By: Ryan Crossingham
Seen as one of the weaker divisions in the league in recent years, the AFC South spent the offseason loading up on impact talent. The Indianapolis Colts have dominated the division since realignment in 2012 and the other three teams continue to come up with ways to compete with their northern rival.
2014 record: 11-5 (first in AFC South)
Coach: Chuck Pagano (fourth season)
Key additions: WR Andre Johnson (HOU), RB Frank Gore (SF), Trent Cole (PHI)
Key losses: DE Ricky Jean-Francois, S LaRon Landry, WR Reggie Wayne
Outlook: The Colts are the class of the division and despite the improvement of the other three teams; this seems to be the case again for 2015. The Colts major advantage since entering the AFC South has been at the quarterback position with Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck. The team went out and added veteran leadership on the offensive side of the ball with Frank Gore and Andre Johnson to help their young quarterback. They also spent their first round pick on the speedster out of Miami, Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett provides Luck and mirror replica of standout receiver T.Y. Hilton. The Colts are no doubt lethal on the offensive side of the ball, but question marks still remain around the offensive line and the entire defense. Trent Cole and Kendall Langford are nice pieces that they’ve added to the front seven, but will they be enough to help the team further advance toward the Super Bowl?
Predicted record: 12-4 (first place in AFC South)
2014 record: 9-7 (second place in AFC South)
Coach: Bill O’Brien (second season)
Key additions: NT Vince Wilfork (NE), S Rahim Moore (DEN), WR Cecil Shorts III (JAX), QB Brian Hoyer (CLE)
Key losses: WR Andre Johnson (IND), C Chris Myers (Free Agent)
Outlook: The question is the same with the Texans, what are they going to do at quarterback? It’s either Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett, and with training camp just getting started, Hoyer seems to be the favorite. Bill O’Brien wants a consistent quarterback to manage the game and hand the ball to Arian Foster. The Texans ran the ball more than anyone in football in 2014 and 2015 should be much of the same offensively. It’s no secret what the strength of this team is. The defense is lead by all-world defensive end J.J.Watt, who was voted number one on the NFL Top 100 this offseason. But Watt isn’t alone on this defense. A front seven of Watt, Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney (once healthy), Brian Cushing, and Whitney Mercilus are a force to be reckoned with. Kareem Jackson, Jonathan Jospeh and newly acquired safety Rahim Moore give the defense a trio of playmakers on the back end. First and second round picks Kevin Johnson and Benardrick McKinney add depth and athleticism to an already stacked defensive unit. The Texans were the last team looking out of the AFC playoffs a year ago, and another win this season should be enough to get them in. Can Hoyer or Mallett be consistent enough to get this team back into the postseason?
Predicted record: 10-6 (second place in AFC South, wild card berth)
2014 record: 3-13 (third in AFC South)
Coach: Gus Bradley (third season)
Key additions: DT Jared Odrick (MIA), T Jeremy Parnell (DAL), TE Julius Thomas (DEN)
Key losses: WR Cecil Shorts (HOU)
Outlook: How long is the leash on this staff? It has been a lengthy rebuild in Jacksonville, and I don’t blame fans for being restless. The team believes they have their quarterback of the future in Blake Bortles, but even that isn’t a sure thing. The Jaguars have a nice young core of wide receivers in Allen Robinson, Marquise Lee and Allen Hurns. Second round pick T.J. Yeldon should step right in and start behind Bortles at running back and the team spent big money on tight end Julius Thomas. Is it enough to help the quarterback? Time is ticking for this regime. At some point they need to see some results to know they’re on the right track.
Predicted record: 4-12 (third in AFC South)
2014 record: 2-14 (fourth in AFC South)
Coach: Ken Whisenhunt (second season)
Key additions: QB Marcus Mariota (Draft), WR Hakeem Nicks (IND), OLB Brian Orakpo (WASH)
Key losses: QB Jack Locker (retirement), WR Nate Washington (HOU)
Outlook: It’s the Marcus Mariota era in Tennessee and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out of the Titans. This is a bad football team, but the selections of Mariota and Green-Beckum at receiver are intriguing to say the least. Maybe the two most boom or bust prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, Mariota and Green-Beckum will have pressure on them to lead this offense into the future. The Titans as a whole are lacking in playmakers on both sides of the football. This was a defense that surrendered six touchdown passes in one game to Ryan Fitzpatrick a year ago, and other than the addition of Orakpo, whom has to prove he can stay healthy, remains relatively unimproved. Can Mariota develop to where this team can compete with the Colts for the next decade? 2015 will help answer that question.
Predicted record: 3-13 (fourth in AFC South)