Are Foles and Jags ready to reclaim AFC South title?

Jacksonville Jaguars corner back Jalen Ramsey (20) points to the fans in the stands following a touchdown. Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars play in the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, Sep 24 . photo: Dave Shopland/ NFL

It’s been one of the busiest off-season’s in recent memory, following up on an NFL season for the ages. Contenders have been bolstering their rosters while the bottom of the league has committed to their rebuilding process’. 

So who is coming out on top this year in the AFC South? Let’s find out.

Houston Texans

The AFC South was the epitome of a dogfight in 2018. With the transitional season for Jacksonville, the Houston Texans took advantage and took the divisional title after finishing 11-5.

After a slow start for Deshaun Watson and Houston, the Texans rattled off a solid winning streak. Eventually, that streak was cut down in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Colts. There has been so much promise for Houston, but are they moving forward?

There were two points of emphasis where the Texans needed to grow this offseason: running back and offensive line. After the lone producer in the backfield, Lamar Miller was carted off the field in a preseason game, it doesn’t seem there will be much depth at RB in 2019. Miller will miss the season with a torn ACL.

As for offensive line, the Texans sought out improvement via the draft. They drafted Tytus Howard, an undersized prospect from the small town Alabama State. That is a large ask for a singular reach of a rookie to fix all the problems with protecting the quarterback.

It appears Watson will be back to his frenetic running ways again in 2019, to no fault of his own. Him and head coach Bill O’Brien can only do so much, even with two all-pro receivers in Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller.

Now the Texans do still have JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowny. However trade rumours have been circulating around Clowney for months, and there is a concern that Houston will not only be thin in the secondary, but possibly soon to be thin on the defensive line.

The Houston Texans are perplexing. There are so many pieces in place to win now, and after an 11-5 season and a playoff appearance, should they not be pushing the envelope to continue to improve? Apparently, Houston feels there isn’t a need for improvement.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck held this entire division in the palm is his right hand. This has been the sentiment from the moment Luck entered the frame, and if he was healthy, the feeling has always been that the Indianapolis Colts were the team to beat.

However, this has never been simple for the Colts or Luck, as he has been plagued by injuries for a majority of his career. 2018 was a return to health as well as a return to form though. Luck played like his pro bowl, way too early to tell future hall of fame self, and the Colts followed suit. 

After ending the year at 10-6, Luck and Indianapolis found themselves in a deeper playoff run than many ever thought a team this early in a supposed rebuild would be.

After a trouncing at the hands of the Chiefs, the Colts were primed for success. The AFC South, and maybe much more, back in the palm of Andrew Luck’s hand.

Then, another injury. A pattern is developing in this division. At this point, it’s abundantly clear that the NFL is a QB driven league. However, it might be most evident in this division, and no more evident with the Colts.

Frank Reich came in last season and changed the whole culture of the organization. Committing to Luck, regardless of the injuries, was step one. Step two was continuing the mission of the talented GM Chris Ballard. 

Ballard has done a fantastic job turning draft picks into bonafide NFL talent, and it’s shown.  Players such as Darius Leonard and Marlon Mack have been difference-makers since day one. Now the Indy is making a push, and adding talents such as Justin Houston and Devin Funchess will undoubtedly put themselves in a position of earned favouritism.

The Colts have one of the most proficient teams in all of football, but it’s spearheaded by Luck. Their success rested on his surgically repaired shoulder. Unfortunately for the Colts, they will be resting their success on someone else’s shoulders, permanently.

On 24 August, Andrew Luck suddenly and shockingly announced his retirement effective immediately. Jacoby Brissett will be taking over as the starting quarterback

The Indianapolis Colts roster is still one of the best in football, but that means less with Andrew Luck stepping away from football. The Colts still have one of the best rosters in the entirety of the AFC and can win the AFC South with Brissett. Will they still be Super Bowl contenders without Luck? That now hinges on Jacoby Brissett.

Tennessee Titans

What a puzzling team. The Tennessee Titans are strange, yet capable, from top to bottom.

For starters, the trend of relying on the health of their starting quarterback continues. Marcus Mariota dealt with almost a dozen separate injuries in one singular season. That cannot happen in 2019.

Even with improved insurance in the form of new backup Ryan Tannehill, Mariota needs to be healthy as well as consistent. His talent is there, that’s assured. Unfortunately, the production has not been there.

Marriota has yet to have a very impressive season as a pro. Whether it was injuries or lacklustre play, the stats have not been there. He has quite a lot to prove.

He is not the only one though. The organization has done a poor job putting weapons around their young QB, with one failed experiment after another. The only effective offensive weapons to have any staying power have been Derrick Henry and Delany Walker. the rest of the offence desperately needs to step up, including Mariota.

The good news for Tennessee is their excellent defence lead by hard-nosed head coach Mike Vrabel remains as strong as it was in 2018. They will continue to hold opponents at bay, only now it’s up to the offence to make serious contributions.

The fear for the Tennessee Titans is a simple one. If Marcus Mariota cannot stay healthy or begin to produce at a high level, the franchise might be back in business for a new quarterback. Is Tannehill in a new city the answer? Unlikely, but anything is possible at this point.

Jacksonville Jaguars

There may not be a team who’s ready to take advantage of Andrew Luck’s retirement as much the Jacksonville Jaguars. Why the Jags? Two reasons: defence, and Nick Foles.

Foles will begin his first year as the long term starting quarterback since his short run with the Ram’s. He looks to get his offence on board, joined by Leonard Fournette, Marquis Lee and Dede Westbrook.

As important as the exit of Blake Bortles and the entrance of Nick Foles is to the Jags, the return of “Sacksonville” is possibly even more important. Jacksonville boasted one of the top defences in the league in 2017, led by Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey. 

2018 was not as productive for the Jags defence, and Jackson signing with Philadelphia will hurt. But this defence is still a solid enough unit in this league to dominate.

This is also an important year in terms of longevity. Jacksonville may not be the home for the Jaguars forever, as talks of moving to London have begun to intensify. It’s unclear what this team moving to London would do for the organization and league alike, but a season emulating 2017 would do wonders for putting relocation on hold.

Nick Foles will have enough to work with to find success for his new team. Will it translate to winning the AFC South? Possibly, but one thing is for certain. With Andrew Luck moving on from football, the division is as up for grabs as ever. Why not the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Predictions

Andre Dixon:

Indianapolis Colts

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jags

Tennessee Titans

Paulie Fiorentino:

Jacksonville Jags

Indianapolis Colts 

Houston Texans

Tennessee Titans