By: Dylan Stagge
Last year, the AFC South was the worst division in football. Their lone playoff team, the 9-7 Texans, were demolished in the first round of the playoffs by the Chiefs. The Colts finished in second at 8-8, and had no offense after Andrew Luck went down. The Jaguars and Titans both struggled, but are both still young teams and will improve in years to come. With lots of young talent in the division, the future is bright in the AFC South. 2016 will be another growing year in the division.
Indianapolis Colts: 11-5
After finishing with 11 wins and making the playoffs every year since 2011, the Colts took a major step back in 2015. Andrew Luck’s injury and the oldest roster in the NFL made the Colts struggle mightily down the stretch, leading to an 8-8 record. The Colts are ready to bounce back in 2016. With an improved offensive line, the Colts should have better protection on Luck and he should have a much better year. Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett should both be ready to step up and be top targets for Andrew Luck. Frank Gore is getting older, but should be manageable at the RB position. As usual, the defense will be subpar, but they have the pieces to put it together this year. The Colts should be okay rushing the passer with Kendall Langford, David Parry, Arthur Jones, Robert Mathis, and Trent Cole looking to step up this year. Losing Jerrell Freeman was huge for the Colts at linebacker, but D’Qwell Jackson, Nate Irving, and Sio Moore will be manageable to fill Freeman’s role. In the secondary, Vontae Davis and Mike Adams are coming off strong years, but newly signed CB Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler need to step it up in 2016. The Colts should be able to return to their 11-5 form and take the AFC South. In the playoffs, they should at least make it past the Wild Card round, but will have a very tough road to the Super Bowl.
Houston Texans: 9-7
The Texans have been one of the most underrated teams in football, quietly taking 3 out of the last 5 AFC South titles. They finally went all in this offseason. After their defense almost single handedly brought them to the postseason while the offense struggled, lots of money was spent on the offense this offseason, giving Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller big contracts. The wide receiver position was also improved by drafting Will Fuller. However, there are are still holes in the Texans offense. The offensive line is subpar, and C.J. Fiedorowicz is a very below-average tight end. On the defensive side, the Texans front 7 is one of the best in the NFL, featuring J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, and could get even better if Jadaveon Clowney finally lives up to his potential. However, the Texans secondary will struggle because of their lack of talent. They will especially struggle in division games, as the Colts and Jaguars love to throw the ball. The Texans should be able to win 9 or 10 games and possibly clinch a Wild Card spot. If they do make the playoffs, it is not likely that they make it past the Wild Card round.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 7-9
Once the laughingstock of the AFC South and even the NFL, the Jaguars have improved every year since 2012. Okay, not too much. They only finished 5-11 in 2015. However, the Jaguars are loaded with young talent and have a potent offense for 2016. Blake Bortles will look to take the next step to being an elite QB, and has solid weapons to do it with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas. The running game is also looking good with Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. With an excellent offense in place, the big offseason moves for the Jaguars were made on the defensive side. In free agency, the Jags signed Broncos star Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara. Their 1st and 2nd round picks this year also went to the defensive side, drafting Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. 2015 1st round pick Dante Fowler Jr. has yet to play a game in the NFL. Jacksonville’s defense will be much improved, but is still a couple years away from being elite. The Jaguars will take another step in the right direction in 2016, but it will still be a developing year for them. 7-8 wins is the most reasonable expectation for the 2016 Jags.
Tennessee Titans: 3-13
The Titans lack talent. Everywhere. Marcus Mariota is still developing and will at best be an average QB in 2016. Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry should be able to provide a solid rushing attack. The Titans will have 8 WRs/TEs competing for targets, but no definitive #1 weapon. Someone needs to step up in 2016 to help out Mariota. The offensive line is at best average. Tennessee’s defense is atrocious. In 2015, they were 27th in points allowed and did little to immediately improve in 2016. Jurrell Casey will again have a solid season and be the defense’s leader, but everywhere else, especially the secondary will be awful. Trading away the 2nd pick in the 2015 draft will be helpful for the Titans in the future, but they are still 3-4 years away from competing.