Wednesday 13 December 2017 / 04:54 AM

SEASON PREVIEW: AFC SOUTH

Our 2016-17 NFL Preview will highlight each division in the NFL, with an in-depth look at each team as we head into training camp and preseason football. We’ll give predictions and summaries of a season. We’ll also push out our first Power Rankings, as well as an early MVP preview and prediction. Our next look is of the AFC South, an underperforming division in 2015 that will look to improve with some much needed added talent. Here are the predictions, in order of projected finish:

 

  1. Houston Texans

Offense:  Well, there’s certainly an experiment going on in Houston. The Texans lured Brock Osweiler away from the defending champion Denver Broncos in a move that stunned in the offseason. We’re now four months removed, and now it’s time to put the theory to test. Osweiler looks the part, but has some issues, as he was benched for Peyton Manning last season, who struggled himself. But Osweiler will be aided by one of the best young receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins, and also some upgrades with Will Fuller and Braxton Miller to provide some youth and speed opposite Hopkins. The running game also got a massive upgrade in Lamar Miller, a great runner in addition to a solid pass catcher out of the backfield. The offensive line has to get better, but Osweiler has all the tools around him to succeed.

Defense:  The Texans defense was talented last season, but looks to be preparing to take a step back after getting a year older and not adding much to help themselves. Vince Wilfork is great against the run, but he’s no threat to get to the quarterback, but rookie DJ Reader is capable and could see some playing time as the year progresses. The linebackers are solid, led by Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus, who knows how to get after the quarterback. The corners are solid as always, with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. Oh, and let’s not forget the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in JJ Watt. The defense will be a crutch as the offense figures it out.

Best Case:  The Texans offense gets clicking under Osweiler, who turns into a promising quarterback. Lamar Miller racks up 1500 all-purpose yards and Nuke Hopkins supplants himself in the discussion as a top-five receiver in the NFL. The Texans perform against a manageable schedule and clinch their second consecutive division title, and make some noise the playoffs.

Worst Case:  The Texans defense falls apart as JJ Watt struggles to stay healthy. Brock Osweiler struggles in the limelight as a starter and the offense can’t get out of it’s own way. The division improves around Houston and they find themselves below .500 and third in the division.

How They’ll Finish:  The Texans are a giant question mark. JJ Watt’s injury is concerning, but not cause for panic. But Brock Osweiler is scaring me. While I don’t think he’s the real deal, I do think he’s competent enough for the offense to improve and take the division a second time.

  1. Indianapolis Colts

Offense:  Andrew Luck is back, thank goodness, for an offense that struggled without him. The Colts were close to the bottom of the NFL in offense last season and they’ll need every bit of a healthy Luck to improve it. The offensive line was awful last season, and they’ve made efforts to improve it, and it should be better at keeping Luck upright this season. Frank Gore was effective last season, and should be productive if he’s not constantly hit behind the line of scrimmage. The receiving core is talented as well, with Donte Moncreif and TY Hilton giving Luck two great talents on the outside. The new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has also pledged to use tight end Dwayne Allen more this season, as he was spectacular two seasons ago.

Defense:  Boy, are the Colts in trouble on defense. The Colts struggled pressuring the quarterback, and also with pretty much everything else. Kendall Langford was the sack leader last season, and he and David Parry are a solid combo on the line. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was the NFL’s second leading tackler a year ago and leads a group that isn’t very talented. The corners outside of Vontae Davis are going to struggle in coverage as well. New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino has is work cut out for him, as this group is going to give up some serious points.

Best Case:  The defense is able to improve to average, and the offense puts up some serious points. The Texans take a step back and the Colts reclaim their crown and ride some Andrew Luck magic in the playoffs to a surprise trip to the AFC Championship game.

Worst Case:  The defense is as bad as last season and Andrew Luck finds himself in plenty of shootouts. The Colts can’t catch breaks against an offense-happy schedule and they slip down to third in the AFC South, and with big money going to Andrew Luck in the offseason, don’t find themselves able to improve in free agency going forward.

How They’ll Finish:  The offense is really talented, and I could see them rolling to another AFC South title. But I could also see them being jumped by Jacksonville and Houston, and this defense is really bad. Second feels safe for Indy because we know what to expect, as with Jacksonville and Houston, we have no clue.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense:  There is serious reason to be excited in Jacksonville for the first time in a long time. Blake Bortles put up big numbers last season, and looks like the real deal at quarterback. His league-leading 18 interceptions are a concern, however, and he’s going to have to learn how to take care of the ball. His receivers are deep, with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both had 1,000-yard seasons, and they’ll also get speedster Marqise Lee back from injury. The tight end position is also solid with Julius Thomas showing serious promise in the passing game. The offensive line went through an overhaul, and will need to see some new faces gel to be competitive in the improved AFC South. They’ve also added Chris Ivory to aid promising back TJ Yeldon. They’ll need the line and running attack to catch up with the passing game to round out a good offense.

Defense: The defense is a year behind the offense, as they are coming off a massive youth revolution. They were pretty bad last season, but adding Malik Jackson from Denver provides a leader and some serious talent on the defensive line. He’ll get some help from Dante Fowler, who missed his first season due to injury, but will be the featured pass rusher and has all the tools to be a star. Telvin Smith, who has taken rookie Myles Jack under his wing, leads the linebackers. The secondary is a big question, as their defense against the pass was one of the worst in the NFL. They’ve added first round pick Jalen Ramsey, and will have some raw pieces around them. This unit has a mountain of potential, and could see some serious improvement.

Best Case: The offense takes another step, adding a new wrinkle with a good running game to go with a top-five passing attack. The defense shows big improvement with some serious speed. The Jaguars stun the league and take the AFC South a year early, and become the NFL’s new kids on the block.

Worst Case: The Jaguars line still struggles and the offense can’t get off the ground. The defense remains near the bottom of the league and the youth look ugly and unready. Coach Gus Bradley is fired before the end of the season and the Jaguars again have to wait for wins.

How They’ll Finish:  I’m very high on the Jaguars, but I wasn’t brave enough to have them winning the division. This team is very talented, but I do think they are a year away. This team is on the come-up, however, and they’ll make some serious noise this season.

  1. Tennessee Titans

Offense:  The Titans found their man in Marcus Mariota, who is the quarterback of the future for Tennessee. They have revamped the offense around him, adding a duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield to help him in the running game. The running backs could carry the offense, as they are incredibly big and talented. The receiving corps is a big question mark, as they will be led by Dorial Green-Beckham, who has all the tools to be special but hasn’t pieced it together. They don’t have much at the position, and Mariota needs some help. Tight end Delanie Walker is great, but the receivers have to improve.

Defense: The defense was pretty formidable last season, and added some nice pieces to try and keep pace. Jurrell Casey is a superb athlete, and has been used all over the line. DaQuan Jones is on the opposite side, and provides some serious talent on the line. But the linebackers are facing a revamp, as Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan will see some help from rookie Kevin Dodd on the outside, but the inside is a big question mark outside of Avery Williamson, as rookies flank vet Wesley Woodyard. The secondary has some talent as well as Jason McCourty returns, and has a solid depth at safety and corner.

Best Case: The Titans see some help show in the receiving corps and see Mariota take the next leap in his learning process. The offense takes a leap, and the defense keeps the same fire it had a season ago. The Titans are able to leap from some teams and contend for a wild card as the rebuild goes faster than expected.

Worst Case:  The Titans defense takes a step back and the offense can’t get anything going in the passing game. Mariota struggles mightily and the Titans fall into the bottom of the AFC all over again.

How They’ll Finish:  The Titans have some promise, and some good coaching. But the talent just isn’t there. This team is better than last season, and they should get close to doubling their win total from a season ago. But this will take some time.

Next Installment: NFC South

Add Comment

About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

More nfl News

Special Features

PARTNERS