With the Hall of Fame Game behind us, the NFL season is officially upon us. AFC South teams will begin preseason play in the week and plenty of storylines loom. The FPC AFC South Editorial Staff comes together for this roundtable discussion.
Meet the Participants
Ben Pfeifer: Indianapolis Colts Managing Editor
Dean Williams: Tennessee Titans Managing Editor
Sam Gubner: Houston Texans Managing Editor
Sergio Barrientos: Jacksonville Jaguars Managing Editor
Question One: What is the current biggest storyline in the AFC South?
The biggest storyline is undoubtedly Andrew Luck’s health. If he can return to form, the Colts will have a shot at the playoffs. If not, the Colts will be completely awful.
The biggest storyline in the AFC South has to be the quarterback health. Both DeShaun Watson’s knee and Andrew Luck’s shoulder have huge implications for the division. If both are healthy then the AFC South could be the most competitive in the NFL.
I think the largest storyline heading into the preseason is whether DeShaun Watson will continue his outstanding production and stay healthy in 2018. After bursting into the scene and putting up massive yardage and touchdown totals, Watson had his breakout rookie season cut short with a torn ACL. When Watson was healthy, the Texans were 3-4. When Watson was injured, the Texans were 1-8. With playoff aspirations this season, it is imperative for the Houston Texans that Watson stays healthy and productive. This importance towards a major AFC South contender makes Watson the player to watch coming into 2018.
The biggest storyline is probably the return of Andrew Luck. Will he be able to get back to the top level he was at before? Before injuries overtook him, the AFC South was considered as one, if not the, worst division in the NFL. How will Andrew Luck perform against the now competitive AFC South?
Question Two: Which AFC South rookie has the best chance to win Rookie of the Year?
My money is on Harold Landry. There isn’t a high profile offensive rookie in the division so we turn to the best defensive rookie in the division. Landry, a top 10 talent, inexplicably fell to the second round. He is an elite speed rusher with bend and balance. I suspect his excellent play will force him onto the field early. I could realistically see Landry netting anywhere between 12-18 sacks in 2018, making him a serious Rookie of The Year contender.
The best draft picks in the division were all on the defensive side of the football with one exception. Quenton Nelson will be a beast from the word go. One of the few rookies I see with a chance to make the Pro Bowl at a non “Skill” position. He will be a tremendous building block for the Colts for many years.
Rahsaan Evans looks to be the most talented rookie in the AFC South. Drafted with the 22nd overall pick, Evans is a major contribution to the Tennessee Titans linebacker corps, especially after the departure of Avery Williamson. He is known for his explosive combination of power, speed, and football IQ. These traits give Evans a good chance of becoming defensive rookie of the year in 2018.
Titans rookie linebacker Rashaan Evans will have a chance to shine in the Titans defense. According to reports, Evans has taken charge in training camp and can be in store for a big rookie season. Look for him to compete for the lead in tackles for the talented Titans defense. If he is able to generate some turnovers and sacks, Evans has a good shot of winning rookie of the year.
Question Three: Make your AFC South standings prediction.
1. Titans 11-5
2. Texans: 10-6
3. Colts: 8-8
4. Jaguars: 6-10
I’ll address the elephant in the room first. My full reasoning for Jacksonville’s disappointment would be too long for this format so the abbreviated version will suffice. Simply put, you can’t take last season’s record and apply it to the framework of a new season. Last year, the Jags took advantage of almost every other team being crippled with injuries.
For a consensus top-five team in the NFL, the Jaguars only won 10 games and five were throwaways (Cleveland, Texans x2, Colts x2). They barely beat an overachieving Bills team in the first round and gave up over 40 points to the Steelers. This Jaguars team will never achieve more than last season with Blake Bortles, who is a bottom three starter in the NFL.
I don’t care about any numbers. He’s inaccurate, has a poor arm, no mobility, and has abysmal pocket presence. I understand the Jags have a great running game but this is a passing league. This isn’t 1980. You need a passing game to win Super Bowls and the Jags’ isn’t even competent. Their defense is still great but it can’t carry a horrible passing game. When teams stop Fournette, the Jags will sputter. Playing a very tough schedule in 2018, I fully expect Jacksonville to disappoint in 2018.
The Titans will win this division. Under a new head coach and new offensive coordinator that perfectly fits their players, Tennesee is in for a breakout. Not to mention, they have one of the most well-rounded rosters in the NBA. Fully healthy, the Texans will have a shot at the division as well but that is easier said than done. The Colts are a complete wild card. If Andrew Luck returns to form, they could sneak into the playoffs. But the opposite is true as well, the Colts could also end up as a complete bottom feeder in 2018.
Health will be the determining factor. I think both week 17 games, Colts @ Titans and Jaguars @ Texans will have meaning, potentially for all four teams fighting for playoff berths. I see the division finish Jaguars, Titans, Texans, and Colts.
The Jaguars will lead the division and go 12-4. Led by star corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, the Jags still have the league’s best defense. Their run game also looks to be better than last season with Leonard Fournette losing 15 pounds, appears to be in far better shape than his rookie year. This is on top of the fact that they signed star guard Andrew Norwell to a five-year, 66.5 million-dollar contract.
The Texans will finish second at 10-6. With star quarterback Deshaun Watson returning, the Texans offense should be among the best in football. The defense also looks to retake its place as an elite unit with the new acquisitions of Tyrann Matthieu and Aaron Colvin. Another promising sign for the defense is that star players J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will also be returning. Rookies such as Keke Coutee (despite his recent hamstring injury) and Justin Reid both look to be major contributors. Although injuries could once derail the season, the Texans look to be Super Bowl contenders this season.
I envision the Titans finishing 8-8. Marcus Mariota hasn’t shown that he can take his team to the next level and their defense isn’t as good as others in the AFC South. The defense is certainly a very strong unit, it just isn’t as talented as the Jaguars or Texans. Despite this, I still see their running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dino Lewis tearing it up in 2018 behind their elite offensive line. I also believe Cory Davis will be a major breakout player in 2018. In sum, the Titans are good, just not good enough.
The Colts are by far the worst team in the AFC South and will finish 3-13. Their defense is arguably the worst in football, and their offense isn’t much better. Quarterback Andrew Luck hasn’t played since 2016, their offensive line is still a major work in progress, and their running game is average at best. The only saving grace to this team is that Luck is back and will have top target T.Y. Hilton to throw to.
1. Jaguars 12-4
The Jaguars won’t go 16-0, but will definitely have the edge over many of their opponents due to a terrific defense. Tough opponents in Patriots, Steelers, AFC South rivals Titans, and defending champ Eagles will be strong challenges for this team.
2. Titans 9-7
How will Marcus Mariota fare in a new system? If he is able to perform up to his potential, the Titans can be a very dangerous team. Despite being led by a rookie head coach in Mike Vrabel, the Titans should still be able to generate a winning record.
3. Colts 8-8
The Colts will be a tricky team in 2018. Andrew Luck is on track to be the fully enshrined starter in 2018. But, will he still be the same Andrew Luck that led the Colts to consecutive playoff appearances? If he manages to stay healthy, there is no reason why this team shouldn’t be able to at least be at .500 by the end of the season. If the defense can improve, the Colts can be even better.
4. Texans 7-9
As spectators and fans of the game of football, it was truly heartbreaking to see Deshaun Watson’s rookie season come to an end so quickly. Watson was playing out of his mind. Despite only playing in seven games, Watson threw for 19 touchdowns and was still in consideration for rookie of the year at the end of the season. However, one thing to keep in mind, Watson wasn’t able to generate a winning record in his six-game starts. Let’s see if he can turn that around.