2018 NFL Predictions: AFC South

DeAndre Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins” by Karen is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Mickayeen Farner


1. Houston Texans

2017 Offseason & Review

Record: 4-12 (Tied for third in AFC South)

Postseason Result: Watched the playoffs from the team’s medical facility since they had so many critical injuries.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • QB Joe Webb (from Bills in free agency)
  • OT Seantrel Henderson (from Bills in free agency)
  • G Zach Fulton (from Chiefs in free agency)
  • G Senio Kelemete (from Saints in free agency)
  • CB Aaron Colvin (from Jaguars in free agency),
  • S Tyrann Mathieu (from Cardinals in free agency)
  • S Johnson Bademosi (from Patriots in free agency)
  • S Justin Reid (drafted in third round)
  • OT Martinas Rankin (drafted in third round)
  • TE Jordan Akins (drafted in third round)
  • WR Keke Coutee (drafted in fourth round)

Offseason Departures:

  • QB Tom Savage (to Saints in free agency)
  • OT Chris Clark (remains unsigned)
  • OT Derek Newton (released; remains unsigned)
  • G Xavier Su’a-Filo (to Titans in free agency)
  • ILB Brian Cushing (released; remains unsigned)
  • S Marcus Gilchrist (to Raiders in free agency)
  • S Eddie Pleasant (signed and released by Patriots; remains unsigned)
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Big Question: Can they stay healthy?

The Texans suffered a league-high amount of concussions last season and had the most money sitting on IR/PUP/NFI of any team, which means just over 31% of their salary was injured for most of the year! That’s nuts! Things aren’t going to be perfect with injuries in the NFL, but it should be better than what the Texans had to deal with in 2017. With even a marginally healthier team this year, they will be significantly better, specifically if J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson are able to play all year.

This defense is for real, and they only got better with the addition of Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin. Some may argue the loss of Brian Cushing will hurt, but he isn’t even signed yet, which means the league acknowledges he’s seen the best of his playing days already, so that’s not a big loss. This is a defense that, when fully healthy the year before, led the league in yards allowed. They will definitely go back to being a top defense if they stay relatively healthy.

The offense averaged 39(!) points in the five games before Watson went down with his injury. That’s probably unsustainable throughout an entire season, considering the 2013 Broncos scored the most points all time and averaged 37.9 per game. But that doesn’t mean they can’t average over 30 per game. They likely won’t need to though, since the defense will be so dominant. Look for them to stifle opposing offenses and score points when they need to and win the division.

Prediction: 11-5


2. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 Offseason and Review

Record: 10-6 (First in AFC South)

Postseason result: Choked away the AFC championship game in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter against the Patriots after being up 20-10.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • QB Cody Kessler (Acquired from Browns for conditional 2019 seventh round pick)
  • WR Donte Moncrief (from Colts in free agency)
  • TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (from Jets in free agency)
  • G Andrew Norwell (from Panthers in free agency)
  • CB D.J. Hayden (from Lions in free agency)
  • DT Taven Bryan (drafted in first round)
  • WR DJ Chark (drafted in second round)
  • S Ronnie Harrison (drafted in third round)

Offseason Departures:

  • QB Chad Henne (to Chiefs in free agency)
  • RB Chris Ivory (to Bills in free agency)
  • WR Allen Robinson (to Bears in free agency)
  • WR Allen Hurns (to Cowboys in free agency)
  • TE Marcedes Lewis (to Packers in free agency)
  • G Patrick Omameh (to Giants in free agency)
  • LB Paul Posluszny (Retired)
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Big Question: Can the defense carry Blake Bortles and the offense as far, or perhaps further than they did in 2017?

Short answer is no. Looking back on it, last season was a very lucky one for the Jags. Starting with their own schedule, they only played three playoff teams in the regular season: Titans, Rams and Steelers. They went 1-3 in those games. Many will remember that one win as the Jaguars’ “coming out party”, where they intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in Pittsburgh and embarrassed the Steelers 30-9. They will also remember the first game of the season when they sacked Texans’ quarterbacks TEN times, thus putting the league on notice and earning the nickname “Sacksonville.” Or how about the dog fight with the Seattle Seahawks where some claimed the torch as nastiest defense in the league was passed (don’t mention that Seattle was missing their whole starting back seven on defense)?

Those were certainly the highlights of last season, but let me remind you about the lowlights:

  • Lost to the Titans twice (gave up 37 points in the first loss).
  • Lost to the Jets.
  • Lost to the Cardinals.
  • Lost to the 49ers. (Gave up 44 points).

To be fair, the second loss to the Titans was when the Jags had everything clinched and the other losses were all on the road. But a Super Bowl contender doesn’t lose that many games to that many mediocre teams. I know the Titans won a playoff game, but who doesn’t in Kansas City (besides the Chiefs, of course)? We’ll get to Tennessee in a bit, but they had their fair share of luck last year, and I wouldn’t call losing to them a “good loss.” They also had incredible luck with health. I don’t wish injury on anyone, but that is unsustainable in the NFL, and they have already seen that with Marqise Lee being out for the season.

The Jaguars were the beneficiaries of the two best quarterbacks in their division being injured for all (Luck) or most (Watson) of the year. They had a weak schedule and Blake Bortles only put up decent numbers because their competition was bad.

There is good news though. The upgrade from Patrick Omameh to Andrew Norwell at guard will be significant and will help Leonard Fournette in the running game. Taven Bryan and Ronnie Harrison are monsters and will only improve an already unbelievable defense. They had playoff success (albeit one of those wins was a tight one against a Bills team who lost their starting quarterback) and playoff failure, and both will help them in the experience department. It won’t be enough for them to be better overall.

Their schedule is harder this year, having to play the likes of the Eagles, Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers (who will be looking for revenge), and a healthy Texans team twice. Jalen Ramsey won’t stop running his mouth, and Malik Jackson predicted them to go 16-0. For these reasons they will not be able to just fly under the radar as they did last year. They will have a target on their back and they will not be able to handle it, especially with the below-average quarterback play Bortles brings to the table.

Prediction: 9-7


3. Tennessee Titans

2017 Offseason and Review

Record: 9-7 (Second in AFC South and fifth seed in AFC playoffs)

Postseason Result: Basically had a bye wildcard weekend playing in Kansas City in the playoffs. That’s not a dig at the level of talent Kansas City has, it’s just the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game at home since Joe Montana was their quarterback. Then the Titans got shellacked in their first playoff game after their bye week by the New England Patriots.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • QB Blaine Gabbert (from Cardinals in free agency)
  • RB Dion Lewis (from Patriots in free agency)
  • WR Michael Campanaro (from Ravens in free agency)
  • DT Bennie Logan (from Chiefs in free agency)
  • ILB Will Compton (from Redskins in free agency)
  • CB Malcolm Butler (from Patriots in free agency)
  • LB Rashaan Evans (drafted in first round)
  • OLB Harold Landry (drafted in the second round)

Offseason Departures:

  • RB DeMarco Murray (retired)
  • WR Eric Decker (retired)
  • C Brian Schwenke (to Patriots in free agency)
  • DT Karl Klug (released, remains unsigned)
  • DT Sylvester Williams (to Lions in free agency)
  • ILB Avery Williamson (to Jets in free agency)
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Big Question: Can Mike Vrabel succeed in his first year as head coach?

Sean McVay is the exception, not the rule. Head coaches often struggle in their first year and the Titans’ roster does not suggest Vrabel will join McVay as another exception to this rule.

Another big question they face is whether Marcus Mariota will improve or not. He has to if the titans want to find themselves on the right side of .500 again with any chance of going back to the playoffs. He had a completion percentage of 62% while throwing 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Below average numbers overall, and they still got to the playoffs partly because of the fortune they had, along with the Jaguars, with injuries to Luck and Watson in their own division. They were, again like the Jaguars, the beneficiaries of a fairly week schedule last season and will have to play stronger competition this year.

Their defense was average to below average in every defensive statistic, from yards allowed to turnovers to points allowed. Their strength was clearly their offensive line and running game. They were top ten in the league in rushing yards and top five in rushing touchdowns. They signed Tyler Lewan to the richest offensive line contract ever with five years, $80 million with $50 million of that guaranteed. They should become more dynamic with the addition of Dion Lewis. The question to be answered in the backfield is whether Lewis and Derrick Henry can, between the two of them, take the 184 rushes, 659 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 39 receptions, 266 receiving yards and the receiving touchdown that DeMarco Murray left behind in addition to the work load they each had last year. It’s a tall order, but they will be able to do it if the offensive line stays healthy all year, which brings me to my next point.

They were very healthy last season and, as mentioned in the Jaguars section, that is, unfortunately not sustainable in the NFL. Unless they get lucky with health of their own players and with injuries to key players on other teams in the division, they will finish right at or below .500. I’ll give them an extra win because of Corey Davis continuing the momentum he gained in the AFC Divisional game in New England, showing why he deserved to be a first-round wide receiver and make the passing game a bit more dynamic.

Prediction: 8-8


4. Indianapolis Colts

2017 Offseason and Review

Record: 4-12 (tied for third in AFC South)

Postseason Result: ……Crickets…….

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • WR Ryan Grant (from Redskins in FA after failing a physical with the Ravens)
  • OT Austin Howard (from Ravens in free agency)
  • G Matt Slauson (from Chargers in free agency)
  • DE Denico Autry (from Raiders in free agency)
  • OLB Najee Goode (from Eagles in free agency)
  • G Quenton Nelson (drafted in first round)
  • LB Darius Leonard (drafted in second round)
  • DE Kemoko Turay (drafted in second round)
  • DE Tyquan Lewis (drafted in second round)
  • RB Nyheim Hines (drafted in fourth round)
  • WR Daurice Fountain (drafted in fifth round)
  • RB Jordan Wilkins (drafted in fifth round)

Offseason Departures:

  • RB Frank Gore (to Dolphins in free agency)
  • WR Donte Moncrief (to Jaguars in free agency)
  • WR Kamar Aiken (to Eagles in free agency)
  • NT Johnathan Hankins (released; yet to be signed)
  • OLB Barkevious (Great name!) Mingo (to Seahawks in free agency)
  • ILB Jon Bostic (to Steelers in free agency)
  • CB Rashaan Melvin (to Raiders in free agency)
2018 Preview/The Big Question

The Big Question: Will Andrew Luck stay healthy and be as good as he was pre-injury?

This one was probably the most obvious, and it must be a two-part question, because not only does he have to be healthy, but he has to be as effective as he was for the Colts to make any impact. The Colts did what they could to strengthen the offensive line to protect Luck and make sure his health stays intact. Quenton Nelson is, by all accounts, a nasty plug-and-play guard who will be in that spot for the next decade as one of the best guards in the league, which will help Luck from a health standpoint. As for the other part of the question—Luck has been accurate and efficient with his throws in preseason, but the concern is whether he can throw downfield or not. There have been reports of him successfully throwing downfield in practice, but we have yet to see a throw go downfield this preseason. His only two passes recorded for over 15 yards were both dump offs to running backs who ran for most of the yardage. That will have to change if the Luck is to go back to the top-five quarterback he was pre-injury.

All that being said, I think Luck will stay healthy and prove the doubters wrong. He will have a big year, and a decent amount of the big year will be because his horrible defense will give up so many points that the Colts will have to throw the ball to stay in games. The defense will be slightly better this year by virtue of getting Malik Hooker back in the secondary, but that won’t be able to steady the defense that gave up the third-most yards to opposing offenses last season. They’ll still be bad enough for Luck to be unable to dig them out of many games. Luck will be great, but Colts fans will have to be patient as they have to wait another year for their team to return to the playoffs, but they are trending in the right direction.

Prediction: 7-9


Predicted Division Standings:

  1. Houston Texans (11-5)
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
  3. Tennessee Titans (8-8)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s