A division with a lot of unknowns, the AFC South could be close this season. Young quarterbacks, elite running backs, and young defensive linemen are showcased in this division. Who will come out on top? I break down the offseason moves and predict each AFC South team’s season in this preview.
AFC South Preview
4. Houston Texans
Key losses – DT Vincent Taylor, S Justin Reid, LB Tae Davis, OT Geron Christian, QB Tyrod Taylor, OLB Jake Martin, TE Jordan Akins, OT Marcus Cannon, QB Deshaun Watson
Key additions – HC Lovie Smith, CB Steven Nelson, OG A.J. Cann, DE Mario Addison, OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TE O.J. Howard, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, QB Kyle Allen, CB M.J. Stweart, FB Andy Janovich, DE Jerry Hughes, CB Derek Stingley Jr., OG Kenyon Green, S Jalen Pitre, WR John Metchie III, LB Christian Harris, RB Dameon Pierce
Re-signed – OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (1-year), ILB Neville Hewitt (1-year)
Extensions – WR Brandin Cooks (2-years, $39 million)
Houston went 3-14 last season and was one of the worst all-around teams in the league. They added some talent, as well as a new head coach in Lovie Smith. Now, Smith comes in to try and help this team move on from quarterback Deshaun Watson. After finally trading him, Davis Mills looks to become the franchise guy.
The worst offense in the league last season, the Texans badly need something to change. Davis Mills didn’t look that bad last season, and still has some weapons. While Brandin Cooks is a solid wideout, he will need to lead the way next to Nico Collins, who’s trying to prove he can make it in this league. At tight end, they have Pharaoh Brown and Brevin Jordan, who will need to step up if either wants to become a permanent NFL starter.
The offensive line still needs some work, but has a solid tackles in Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. However, that’ll help out QB Davis Mills more than it will the rushing attack. Rookie Dameon Pierce is generating buzz as he looks to have a huge season running the ball. This offense will still be one of the worst in the league, but I expect a jump from dead last.
The defensive side of the ball wasn’t much better, as they ranked 31st in the NFL. With a bottom five defensive line still, I don’t expect that to change. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are veterans who can bring some pressure, but are in the twilight of their careers. The worst part for the Texans is their linebacker corps is even worse. Christian Kirksey isn’t a quality starter, and they will be looking at rookie Christian Harris to bring some energy.
The Texans added to the secondary early in the draft by selecting cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley can become the long-term CB1 in Houston, but past him there isn’t much. Rookie Jalen Pitre will be the slot corner, although we don’t know what to expect there. They have arguably the worst secondary in the league unless the rookies show up and show out.
The Texans are still rebuilding, so I don’t expect a playoff berth. But I do expect them to improve upon last year. I have them going 5-12 and 2-4 against the AFC South. Davis Mills will be the player to watch as he looks to earn the franchise’s trust.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Key losses – LB Damien Wilson, DT Taven Bryan, WR D.J. Chark, OG A.J. Cann, ILB Myles Jack, OG Andrew Norwell, WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
Key additions – HC Doug Pederson, WR Christian Kirk, OG Brandon Scherff, LB Foyesade Oluokun, CB Darious Williams, DE Foley Fatukasi, WR Zay Jones, TE Evan Engram, DE Arden Key, DE Travon Walker, LB Devin Lloyd, OL Luke Fortner, LB Chad Muma
Re-signed – DE Adam Gotsis (1-year)
Extensions – OT Cam Robinson (3-years, $54 million)
The Urban Meyer experiment failed miserably in Jacksonville, as they fired the former head coach after starting the season 2-11. They would finish the year 3-14 and earn the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Top pick Travon Walker will look to become a focal point on this team during their rebuild.
The 27th ranked offense last season should improve this year. New head coach Doug Pederson will look to turn quarterback Trevor Lawrence into the star he is projected to be. Wideouts Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones Jr. create a solid trio for Lawrence to find, and should open up the field. It will be tough though, as the Jaguars offensive line ranks towards the bottom of the league.
The running back room should be fun to watch, as Travis Etienne Jr. will finally make his NFL debut this season. The pass-catching back should create a nice duo with James Robinson, who burst onto the scene after breaking the record for most scrimmage yards from an undrafted free agent his rookie year. The offense should improve this season, and has the potential to become top 20.
The defense did a little better than the offense in 2021, as they finished 20th in the NFL in total defense. They have an interesting defensive line that includes three first-round picks. Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson, and Travon Walker will all look to bring the pressure and remind people why they were first-round selections.
At linebacker, the Jaguars have Foyesade Oloukon, Devin Lloyd, and Chad Muma to take over after losing Myles Jack in free agency. The young core will look to prove they can compete in this league under Doug Pederson.
Lastly, the secondary added two cornerbacks, rookie Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams, to create an interesting trio at corner next to Shaquill Griffin. The secondary could hold them back, as they have one of the worst safety duos in the league.
The Jaguars are looking to bring back Sacksonville, but it might not be this year. I predict that Jacksonville will finish 6-11 and go 3-3 against the AFC South. Trevor Lawrence will look to make a jump without Urban Meyer there.
2. Tennessee Titans
Key losses – OG Rodger Saffold, OT David Quessenberry, WR AJ Brown, ILB Jayon Brown, WR Julio Jones, P Brett Kern
Key additions – WR Robert Woods, TE Austin Hooper, OT Jamarco Jones, S A.J. Moore, CB Ugo Amadi, WR Treylon Burks, CB Roger McCreary, OL Nicholas Petit-Frere, QB Malik Willis, RB Hassan Haskins
Re-signed – K Reggie Bullock (2-years), RB Dontrell Hilliard (1-year), C Ben Jones (2-years)
Extensions – HC Mike Vrabel (1-year)
The Titans earned the #1 seed in the AFC last season, but lost their first playoff game after the bye. They finished 12-5, and decided it was time to part ways with superstar wide receiver A.J. Brown. They shipped him to the Eagles and will try to make it back to the playoffs without him.
The 17th ranked offense last season was heavily reliant again on running back Derrick Henry. He is the focal point of this team, but will run behind a lackluster offensive line. It’s one of the worst groups in the league and without Henry, it would show. With their best lineman, tackle Taylor Lewan, coming back worse from an ACL tear, there is legitimate concern they can get the job done.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is looking to improve on the team’s 24th ranked passing game, but it will be tougher without A.J. Brown. The new weapons in rookie Treylon Burks and former Ram Robert Woods could be a solid duo to throw to, but Woods is still recovering from a torn ACL. The tight end spot is shaky with Geoff Swaim, so I don’t expect much from the passing attack this season.
The defense was 12th last season after dominating against the run. They should dominate again with a top ten defensive line. Jeffrey Simmons is the star, followed by Denico Autry, Bud Dupree, and Harold Landry III to help bring pressure. It makes a mid-tier linebacker group’s job easier, as Zach Cunningham leads the way as a great run stopper.
The secondary will be key. They struggled a year ago, but get Caleb Farley back, who missed his entire rookie season with an injury. They have a young trio of cornerbacks who could make a splash this season. The safety tandem is headlined by Kevin Byard, who is one of the best in the game. Armani Hooker and Byard are trying to lead the young corners to a better finish this season.
Mike Vrabel is a fantastic coach, but Ryan Tannehill will hold this team back. I have them finishing 9-8, missing the playoffs after going 4-2 in the AFC South. This could be Tannehill’s last year, so he has to make the most of it.
1. Indianapolis Colts
Key losses – QB Carson Wentz, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, RB Marlon Mack, OG Chris Reed, OG Mark Glowinski, S George Odum, DE Kemoko Turay, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Rock Ya-Sin
Key additions – QB Matt Ryan, CB Stephon Gilmore, QB Nick Foles, CB Brandon Facyson, FS Rodney McLeod, OT Dennis Kelly, DE Yannick Ngakoue, P Matt Haack, WR Alec Pierce, TE Jelani Woods, OL Bernhard Raimann, S Nick Cross
Re-signed – TE Mo Alie-Cox (3-years)
The Colts finished last season 9-8, missing the playoffs after an 11-5 season the year before. They brough in quarterback Matt Ryan as an upgrade over Carson Wentz with hopes of a playoff return. With talent added on both sides of the ball, the Colts may be a real threat in the AFC.
The Carson Wentz-led Colts finished 16th in the NFL in total offense a season ago, but now Matt Ryan is at the helm. He is a decent improvement, and will look to help wideout Michael Pittman Jr. grow into a star. However, the receiving corps behind Pittman is below average. They will need tight end Mo Alie-Cox to play a big role in the passing game to become a top 15 passing team.
This offense is centered around running back Jonathan Taylor. The young back showed he is a superstar last season, and has the highest expectations of all running backs going into this year. With a top ten offensive line, including the best offensive lineman in the game Quenton Nelson, Taylor should have no problem leading this offense to a playoff berth.
The defense last season ranked identical to the offense, 16th in the NFL. They added Stephon Gilmore to the secondary, which gives them a big boost. The secondary is still in the bottom half of the league, but if Julian Blackmon can come back and breakout, they could move up in the rankings.
They have one of the best linebacker corps in the league, with superstar Darius Leonard next to Bobby Okereke. If Okereke can play like he did in 2019, they should be the best in the NFL. With the defensive line gaining Yannick Ngakoue to help create a force with superstar defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, they should be much improved this season, and eyeing a top ten finish.
The addition of Matt Ryan should boost this team towards winning the AFC South. I have the Colts finishing 10-7 after going 3-3 against the rest of the AFC South. Expect a close finish between Indianapolis and Tennessee.