries to fix this offense, but with the combination of Bortles looking bad in camp, and some line questions, there will be growing pains.

Marrone coached the final two games last season after Bradley was let go and Jacksonville had their two best games under him. So I think this offense will be strides better than last year. The biggest storyline for me however is, how much Tom Coughlin can help build some culture in Northern Florida. If he can toughen up the Jags and show them how a real football team carries themselves, we can finally see the on-field product their fans have been waiting for. But Blake Bortles just looks awful. He was bad last year and hasn’t show any improvement through OTAs and the start of camp. If he can’t figure it out the Jags have no shot at the playoffs. START THE CHAD HENNE CHANTS!

Prediction: 7-9 and one ugly color rush uniform


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