The AFC South has been regarded as one of the worst divisions in football for years. However, heading into the 2018 season, that has changed. The team boasts two playoff teams from last year in the Titans and Jaguars and two teams with their franchise quarterbacks returning in the Colts and Texans. This division is setting up to be one of the most competitive in the league and is truly wide open. None of the teams open with divisional matchups, but Week 1 will be big for the AFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars: at New York Giants
This matchup screams upset. The Giants have a lot to prove, are improved up front on offense, seem to finally have a workhorse in the backfield, and play at home. Their defense was one of the worst in the league statistically last year, but should bounce back. It’s tempting to pick the Giants, but the Jaguars defense is still the best in the league.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Jalen Ramsey should make for a marquee matchup on the outside, but I think Ramsey will frustrate Beckham consistently. The Jaguars pass rush will get after Eli Manning all game long and force a couple of turnovers. Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense isn’t going to win the game for them, but they won’t do enough to lose and Jacksonville will squeak it out.
Prediction: Jaguars 17 Giants 14
Tennessee Titans: at Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are going to struggle this year. The Miami offense is mediocre at best with Ryan Tannehill at the helm. The receiving corps is nothing special without Jarvis Landry, Kenyan Drake isn’t an elite running back yet, and the line is average. Their defense has a few bright spots in safety Reshad Jones and edge rusher Cameron Wake, but has plenty of holes.
The Titans haven’t shown much in the preseason, but are still a much more talented roster. Matt LaFleur will get Marcus Mariota going early and incorporate Dion Lewis for some chunk plays. Tennessee has a tough first month after Miami and this game is huge if the Titans want to get back to the postseason. The revamped Titans secondary will hold Ryan Tannehill and force some big turnovers on their way to a 1-0 start.
Prediction: Titans 31 Dolphins 20
Indianapolis Colts: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Andrew Luck is back on the field Sunday in a meaningful football game. No one really knows what to expect from him after not throwing a football for a year and a half. He starts at home against a Bengals team with a lot of unknowns. The Bengals were average last year finishing 7-9, but still have a lot of good pieces on the roster. Cincinnati’s defense was the 8th best against the pass in 2017, although they struggled against the run. The offense boasts an elite wide receiver in A.J. Green and a running back looking to breakout, Joe Mixon. The Bengals may not be a Super Bowl contender, but they are a sneaky playoff contender.
Indianapolis still doesn’t have a running back that can be the workhorse for Andrew Luck and is very thin at wide receiver behind T.Y. Hilton. The defense may be one of the worst in the league, and the Bengals should take advantage of it. Luck will show he still has it and keep the team in the game, but Green torches the weak Indy secondary and the Colts fall to 0-1.
Prediction: Bengals 31 Colts 27
Houston Texans: at New England Patriots
Houston gets the AFC champs in Foxborough to open up the season. The Texans should contend in the AFC South, but this does not seem like a good start. Houston added Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin in the secondary, but the group is still thin and won’t take advantage of the weak Patriots receivers. Deshaun Watson played well against New England last year, but is coming off of a torn ACL and the Texans may struggle to protect him.
The Texans best chance to pull out a Week 1 win is to put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady. This is possible with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadaveon Clowney all returning from injury. I think this will be a tight game as both teams are good, but Brady and Belichick get the first win.
Prediction: Patriots 24 Texans 21