NFL

AFC South Preview: New coaches, an FBI Investigation and the Addition of Julio Jones

The AFC south is…trash is too strong a word. Let’s go with compost.  You don’t want it in your house but at least it gives back.  The most interesting thread across the teams is the only returning starting QB, Ryan Tanehill who gets set to whip this division for 17 of the next 18 weeks.

Tennessee Titans  (11-6): The Tennessee Titans have recently redefined themselves.  When Mike Vrabel joined as a coach a few thoughts went through people’s minds.  Firstly, is this another Belichick head coach that will flame out after an unsuccessful campaign? Secondly, as a former linebacker the assumption is that the Titans would be, if successful, a defensive juggernaut.  Instead, the team signed a quarterback who had some up and down years and hoped for the best.

What we’ve seen since is a rejuvenated Ryan Tannehill who’s explosive release and ability to make plays as an athlete have made him one of the most coveted signal callers in the NFL.  Didn’t realize Tannehill was as athletic as I’m claiming.  He had 7 touchdowns last season and lest we forget, he was  Paired with the best pure running back in the league (Derrick Henry). The team’s gap-and-zone run scheme is a perfect compliment to an offence that is efficient in the play action and without it. AJ Brown also emerged as a true superstar and the team has added future Hall of Famer Julio Jones to the mix.

In 2020 the Titans were one of the worst pass defences in the league.  They added Bud Dupree in free agency and drafted corner Caleb Farley who may help but will likely not be enough to make this a top tier unit. This is the main reason I think that while they should easily capture this weak division’s crown, they are a notch below the truly elite teams.

Colts (9-8): People are low on the Colts and there are a myriad of reasons.  Firstly, I’ve heard all the Carson Wentz jokes and seen all the memes.  However, I do think he’s more talented than people give him credit for.  Is he what the world thought he was during his MVP caliber start to the 2017-2018 season?  Not quite.  Is he durable? Well, he’s been injured but it is hard to decipher bad luck and someone who is injury prone. Later in his Eagles tenure the team suffered a variety of injuries and it was hard to find consistency.  However, I do think Wentz can be a solid player.

Part of the reason is that he joins a team that seems to be heading in the right direction. The team was top 10 in the NFL in the analytics that determine offensive line play.  They added Eric Fisher to a line that already features Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson.  They should at the very least be able to protect him better than he was in Philadelphia.   Frank Reich seems to be a good coach and Wentz thrived with him calling plays in Philadelphia.  The team also features an absolute threat at the running back position in Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman is a big redzone target that will compliment Wentz’s style of play akin to Alshon Jeffery.

The Colts defense also surprised many last season. That said they faded a little toward the end of the season and they allowed a 19:5 TD to int ratio in that stretch.  The season starts with a difficult slew of matchups as well which will not help them. I think they’re offense will be better than expected but the defense may be receiving a little too much praise. A decent but altogether forgettable season is on the Horizon. 

Jaguars (6-11): The Jags went with Trevor Lawrence 1.01 in the 2021 draft. That surprised exactly 0 people. I think He’s really good and will have moments in his first season but just like Joe Burrow and even Andrew Luck, we see that when a good QB goes to a bad team. His under-appreciated athleticism will allow him to see success early and often. James Robinson has shown he can shoulder the burden of a full-time load in the NFL. DJ Chark is a talented receiver and the team added Marvin Jones Jr. who looks to be someone who is expected to fit in seamlessly. 

My concerns are that the offense will not be as dynamic as many think it will be.  Firstly, Travis Etienne’s injury means the offense has a lot less looks than anticipated and Urban Meyer has no track record at this level. The offensive line should be improved but still in the bottom quarter of the NFL. 

The defense used to be anchored by a pair of freakishly athletic corners in Jaylen Ramsey and AJ Bouye.  With the pair of them leaving northern florida in their rear-views, this means that free agent acquisition Shaquill Griffin and high draft picks CJ Henderson and Tyson Campbell to deliver immediately.  I love the speed and versatility that K’Lavon Chaisson and Josh Allen provide, but still it’s hard to see this team being any more than middling.

Texans (3-15): What a disaster.  From superstar QB Deshaun Watson asking for a trade then being accused by 21 women of secual impropriety to an FBI investigation the Texans have been a tire fire this entire off-season.  Tyrod Taylor is listed as the week 1 starter and has shown signs of competence in the NFL.  However, he is a journeyman for a reason.  The dude is simply a relatively skilled backup.  The team’s running game seems set to rely on the aging David Johnson and Mark Ingram rather than Phillip Lindsey who’s actually the team’s best all-around back.  

Other than leading the league in a category I like to call: “wow that dude plays there?” the Texans are just a collection of guys who would struggle to start on a lot of other rosters.  Brandin Cooks is a legitimate NFL receiver but he may be the team’s only receiver who can get separation on routes on a consistent basis.  This is an absolute waste of the last phase of JJ Watt’s career.  Houston would need a competitive edge on par with the Astros’ cheating scandal to be anything more than a guaranteed first overall pick.

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