NFL

Making The Case: AFC South Edition

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While NFL regular season action won’t take place until early September, it’s never too early to get into a debate about the upcoming campaign. While one team will place in first, the question suddenly becomes which franchise will hold that division title. Some teams may have the edge over others, but here is the case for each AFC South team to represent their respective division in the 2018-19 season:

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The Case For The Jacksonville Jaguars

After finishing 2017 with a regular season record of 10-6, it marked the first time the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with a record of above .500 since 2007. Although the franchise was just one win away from a Super Bowl appearance, this was a season that went beyond expectations nonetheless.

During the offseason, Jacksonville released a few offensive weapons in Allen Hurns and Mercedes Lewis. This was an offense who’s weak spot was in their passing game, and without any immediate upgrades, Jacksonville will find themselves in a similar position in 2018. If Jacksonville secures the AFC South for the second consecutive season, it will be on the backs of their defense. As a unit, this defense was ranked first against the pass, and allowed the second-fewest points per game.

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The Case For The Tennessee Titans

This past season was another above-average year for Marcus Mariota and company, as the Tennessee Titans finished the regular season with a record of 9-7. With minimal playoff hopes, the Titans still hold a promising young roster for the most part.

After departing from DeMarco Murray, the Titans added a new running back in Dion Lewis. In addition to adding Lewis, Tennessee gained a new defensive leader in Malcolm Butler. With a multitude of changes on both sides of the ball, this is a franchise that will once again prove to be a wild card contender.

If Tennessee secures the AFC South for the first time since 2008, look for the secondary to improve drastically. This was a defensive roster that ranked 25th against the pass last season, and a player such as Butler can emerge as game-changing. I would also note that this offense needs to heavily rely on Derrick Henry, who now has the opportunity to become an three-down back in the NFL.

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The Case For The Indianapolis Colts 

Without Andrew Luck on the field for all of 2017, the Indianapolis Colts were in the right mindset to tank this past season. By selecting who I believe is the most “pro-ready” player in G Quenton Nelson, Luck should have a bit of security on the offensive front. In fact, temporary Colts QB Jacoby Brissett was the most-sacked quarterback last season (52).

While holding a coach such as Josh McDaniels would have considered the offseason a success, the Colts now hold very little to be optimistic about. Outside of the draft, no concrete upgrades or changes were made, and the 2018 season will revolve around the health of Andrew Luck.

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The Case For The Houston Texans 

This past season was off to a hot start when it came to rookie Deshaun Waston, as he tossed for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions in just six games. At his previous rate, Watson was on pace for a season of 3,000+ passing yard and 40+ touchdowns.

After Watson has had a full offseason to rehab his ACL, the only other transaction for Houston worth mentioning was the release of LB Brian Cushing. Based on the lack of movement for the Texans this past season, it seems as though the front office has faith in the current office. On the other hand, sophomore slumps are a interesting folktale in the NFL, and sophomores coming off of season-ending injuries only make the circumstances more difficult.

If Houston goes from worst to first in the AFC South, Watson is going to need to play a full season of football as a top ten quarterback. This team was below-average on both sides of the ball last season, but the comeback of Watson and J.J. Watt are sure to assist.

Prediction: While none of the AFC South suitors hold a particularly strong offense, the Jacksonville Jaguars hold one of the best defenses in the NFL. I have Jacksonville securing back-to-back AFC South titles for the first time since 1998-1999. While many are riding the hype train of Deshaun Watson, I’m cautiously optimistic. I don’t expect for Houston or Indianapolis to see a spot in the 2018-19 postseason, and I give Tennessee a slim shot at a wild card slot.

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