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AFC South 2021 Preview

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

We will preview the AFC South division. The division sports some new faces at Quarterback and a lot of questions top to bottom. But this division is top heavy with some teams in rebuild mode. We will break this division down team by team to see who will come out on top.

Indianapolis Colts

Photo Credit: USA Today

Last Year Finish: 11-5, Lost Wild Card playoffs to Buffalo Bills

Key Additions: QB Carson Wentz (from Eagles), OT Eric Fisher (from Chiefs), DE Kwity Paye (Rd. 1, No. 21 – Michigan), TE Kylen Granson (Rd. 4, No. 127 – SMU)

Key Losses: Philip Rivers – QB (retired), OT Anthony Castonzo (retired), TE Trey Burton (FA), QB Jacoby Brissett (to Dolphins)

Outlook: The Indianapolis Colts' surprising return to the playoffs was led by one of the best offensive lines in the league and a top defense. The Colts however have questions at quarterback and needed to address the lack of pass rushers.

Philip Rivers' retirement left the Colts with a huge decision to make, draft a QB or sign/trade for on. The Colts opted to give QB Carson Wentz a second chance and pulled off a trade. Wentz will need to recapture his MVP level form for Indy to compete in a tough AFC. But the bright spot for the Colts offense is it’s rushing attack around RB Jonathan Taylor and that o-line. Taylor took over for Marlon Mack after his Achilles injury and rushed for 1,129 yards and 11 TDs. The offensive line lost Anthony Castonzo to retirement but quickly added Eric Fisher to replace him.

The defense is one of the better defenses in the league. The Colts were equally tough on the run and on the pass with their ball hawking defenders. The Colts had a solid pass rush last season, ranking 12th in sacks. However, that defense didn't re-sign Denico Autry and Justin Houston, who combined for 15.5 sacks. The Colts hope rookie DE Kwity Paye can come in and fill the void.

The Colts are talented as any in the league, but up and down QB play could be an issue for them. The defense will win games for them, but it won’t be enough to take the division

Prediction: 10-7 record

Tennessee Titans

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Last Year Finish: 11-5, Lost Wild Card playoffs to Baltimore Ravens

Key Additions: WR Julio Jones (from Falcons), WR Josh Reynolds (from Rams), LB Bud Dupree (from Steelers), WR Dez Fitzpatrick (Rd. 4, No. 109 – Louisville), OT Dillon Radunz (Rd. 2, No. 53 – North Dakota State)

Key Losses: WR Corey Davis (to Jets), TE Jonnu Smith (to Patriots), WR Adam Humphries (to Washington Football Team), CB Adoree Jackson (to Giants), S Kenny Vaccaro (FA)

Outlook: The Titans have one of the better offenses in in the league, powered by the emergence of QB Ryan Tannehill and the power running of Derrick Henry. Tannehill was rewarded with a nice contract and leads the air attack with A.J. Brown. However, the Titans’ offseason was plagued with personnel changes and coaching changes with coordinators. Gone is Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Adam Humphries and Kalif Raymond.

The Titans offense is centered around the Derrick Henry, one of the best running backs in the game. Henry rushed for a league high 2,027 rushing yards, which was his 3rd straight season campaign over 1,000 yards rushing. But now QB Ryan Tannehill has a new toy to play with after the Julio Jones trade. WR Julio Jones' arrival to Tennessee pairs the talented WR with stud A.J. Brown. This offense lost Corey Davis to the Jets, but this offense is now arguably better and will be able to move the football with ease.

The defense was an anchor on this team, but slowly the defense has been picked apart. Key players in the secondary are all gone; Malcolm Butler, Adoree Jackson and Kenny Vaccaro. The Titans looked to replace these pieces by signing CB Janoris Jenkins and drafting Caleb Farley. However, the losses on this side of the ball are mounting and could lead to a slow start for the defense. Bringing in LB Bud Dupree also should help a poor pass-rush, but he’s a high risk signing after he suffered a torn ACL in Pittsburgh.

The Titans now have the offense to overcome a weaker defense, but can we really trust Tannehill to take them to the promise land? The Titans are a tough out regardless and the coaching staff will be called on to gameplan them to the next level.

Prediction: 11-6 record

Jacksonville Jaguars

Photo Credit: USA Today

Last Year Finish: 1-15, last place in division

Key Additions: QB Trevor Lawrence (Rd. 1, No. 1 – Clemson), RB Travis Etienne (Rd. 1, No. 25 – Clemson), WR Marvin Jones (from Lions), TE Chris Manhertz (from Panthers), CB Shaquill Griffin (from Seahawks), S Rayshawn Jenkins (from Chargers)

Key Losses: WR Chris Conley (to Texans), WR Keelan Cole (to Jets), QB Gardner Minshew (to Eagles)

Outlook: It was only 3 years ago when the Jacksonville Jaguars were in the AFC Championship Game playing for a trip to the Super Bowl. They had one of the most ferocious defenses in the league and a powerful rushing attack. Now in 2021, the Jaguars have replaced both the GM and coaching staff and the Trevor Lawrence era has arrived.

Urban Meyer has come out of retirement after 17 years as a head coach in the college. He’s a national champion for prolific teams, but now tries his hand at the NFL. Rumors of his college style of coaching isn’t translating well in Jacksonville. But he’s a winner and hopes the lure of Lawrence can get him to the playoffs and beyond. The Jaguars also hired new GM in Trent Baalke to replace Tom Coughlin. Baalke was very active in free agency and sported the #1 pick in the draft. The Jags offseason provides a level of optimism not seen since 2017, despite last year's horrific 1-15 record.

Enter the new era with franchise QB Trevor Lawrence in 2021. Lawrence was the most coveted QB in recent memory, possesses elite arm strength, and accuracy. Lawrence numbers in college were impressive with a 34-2 record, an 66.6% completion percentage for 10,098 yards, 90 TDs. The Jaguars averaged a poor 19.1 points per game last season and traded Gardner Minshew to the Eagles. DJ Chark and Marvin Jones make for an interesting WR duo as Jacksonville make a big splash bringing in Jones from the Lions. James Robinson will have to shoulder the RB load as rookie Travis Etienne is out for the season with an injury. Lawrence will have his rookie struggles in his first year in the NFL, but he has the weapons to be an offensive rookie of the year candidate.

The Jags will struggle in Meyer’s first year, but the future is bright and any improvement from last year is a welcome one. The offense will excite but the defense will struggle to keep them in games.

Prediction: 6-11 record

Houston Texans

Photo Credit: USA Today

Last Year Finish: 4-12, third place in division

Key Additions: RB Phillip Lindsay (from Broncos), RB Mark Ingram (from Ravens), QB Tyrod Taylor – QB (from Chargers), QB Davis Mills (Rd. 3, No. 67 – Stanford), WR Anthony Miller (from Bears)

Key Losses: DE J.J. Watt (to Cardinals), WR Will Fuller (to Dolphins), WR Randall Cobb (to Packers)

Outlook: The Houston Texan are a mess. If you search for “dumpster fire”, chances are the Texans will come up in the results. Even before the Deshaun Watson legal troubles began, the disaster in the organization was already a complete joke. The most insane trade involving DeAndre Hopkins last offseason was a punchline in the Kitchen. The Texans got off to a 0-4 start, Bill O'Brien was fired, established team leaders like JJ Watt leave town, and Watson demanded a trade.

With Deshaun Watson, the Texans could be at least a dangerous team this season. But he demanded a trade, showed up to camp so he doesn’t get fined (insert Marshawn Lynch voice) and now on of the top paid QBs in the league is #3 on the depth chart. The Texans need to find a trade partner to eliminate the noise, but honestly this is the only storyline worth following in Houston. Despite adding RB Philip Lindsay, RB Mark Ingram and WR Anthony Miller, this offense can struggle. QB Tyrod Taylor is a capable starter but far from the MVP level of Watson. Davis Mills appears to be the future for the Texans, but the future in Houston is just a mess.

New defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is a master of forcing turnovers and his preaching has paid off so far in the preseason. Last year, the Texans recorded 9 takeaways but in 3 preseason games they tallied 10 takeaways. The defense is built around LB Zach Cunningham and newcomer DT Maliek Collins.

First year head coach David Culley finally gets his chance to run a team but has an uphill climb in Houston. He inherits a mess of a team but has been class so far. But the present is so bad, it’s hard to see them being competitive.

Prediction: 3-14 record

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