1. Which coach could find themselves on the hot seat by the end of the season? Which coordinator could see his stock rise this season?
Without a doubt, Bill O’Brien must win in Houston. While he can boast three winning seasons and two playoff appearances, the Texans appear stuck in neutral. While O’Brien earned his stripes in New England, the Texans never set the world on fire. During his tenure, Houston sits middle and below in total offense.
If you need a head-coaching prospect, look no further than Titans’ offensive coordinator Matt La Fleur. When you peruse his resume, you will find a quick ascent at various levels. LaFleur technical prowess underscores his age (38). Yet, with coaches getting younger, chronology does not matter. If he can fine-tune Marcus Mariota and give the run-heavy Titans some passing teeth, LaFleur could find a big chair somewhere.
2. Which team will have the best offense? The best defense?
On paper, the Texans own the best offense. If Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins can stay healthy, Houston has a chance to score points. The Jaguars could fit the bill but Blake Bortles and no Robinson or Lee remain a giant cause for concern. Moreover, did I mention Blake Bortles? The same person that Jacksonville tried to hide in the playoffs versus New England.
However, for all of their offensive mystery, the Jaguars sport the best defense, not only in this division but also in the league. From an active defensive line to sure tackling linebackers to an elite secondary, domination. At every level of the defense, the Jags boast multiple elite defenders. Provided Blake Bortles stays in his lane, the Jaguars are the only team that can stop the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl
3. Who will have the best position group on Offense? On Defense?
Offense: This is difficult because of the injuries that the division had last year. Andrew Luck looks like he is ready to play this year. They have upgraded the offensive line through the draft and still have T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle but the running backs need to prove it for me.
I cannot wait to see Marcus Mariota run LaFleur’s offense. If Corey Davis continues to develop, if the two running backs can stay healthy, and if the offense utilizes one of the best tight ends in football in Delanie Walker… I know, many “ifs” in that sentence.
Jacksonville has the best running back in the division but I am sold on the weapons outside especially with Marquis Lee out for the year. As talented as the defense is, every team in the division got better on offense and will limit Fournette’s opportunities to a degree.
My choice for the best offense is the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson looks healthy and Lamar Miller is a very under-rated runner and receiver out of the backfield. Moreover, they have DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is going to be the best receiver in any game he plays. You can make an argument for three or four others but give me “Nuk” all day, every day.
Defense: It all starts on the defensive side of the football for me and the Jaguars have built one of the top ones in the NFL. They ranked second in tackles for loss, second in sacks, second in quarterback hits, second in interceptions third in fumbles recovered, and led the league with seven defensive touchdowns. In case you are wondering, a different team led in all those categories that Jacksonville was second in. They were the best all-around defense period last year.
Putting all that pressure on the quarterback, you would think they might rest on their laurels in the draft. Did not happen, the Jaguars 1st pick was Taven Bryan defensive tackle out of Florida. Fast and athletic he has the luxury of learning from some of the best defensive linemen currently playing. I think he will have a short learning curve.
4. Which rookie will have the best season in 2018?
I believe battles are won on the front lines. Get used to the name Quenton Nelson because he will be in the Pro Bowl for a number of years to come. He was, in my opinion, the most NFL lineman on either side of the ball. He is an old-school mauler at the point of attack and will rapidly become Andrew Lucks best friend. His combine measurables were impressive, 35 reps at 225 lbs., 26.5-inch vertical jump while weighing 325 lbs, I could go on. Giving Luck piece of mind when he drops back, well that benefit is immeasurable for Colts fans.
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5. Who is getting too much love? Too little? (player/coach/team)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are getting way too much love. The number one reason for this is Blake Bortles. I don’t care what any stat says. Blake Bortles is by far the worst quarterback in the division and a bottom three starting quarterback in the NFL. He has a mediocre arm, bad accuracy, and horrid pocket presence. He is a bonafide system quarterback who will still make big mistakes.
The Jags had a very easy 2017 schedule. Remember, this team went 10-6 in the weak AFC last season. They beat the Browns, Texans twice without Watson, and Colts twice without Luck, the Bengals, and the Ravens. There are seven wins that aren’t impressive at all to me. They beat the free-falling Seahawks and a Chargers team that should have beaten them. Their only truly impressive win of the year was against the Steelers.
In the playoffs, they barely beat the wildly overachieving Bills, who if Tyrod Taylor wasn’t injured, may have actually beat the Jaguars in round one. They did beat the Steelers but that defense melted like hot butter. Giving up 42 is not going to be a sustainable way to win tough football games.
Last season, the Jags were swept by the Titans, lost to Jimmy Garoppolo, the Rams, the Cardinals, and the Jets. When they played good teams, they crumbled. Remember, 2017 was a historic season for injuries. The Jaguars were one of the only teams to stay healthy and rode that as far as they could. I expect the Jaguars to seriously disappoint most people in 2018.
After that novel, the Titans are not getting enough love. They have the most well-rounded roster in the division with the least amount of holes. With their new coaching staff, I expect Marcus Mariota to take a step forward.
6. Which offseason acquisition (signing or trade) will be the best? The worst?
The Titans’ signing of Malcolm Butler should be the most impactful going forward. Butler’s name swirled in the headlines after his mysterious benching in the Super Bowl, leading to heavy criticism of New England. The Titans signed him in the offseason, adding a number one cornerback to the roster.
Butler is not the most athletic cornerback but he’s quick, had fluid hips, and covers very well in man. He will be a nice complement to the Titans’ already formidable secondary, featuring Kevin Byard, Logan Ryan, and Adoree’ Jackson.
The worst signing of the offseason was the Jaguars signing Donte Moncrief. In his tenure with Indianapolis, Moncrief’s status never changed a receiver with high physical upside who could never put it together. Moncrief had his moments with the Colts, including his 733 yards, six touchdowns 2015 campaign. However, he was mostly underwhelming.
The Jaguars are completely talent deficient at the receiver position, especially following Marquise Lee’s injury. They will be relying on the likes of Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Moncrief. If Moncrief couldn’t succeed with Andrew Luck, what makes anyone think that he’ll perform any better with Blake Bortles?
7. Who will be the offensive and defensive MVP of the division?
The offensive MVP in this AFC South will be Texans wide receiver, Deandre Hopkins. With a healthy quarterback in Deshaun Watson, there is no reason why Hopkins cannot excel. Despite only playing 15 games and playing with 3 quarterbacks in 2017, Hopkins still led the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns. It seems like he will finally have Watson for a full season. Expect a huge stat line in the range of 1,500 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns for Hopkins in 2018.
The defensive MVP in this AFC South will come from the ultra-talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense. There are many candidates but ultimately, the success of the defense will all come back to 2017 DPOY runner-up Calais Campbell. Campbell helps create a steady pass rush as well as freeing up Yannick Ngakoue on the other side of the line. This creates constant pressure from all sides. Therefore, helps the linebackers and secondary play at their best. Expect a small drop in sacks for Campbell, but it is reasonable to expect him to still see double-digit sacks in this defense.
8. What will be the best game (assuming standing and importance) within the division?
The best game in the division can truly come down to the very last week of the 2018 season. When the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Houston to face the Texans, expect a pivotal Week 17 matchup. With a healthy Watson, the Texans can find themselves competing for the division title, or at least a playoff berth. This game could decide two of the six playoff spots in the AFC. Matchup-wise, this is a very enticing one. As fans of the game, we never were able to see Deshaun Watson play against the Jaguars defense for more than one half. By this time, it will be Watson’s second full game against the Jaguars defense (The Texans play at Jacksonville in Week 7). Expect a great battle between Watson and the aggressive Jaguars defense.
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