The AFC South (once the division of excellence) is out of the woods this season and will not be the pathetic excuse for a professional football division that it has been for the last few years – despite the presence of the Jaguars.
Titans Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback in this division. Sorry Andrew, Tom and whomever is starting for the Jaguars. DeMarco Murray is the best running back in this division. Titans have the best offensive line in this division. Delanie Walker (decidedly a late bloomer) may be the best tight end in this division. The wider receivers – eh! But you can’t have it all. The defense is just good enough to keep the Titans close in a lot of games. If the ball bounces the Titans’ way this season, then they just might post the best record in the NFL. Everyone will know after week 3 if the Titans are for real. If the Titans beat the Raiders in the opener and the Seahawks two weeks later (both home games), the buzz will be incredible as they roll into Houston on week 4. Red can hear the bees humming now. After dispatching the Texans, the schedule gets much easier with only three potential playoff teams (Stealers, Cardinals and Texans) on the schedule. Titans stun the league with a 13-3 record and stroll to AFC South title.
Texans The Texans have a great defense. Not 84 Bears great, but possibly top twenty all time great if they force 30+ turnovers and have 50+ sacks this season. And contrary to the public perception, it’s not all JJ Watt. Red is suffering from a bit of JJW fatigue as heretical as that may sound. Clowney and Whitney Mercilus (Red’s favorite) are the keys this year. They both had tremendous seasons last year playing mostly without JJW. Imagine what they can do when an offensive line has to focus on the big Wisconsinite as well. The linebacking crew is solid enough and the secondary will miss Bouye but is good enough to hold coverage long enough to force opposing quarterbacks to make bad decisions. But then there is the other side of the ball. If the Texans can muster even a mediocre offense, they will be in a lot of games. Red fears mediocrity may be an unreachable goal with either Savage or rookie DeShaun Watson under center and slim pickings at wideout. Rookie D’Onta Foreman may be a force if not injured and Fiedorowizc may be moving up to elite TE status. But may Red just say, he hopes Watson does not see serious action until late in the season. In fact, Red will predict right now that DW will not take over until the mid-way in the Rams game in Week 10 with the 4-4 Texans trailing the Rams with the season on the line. If Watson can right the ship at that point, the Texans have a chance to sneak into the playoffs. But somewhere along the way, they are going to have to beat a good team. Best chances will be at home against the Stealers or Cardinals. Texans are 9-7 and slip under the door as the last wildcard team.
Jaguars Can Tom Coughlin resuscitate the long dormant Jaguars? It seems like ancient history now, but when Coughlin was at the helm at the dawn of the franchise, the Jaguars surprised the football world by playing in the AFC championship game in their second season. He made the playoffs the next 3 seasons as well – again playing for and losing the AFC title in season 5. Since then, 3 winning seasons and no playoff victories. By comparison, the Texans are entering their 16th season and have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs in their 4 playoff appearances and a current 9 year playoff drought. Coughlin has tidied up if not cleaned house with 5 new assistant coaches, multiple free agent acquisitions on defense and picking up LSU back Leonard Fournette with the 4th pick of the draft. But under center is still Blake Bortles. Red bet big on BB last season and doesn’t really want to talk about it. In his 4th season, BB had better show signs of life or accept his fate as a back-up quarterback. The Jags are mediocre at best. But after a 3-13 campaign in 2016, mere mediocrity may be viewed as a triumph. Jacksonville goes 8-8.
Colts Who are the Colts anymore anyway? Red has no clue with the multiple roster changes since last season.. Unfortunately for the Colts neither does head coach Chuck Pagano who has seemed in over his head at times during back to back 8-8 seasons in a division that the Colts used rule like kings of old. And speaking of old – there’s tired old Frank Gore who probably used up whatever was left in the tank last season when he became the first running back to rush for 1000 yards since John Riggins (OTNAs 1984). Maybe the news gets any better on defense only because it really couldn’t get worse for the league’s 30th ranked defense. A whole new linebacking corps led by Barkevious Mingo may help, but beyond Vontae Davis the secondary will likely remain porous. The whole thing turns on the reappearance of Andrew Luck and that is not a good sign. Luck at his best with a lot of fearsome weapons was not that good. A more average Luck with little to work with could be plain awful. But Luck is the Colts best chance to avoid ignominy this season. Maybe Punter Pat McAfee had it right. After a nice 8 year career (including two Pro Bowl appearances) he hung up the cleats to try his had at stand-up comedy. There will be laughs this season, but they’ll be laughing at the Colts not with them. Indianapolis 2-14.