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2018 AFC South Preview: Jaguars and Texans in Two-Horse Race?

Eric Rosales

by Eric Rosales in NFL Football

Jul 29, 2018 · 2:35 PM PDT

Blake Bortles talking with coaches
Cutting ties with Blake Bortles is one move the Jaguars are expected to make this offseason. Will firing Doug Marrone be another? (Photo: Keith Allison (Flickr)
  • Jaguars in position to battle for another division crown
  • Watson, Watt, and Luck hoping for healthy, productive seasons
  • Vrabel trying to take Mariota, Titans to the next level

Things were topsy turvy in the AFC South last year, with the Jacksonville Jaguars – they of the perennial laughing stock franchise tag – emerging as a division winner that ran into a Tom Brady roadblock trying to get to the Super Bowl.

The division also surprised by sending a second team to the playoffs – though it wasn’t the Houston Texans, who had gone the last two years. It was the Tennessee Titans, who last tasted playoff action in 2008.

And it wasn’t the best year for the Colts, who plummeted as their franchise pivot Andrew Luck watched from the sidelines all year, trying to rehab a shoulder that had made throwing an arduous task. That’s not good.

It’s time to take a look at the crystal ball and see how this division shakes out in 2018-19.

Odds to Win the AFC South

Team Odds at Sportsbook 1 Odds at Sportsbook 2 2017 SU Record 2017 ATS Record 2017 Divsion Rank
Jacksonville +175 +175 10-6 9-7-0 1
Houston +200 +185 4-12 7-9-0 3
Tennessee +300 +325 9-7 8-7-1 2
Indianapolis +550 +550 4-12 8-8-0 4

Jacksonville Jaguars

They are a sweetheart story, but make no mistake, this team inflicted pain on the opposition en route to a 10-6 mark and the division title.

They return an athletic and aggressive defense, which poured in 55 sacks last year, good for second in the NFL. Couple that with a punishing run game fronted by bowling ball Leonard Fournette, and this is a team built to grind teams down, especially late in games.

Something weird happened along the way too: Blake Bortles suddenly looked like a half-competent QB.

Under the guidance of Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone, they game planned to make the fourth-year pivot as mistake-free as possible, and he rewarded them by throwing for 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, his lowest career interception total.

That earned him a three-year, $54 million extension. I know! He’s going to have to earn it this year: Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, a top receiving tandem (when healthy), are gone, and not much quality was brought in behind them, though they are high on rookie DJ Chark.

Even then, that defense is an anchor like no other in the division, and that should tilt the much-improved South in their favour.

Jaguars’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Jaguars’ Key 2018 Additions Jaguars’ Key 2018 Departures
Andrew Norwell (G) Allen Hurns (WR)
Donte Moncrief (WR) Allen Robinson (WR)
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (TE) Aaron Colvin (CB)
DJ Hayden (CB)
Taven Bryan (DT) – Rookie
DJ Chark (WR) – Rookie

Houston Texans

If you’re looking for a team that could threaten the Jags’ reign, then you’re putting some dollars down on the Texans.

You should be optimistic if you’re bringing back JJ Watt – the best defensive player in the league not named Aaron Donald – and the most electrifying young quarterback in the game in Deshaun Watson.

Without Watt, Houston’s defense sagged badly, dropping down to dead last in the NFL in points allowed.

The previous three years, they were 12th, 10th and sixth. The three time defensive player of the year will try to bounce back from a back injury that limited him to just five games and no sacks.

Also, that defense has some nice pieces along the front with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, and they committed theft by snagging Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. Injuries have riddled his career, but the Honey Badger is a player, man.

Meanwhile, Watson was setting the league on fire in his first six career starts, pacing the Texans offense to a blistering 34 points per game. A torn ACL crashed the offense back to earth, as Houston scored more than 17 points in a game just once in the final nine weeks of the year, failing to crack double digits three times.

If all bounces correctly, this is probably the best bet of the bunch.

Texans’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Texans’ Key 2018 Additions Texans’ Key 2018 Departures
Tyrann Mathieu (S) Derek Newton (RT)
Aaron Colvin (CB)  C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE)
Zach Fulton (G) Marcus Gilchrist (S)
Senio Kelemete (G) Brian Cushing (LB)
Seantrel Henderson (OT)
Sammie Coates (WR)
Justin Reid (S) – Rookie

Tennessee Titans

They are the South Division’s Rodney Dangerfield, as Vegas is expecting a regression from a team that stumbled into the postseason (1-3 in their last four games, needing a win on the final day of the year to secure a spot) before stunning the Chiefs in the Wild Card round – with one of the wildest plays you will ever see, courtesy of Marcus Mariota’s instincts and athleticism.

If you look at points scored, the Titans were the only team that made the playoffs last year scoring less points than they gave up on the season. That’s usually a recipe to find your way out of the postseason.

Perhaps the biggest addition is Mike Vrabel coming on as head coach. Unlike previous Patriots’ coaches that have gone on to suck in spectacular fashion away from Bill Belichick, Vrabel actually lived and breathed Patriots culture as a player, and that might hold more weight and players’ attention as he tries to move the Titans to powerhouse status.

He definitely has the pieces to make it happen. A team that ranked ninth in rushing yards per game may have lost DeMarco Murray, but Derrick Henry looks ready to mash, and the smart signing of Dion Lewis adds an explosive element and the chance at expanding the backfield playbook.

And if you fantasy football prognosticators are on the ball with this one, Corey Davis may just be this season’s ‘it’ receiver. It also helps that the young anchor of their line isn’t going anywhere soon.

That can only help Mariota improve on a so-so season, where he threw for just 3,232 yards, 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as the Titans plunged to under 200 yards passing a game.

This is also a defense that was fifth in the league in yards allowed per game, and stout against the run, second in the NFL at just 85 yards per. Another Patriots addition, Malcom Butler, should team with Logan Ryan for a tough cover combo.

If they hold up their end of the bargain again, watch out.

Titans’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Titans’ Key 2018 Additions Titans’ Key 2018 Departures
Dion Lewis (RB) DeMarco Murray (RB)
Malcolm Butler (CB) Eric Decker (WR)
Bennie Logan (DT) Matt Cassel (QB)
Blaine Gabbert (QB) Avery Williamson (LB)
Will Compton (LB)
Rashaan Evans (LB) – Rookie

Indianapolis Colts

Priority number one, two, three, four, and five this year is to keep quarterback Andrew Luck clean and upright. When healthy, he is a generational talent that chewed up double-digit wins for the Colts, despite a woefully lacking roster overall. But the hits, they have added up.

In those first three winning seasons, Luck took a total of 100 sacks before he started breaking down in years four and five, and then having to sit out all of last season, with fears an ailing shoulder would never regain the strength to drop bombs that he was legendary for. And to be honest, it’s still a question mark.

The Colts brass are hoping when he finally does return, Luck won’t be behind a line that led the league in sacks allowed last year.

Drafting all-world guard Quentin Nelson and pairing him with Auburn standout Braden Smith should close the defensive push up the middle, while veteran Matt Slauson should be a plug and play with quality anywhere across the line.

Colts’ Key 2018 Additions/Departures

Colts’ Key 2018 Additions Colts’ Key 2018 Departures
Eric Ebron (TE) Frank Gore (RB)
Ryan Grant (WR) Donte Moncrief (WR)
Matt Slauson (G) Barkevious Mingo (LB)
Austin Howard (OT) Jon Bostic (LB)
Denico Autry (DE) Johnathan Hankins (DT)
Quenton Nelson (G) – Rookie Rashaan Melvin (CB)
Braden Smith (G) – Rookie


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