AFC South 2019 Preview

USA Today

Week zero of college football was here. It was the Hurricanes and the Gators in a non-conference rivalry game – meaningful football at last. Then like Randy Orton out of nowhere from the top rope, Andrew Luck RKO’ed the entire football community when news of his retirement hit around 8:30 Saturday night. To make the situation even more surreal, the Colts were in the middle of their 3rd pre-season game and Luck was standing on the sidelines as if nothing were out of the ordinary as the horrific news slowly spread throughout Lucas Oil Stadium. As for the division, this news completely changes the mold of the 2019 season. The Colts will now start Jacoby Brissett under center and for as much positivity as there’s been about Brissett, he’s not Andrew Luck. The South was already the most complete division in the league, and now that the heavy favorites in Indianapolis have been dealt a critical blow, I personally think 9-7 could get the job done.

Indianapolis Colts (Over/Under: 9.5)

I can’t remember anyone in the league that’s had a worse run of all-time bizarre situations than Colts GM Chris Ballard. First, his first coaching hire says yes and then leaves him at the altar on the same day as his introductory press conference. Now, a week before the season, his franchise QB and best player in Andrew Luck decides to retire at age 29 – a season in which the Colts hoped to be a Super Bowl contender no less. So, what now? The Colts will start Jacoby Brissett, who many around the league are high on. Brissett came out of NC State and was drafted by Belichick before the Colts traded for him when Luck had his shoulder ailment in 2017. He’s essentially auditioning for a long-term role, and if he doesn’t work out the Colts will be in a spot they didn’t think they’d be back in for another decade. Their win-total before the retirement announcement was 10 and it has only dropped to 9.5 according to Oddshark, but I can’t imagine many people are betting the over right now. While the team is talented and much of the talent is somewhat new, they’re only two seasons removed from a year in which Brissett did start – and the team didn’t do very well. Luck was the sole reason the Colts were able to go on their magical run the second half of last year and now 8-8 seems optimistic. Indy will still be competitive, but the “Super Bowl Contender” tag is completely out the window.

Houston Texans (Over/Under: 8)

The Texans haven’t been above a little off-season drama themselves. After firing their own GM, they then tried to outright steal Patriots exec Nick Caserio from under Belichick’s nose – which didn’t work. Left as the de-facto GM at least for 2019, HC Bill O’Brien is also now responsible for the Jadeveon Clowney situation the team has found itself in. For those that may not be up to speed, Clowney became a free agent at the conclusion of last year. The Texans, who had plenty of cap space to get a long-term deal done, instead slapped the franchise tag on him – which he’s obviously unhappy with. Since Clowney is not technically under contract, the Texans or any team that would trade for him can’t sign him to an extension until after the season. The reason the Bears were able to do it last year with Khalil Mack is because he was still in the final year of his contract. Long story short, the Texans clearly don’t view Clowney as a long-term piece of the franchise at the price he’ll command – and now they’ve killed his trade value because whoever acquires him would have to live with the possibility of him not wanting to stay after playing this season. O’Brien has created a mess, and it looks like Houston will be an edge rusher short this year. Although the holdout with Clowney isn’t ideal, things are also looking a little easier in the division now with the Luck retirement news. Unless you’re still a believer in the Colts with Brissett, Houston is probably now the front-runner to win the AFC South. After starting 0-3 in 2018, the Texans went on their magical 9-game winning streak, holding off the Colts to become division champs. They have their work cut out in 2019, but the roster is basically the same. The offense was dealt a blow with RB Lamar Miller’s ACL tear last week, but newly acquired Duke Johnson should step right in to replace him and is probably a better fit for the type of offense the Texans typically run. If their much-maligned O-line can keep Deshaun Watson healthy, Houston will contend down to the wire again.

Tennessee Titans (Over/Under: 7.5)

The Titans have been one of my favorite teams to watch in the AFC the past couple of years. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the uniforms, the unique offense they ran with DeMarco Murray under ex-HC Mike Mularkey, or the consistently underrated defense – I’ve always enjoyed watching their games from afar. They should be even more fun to watch this year, with HC Mike Vrabel moving them in the right direction. They ended up just a game away from the post-season last year, coming out totally flat against the Colts in that de-facto play-in game Week 17, and they’ve been able to establish some consistency as a franchise despite the ever-inconsistent play and availability of Marcus Mariota. They made one of the more underrated moves of the off-season acquiring QB Ryan Tannehill from the Dolphins to be the backup and there’s a decent shot he plays at some point due to injury or performance. The Titans also appear ready to make Derrick Henry the workhorse back they drafted him to be, and if he can maintain the production he had at the end of last season, they should be in good shape. Defensively, Tennessee should again boast a top-10 unit coming from a 2018 campaign in which they ranked 8th in total defense and 3rd in scoring defense. Everyone seems to either be sticking with the Colts or jumping on the Texans, but I like the Titans this year. They certainly have a lot of questions, especially offensively in the passing game, but the roster is legit and so is their coach Mike Vrabel.

Jacksonville Jaguars (Over/Under: 7.5)

The Jaguars are a tough team to figure out and will be one of the most intriguing watches heading into the season. They were the upstart team of the league in 2017, making it all the way to the AFC Championship. Then just a year later they were back to their losing ways, winning just 5 games. Much of the blame was placed at the feet of QB Blake Bortles and rightfully so, as he was eventually signed to be the backup to Jared Goff. Nick Foles will be the unquestioned starter and it’ll be interesting to see how he does away from Philly. The Jags return a defense that finished top-5 in both points and total defense and they’ve added to it, drafting edge rusher Josh Allen who’s looked phenomenal this pre-season. In the end, we know what the defense is. The questions lie on offense, where they’ve never been overly good. Their prized runner Leonard Fournette has been hurt often, and the QB play was atrocious with Bortles. They’ll obviously be better with Foles, but I think a lot of Foles’ success had to do with Doug Pederson – and Foles didn’t have much success the last time he was a full-time starter with the Rams. Time will tell, but I think Jacksonville is still a few pieces away offensively.

Division Prediction:

Tennessee Titans (9-7)

Houston Texans (9-7)

Indianapolis Colts (8-8)

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)