The sudden retirement of Andrew Luck appears to have opened up the AFC South this season as the Colts are no longer heavy favorites to take the division crown. Houston can stake the best claim now despite the Colts still having the best overall roster.There are questions in Houston too, however, as the team lost Lamar Miller to a season ending ACL tear. Like the Colts, the Texans were prepared for this after trading for Duke Johnson. With a strong ground game and solid defenses either Tennessee or Jacksonville could also sneak into the conversation, though neither looks like playoff material.
New Faces: RB Duke Johnson, OL Max Scharping, OL Tytus Howard, OT Matt Kalil, CB Bradley Roby, S Tashaun Gipson; The Texans placed a heavy emphasis on rebuilding their awful offensive line this off season. Scharping looks poised to be the sixth offensive lineman while Howard figures to start at guard. Adding Gipson and Roby to the secondary should offset the leadership loss of Kareem Jackson The training camp addition of Duke Johnson looks splendid at this point after the season ending ACL tear for Lamar Miller..
Offensive Outlook: The Titans boast one of the best receiving corps in the NFL along with a premier quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Duke Johnson wanted a chance to be a starter and he’ll likely get that opportunity this season. A strong showing from Johnson will keep the Texans from looking to move on after the season. With a rebuilt offensive line and the various weapons at his disposal look for Watson to put up the best numbers of his career.
Defensive Outlook: The Texans front seven is fierce. Watt and Clowney are among the best pass rushers in the game and the impact they have on the rest of the Texans defenders is immeasurable. Adding Gipson to the secondary will provide some veteran stability that should erase some of the big plays that have haunted the Texans recently, while Bradley Roby looks to be an adequate replacement for Kareem Jackson.
Overall Prediction: Houston was starting to look like a playoff team, and while they are not close to the elite AFC teams they should now be the favorite to win the division, assuming they get a modicum of improvement along the offensive line. They look like a 9-10 win team.
New Faces: WR’s Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell, DE Justin Houston, and CB Rock Ya-sin
Offensive Outlook: Suddenly the Colts find themselves looking a ta future without their franchise player. The importance of Luck’s retirement cannot be overstated but the Colts are in a better situation than almost any other team given the presence of Jacoby Brisset and head coach Frank Reich. Brisset has starting experience and two full seasons of work in this offense. Reich was the Eagles offensive coordinator when they lost Carson Wentz in mid season and won the Superbowl with Nick Foles. The depth at receiver, tight end, and running back, and the improved offensive line situation should allow Brisset to flourish. Marlon Mack should also be expected to have his best season as a pro.
Defensive Outlook: Chris Ballard has a penchant for second round picks having made seven in the last two years. Five of those additions have been on the defensive side of the ball and the Colts have a young and energetic defense because of them. Adding Justin Houston gives them the veteran presence that they have lacked and should bolster the pass rush.
Overall Prediction: With Luck I thought the Colts were a dark horse Superbowl contender. Now I believe they are a fringe playoff team that need some big seasons from players not named Luck. I think they’ll just miss the playoffs before finding their QBOTF in next years draft.
New Faces: QB Nick Foles, WR Chris Conley, DE Josh Allen, OT Jawan Taylor: Foles will get another chance to be a starting quarterback, he certainly earned it. Allen looks like the pass rushing beast he was drafted to be while Taylor will be slowly worked into the rotation along the line as he improves his technique. Conley will continue to be a reliable 4th receiver, but nothing more.
Offensive Outlook: People have criticized Blake Bortles for his entire career but no one stopped to point out how much pressure he was forced to play under. The Jaguars offensive line has been terrible for some time and Nick Foles is unlikely to fix that himself. What the team needs most is an above average season from Leonard Fournette. If Fournette can get 300 carries and average around 4 yards per carry then the Jaguars will be playing with short fields and a rested defense. That alone will help them win games.
Defensive Outlook: The Jaguars have tons of talent all across their defensive lineup. They simply didn’t play like it last season. Josh Allen and Calais Campbell should be able to pressure the quarterback while Myles Jack can make all the plays at middle linebacker. With solid starting corners the Jaguars basically check all the boxes for a dominating defense. Now they need to live up to that hype.
Overall Prediction: I question the leadership in Jacksonville. I think the game has passed Tom Coughlin’s ability to build a roster by and I’m not sure that Doug Marrone was ever an NFL caliber coach. The players have loads of talent and little discipline and, at times, it feels like I’m watching eleven individual defenders instead of an actual defense. They Jaguars offense is just not very talented. I see a six win season with an eight win ceiling.
New Faces: DT Jeffrey Simmons, OG Roger Saffold, DE Cameron Wake and WR Adam Humphries; Simmons will miss at least the start of the season but should be a solid interior lineman for sometime. Cameron Wake is a cagey vet that improves the pass rush. Saffold should combine with the Titans book end tackles to upgrade their already solid line.
Offensive Outlook: The addition of Roger Saffold, the teams highest profile free agent signing, and top priority, will help strengthen the interior of the Titans line. Along with Lewan and Conklin Saffold is a top level offensive lineman. I would expect the running game to be much more consistent this season. Adding Adam Humphries along with the return of Delanie Walker gives Mariota two check down targets that can work the short and mid ranges on the field. I expect 300 carries for Derek Henry this season.
Defensive Outlook: The Titans didn’t add too much here but they are a solid defense so being picky was probably the right call for them. Simmons is a playmaker and if he is able to play the second half of the season then he should have the fresh legs he’ll need to make the plays he made in college. Cameron Wake should offer a presence from the edge that will hopefully get timely sacks, or at least pressures, to help the team get off the field earlier.
Overall Prediction: Mariota needs to take the next step forward or the Titans are doomed. Look for a healthy dose of Derek Henry and a clock eating tempo to set up short fields for the Titans. If all the breaks go their way they could be an 8 or 9 win team but I expect them to do no better than that and to probably finish third in their division, safely out of the playoffs.