AFC South Preview: Will the Colts have any competition this season?

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Updated: September 11, 2015
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The AFC South will be seen as one of the weaker divisions in football this season, and has been for the last several years. The division has been run by the Indianapolis Colts for most of its entirety, with the exception of a few strong seasons from the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.

The Colts look to be the class of the AFC South again, as they have higher hopes than just winning the division. The Texans look to build off a year in which they improved by seven wins, but will they be able to continue that momentum?

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Titans have been bottom dwellers in the South the last few years, but they both believe they have their franchise quarterbacks in place. Do either of them take the leap they desire?

 

Indianapolis Colts (Prediction: 12-4)

The Colts have gotten progressively better since the Andrew Luck era started, improving in the playoffs each time. Will they be able to continue that success in 2015? They sure have the first thing a team needs with Luck as their franchise quarterback.

Luck has the ability to have an MVP-caliber season, and looks primed to be one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league. The Colts have also surrounded Luck with a plethora of weapons, especially with the additions of Andre Johnson and Frank Gore over the offseason. T.Y. Hilton has speed that all coaches want, and rookie Phillip Dorsett may even be more of a burner.

The offensive line has question marks, but the Colts hope that offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo can build off his very impressive year in 2014, as well as Todd Herremans stepping in and filling a big hole at right guard. Louis Lance and Khaled Holmes will be two guys to watch on the line, as they both lack much experience, but will be expected to come in and contribute.

The question marks for the Colts reside with their defense, which has been scorched by the New England Patriots in their last two playoff losses. Their defensive line is worrisome, especially with Arthur Jones now being placed on injured reserved. Kendall Langford is the only projected starter from the preseason to start the opener, while David Perry and Henry Anderson will have to prove they are worth starting spots.

Outside of Vontae Davis, the defense lacks star power all around. D’Qwell Jackson was once a Pro Bowl caliber player, but those days are now over, as the Colts are just looking for competency out of him. Even Trent Cole can be considered a big name, but his days are over as an above-average pass rusher. Overall, this defense is relying on a lot of guys either over the hill, or just average, to be key parts of their defense.

At the end of the day, the Colts have Luck, who might cement himself as one of the best quarterbacks in football by season’s end. Even with their defensive struggles, the Colts will power through their division, and win 12 games in the process.

 

Houston Texans (Prediction: 8-8)

The Texans improved their win total by seven last season in Bill O’Brien‘s first year as head coach, and they will look to build off that success. Unfortunately, this team may be limited due to the same problem they have had the last few years. Their quarterback, or quarterbacks, simply aren’t good enough. Brian Hoyer is a good stop gap for the Texans, but he is nothing more than that. Even with his “good” season last year, he still threw 13 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns. For someone who is deemed as a “safe’ quarterback, he isn’t as safe as one would think.

Arian Foster will miss the first part of the year after recovering from groin surgery, and who is to know who if he will bounce back to close to 100 percent this season. Alfred Blue and Chris Polk will be looked at to fill the void Foster has left, and Blue will have to do much better than last year’s 3.1 yards per carry, or else the Texans will be facing an uphill battle in the running game.

Losing Andre Johnson was a big hit to the franchise, maybe more emotionally than on-field, but it allows DeAndre Hopkins to enter the season as the unquestioned No. 1 option in the Texans’ passing game. Add in veterans Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III, and the wide receiver group isn’t too shabby.

Duane Brown, Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton represent a very good offensive line corps. Brown is one of the best left tackles in the league, Brooks is one of the most underrated run-blocking guards and Newton possesses very good physical skills for a right tackle. The Texans are hoping last year’s second-round pick Xavier Su’a-Filo can step into the left guard spot and produce, giving this line top-10 potential.

I think we all have seen or heard J.J. Watt enough this past summer, but you can’t start talking about this Texans defense without first mentioning the most dominant defensive player in football. And honestly, there isn’t much more to say about Watt, he’s just that good. The Texans added longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork to play nose tackle, and he’ll be a run stuffer for them on first and second down. Any line with Wilfork and Watt on it has to give offensive linemen nightmares.

Brian Cushing is the anchor behind the Texans’ defense, but the concern with him has always been if he can stay healthy. The Texans are also hoping outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus will have a breakout year, after giving him a $26 million extension this offseason. Most of all, the Texans are hoping Jadeveon Clowney is at least close to fully recovered from micro fracture surgery, which many players say takes a full year-and-a-half until they feel 100 percent. If Clowney is close to the player everyone thought he could be coming out of college, the Texans’ defense could take a huge step forward.

Freshly re-signed Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph represent a pretty good duo of corners for the Texans, and rookie Kevin Johnson shows a lot of promise — but rookie corners do tend to struggle in their first season.

This Texans teams just screams 8-8. Shaky quarterback situation, average weapons, good offensive line, above average defense, but not great. The Texans’ ceiling doesn’t seem that high, and their floor doesn’t seem that low. A record of 8-8 seems to be the perfect fit for where they are right now.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars (Prediction: 6-10)

The Jaguars are in the third year of their rebuild under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, and it’s time to start seeing improvements in the win column. It all starts with second-year quarterback Blake Bortles, who must take a step forward in order for the Jaguars to succeed this year. Bortles had his ups and downs last season, with more of them being down. Bortles has all the tools to succeed, but he needs to improve his decision making, and cut down on the 19 interceptions he threw in 14 games last season.

Around Bortles are some young weapons the Jaguars hope can breakout this season. The Jaguars selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round of this year’s draft, and hope he can be the workhorse they haven’t had since Maurice Jones-Drew. The trio of rookie wide receivers for last year — Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee — are all entering their second year hoping to build off their rookie seasons. Add in Julius Thomas, the prize possession of the Jaguars’ offseason, who hopes to make a big impact after coming back from finger surgery. This may be the best set of weapons the Jaguars have had since the Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell and Fred Taylor days.

The offensive line gave up 70 sacks last season, and they will need to improve in order to protect the franchise quarterback in Bortles. The Jaguars brought in Jeremy Parnell and Stefen Wisniewski to sure up the offensive line, and they are hoping former second overall pick Luke Joeckel can come into his own this year, as he has been a disappointment in his first two seasons.

Bradley has been known as a defensive coach, but the talent simply hasn’t been there on the defensive side for the Jaguars the last two seasons. The defense faces an uphill battle this year, as they are starting their season missing their two highest upside defenders in rookie Dante Fowler (torn ACL) and Sen’Derrick Marks (recovering from torn ACL). Even if Marks comes back, it’s no sure thing he will return to his 2014 form.The big question facing the Jaguars’ defense is the pass rush, which probably looks to take a step down from last season. With Fowler out for the year, Marks not 100 percent and Chris Clemons aging, the Jaguars will need to find a pass rush from unproven players. Guys like Ryan Davis and Chris Smith will need to step up in order to create pressure.

The back seven of the Jaguars will need to improve as well. Paul Posluszny is a tackling machine, but  is very limited in pass coverage. Telvin Smith, the second-year player out of Florida State, will need to improve off his rookie season to make this linebacking corp average. In the secondary, the Jaguars have struggled to create turnovers the last two seasons, and that will need to change if they want to succeed. The Jaguars paid Davon House a good amount of money to be their best corner, and Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin will need to show their play-making skills to make up for the lack of pass rush.

The Jaguars have a much more talented roster than the past four or five seasons, but their success will dependent upon whether Bortles can take the right step forward and give them good quarterback play, something they haven’t had in awhile. A 6-10 record is where I have them, but their ceiling could be 8-8, and their floor a dismal 3-13.

 

Tennessee Titans (Prediction: 4-12)

It can be argued that the Titans have the worst roster in the NFL, which leaves coach Ken Whisenhunt and company in a tough place. Things are looking up though, as the Titans have the guy they see as the future of their franchise in Marcus Mariota. Mariota will have his shares of ups and downs, and he will struggle at times to adjust to the NFL game. However, he represents the best option at quarterback that the Titans have had in a long time.

Around Mariota is a set of youthful weapons who the Titans hope will grow with the young quarterback. Bishop Sankey and David Cobb look to share the duties at running back, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Cobb starts to steadily take over the job as the season goes on. Kendall Wright leads the receiving corp, just two seasons away from having 94 receptions and over 1,000 yards. The Titans will also lean heavily on Delanie Walker, who is one of most underrated receiving tight ends in the NFL. Outside of those two, the Titans are hoping a combination of Harry Douglas, Justin Hunter and rookie Dorial GreenBeckham can help relieve the heavy workload Wright and Walker will consume.

The offensive line looks to be the weakest link in this offense, as Taylor Lewan represents their best lineman. That speaks a lot to the talent of their offensive line, as Lewan struggled many times during last season. Not to mention, the team traded what looked be their second best lineman in Andy Levitre to the Atlanta Falcons.

The Titans’ defense doesn’t have much flash, but it could be a unit that is better than expected. Jurrell Casey is one of the most underrated players in football, as he anchors the defensive line. The pass-rushing duo of Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan could be lethal, especially if Morgan can reach his potential, and Orakpo can stay healthy.

The Titans’ secondary struggled mightily last season, so they looked to replenish it during the offseason. Perrish Cox isn’t flashy, but he is one of the more consistent cornerbacks in football. Cox and Jason McCourty gives the Titans a good duo in the secondary, and anyone other than Blidi Wreh-Wilson represents an upgrade, as Wilson was graded as one of the worst cornerbacks in football last season. Da’Norris Searcy was also an underrated signing, as he represents an upgrade to Bernard Pollard, especially in pass coverage.

The Titans have talent on their roster, but just too many holes to compete. I’m a believer in Mariota, but I think he will struggle his first year, adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.

Jimmy Siettmann

Jimmy Siettmann

Jimmy Siettmann is an NFL contributor to SidelineSports. Jimmy is currently a journalism major and hopes to have a career in sports journalism either writing or doing radio. Jimmy has also written for TheDesireToWin on all things sports.

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