NFL

NCB 2015 AFC South Preview

Back in 2002, when the NFL realigned divisions, it was largely seen as a good idea. It gave the league a new competitive balance and edge. It reignited or in some cases started divisional rivalries (Green Bay is an eternal hatred), and season schedules made more sense as they were much more organized.

The one place divisional realignment didn’t really help was in the creation of the AFC South. The idea to put in one new expansion team in the Houston Texans (The ballad of David Carr), along with a still relatively young franchise in the Jaguars, backfired tremendously. While the Titans of course, sort of just plodded along.

For most of the past 13-14 years, many have seen the AFC South as the cupcake division of the NFL. That’s because the Colts have lucked into having two back-to-back generational quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck (bitter Bears fan), while the Titans, Jaguars, and Texans have struggled to even maintain mediocrity.

I mean seriously, you can basically almost guarantee the 5-6 division wins for the Colts every year, just because they have a QB while a team like the freaking Titans tries to sell itself on Kerry Collins (2012 was a fun year).

Without further ado, let’s talk about outlook of the AFC South in 2015:

1) Indianapolis Colts- 2014 record: (11-5)

Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton (13) runs out of the tackle of Tennessee Titans' Coty Sensabaugh (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

2o14 Quick Recap: Here, I’ll tell you a secret: The Colts really aren’t that good.

For most of Andrew Luck’s short three year career, they have gotten off of him doing superhuman things. Luck is the big stocky lumberjack quarterback who will throw five consecutive passes at his receiver’s feet, then do this in the 4th quarter……..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLDYlmYBS_4

And somehow this team wins 10-12 games every year, when no one knows how!

Once again I re-emphasize, this team is in the AFC South, therefore they are GIFTED six divisional wins every year (might as well put a bow on it).

Otherwise, if not for that, look at the roster construct. You had the league’s 3rd ranked total offense and 6th in scoring team, yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because the Colts have largely had no running game throughout Luck’s entire tenure, he throws the ball 35-45 times a game to TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener etc.

I mean seriously, look at the stats, because while the offensive line doesn’t do a bad job of protecting Luck (only 29 sacks allowed), they don’t push anyone around either (22nd in rushing offense). This team LIVES off of Luck doing superhuman things because they can’t do anything else offensively and on the other side of the ball, it’s even worse.

The 11th ranked total defense and 12th ranked passing defense but 18th in rushing defense. 18th! While there are some capable studs on the back end like CB’s Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, that front seven is ravaged and underdeveloped thanks to the genius of GM Ryan Grigson (1st rounder for Trent Richardson SAY WHAT?).

This might as well be a season recap every year of what happens to the Colts once they face an opponent like say the Patriots in the playoffs…….

Until the defense is actually soundly developed through the draft, you can basically stamp outcomes like last year’s above AFC title game every year (A 45-7 loss for the Colts in which they allowed 177 rushing yards!). Yet, they’re still proud they finally beat Peyton and Andy freaking Dalton in the previous rounds.

How everyone sees 2014 being any different from 2015 because the Colts added an over-the-hill Andre Johnson AND an over-the-hill Frank Gore is beyond me.

I mean Andrew Luck is basically the modern John Elway without the Super Bowls at the twilight.

Strengths: I guess when you have a generational QB like Luck who leads the NFL in passing, you should count that as a strength. I GUESS. While I frown upon most of the Colts roster, Luck is as complete a package as it gets.

He has all of the physical tools (6’4, 250 lbs, with the beard of a lumberjack, you might as well call him the Paul Bunyan of quarterbacks), accuracy, poise in the pocket, and that “cliche” IT factor when the game’s on the line. In his upcoming 4th season, I can only definitively say that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are better NFL quarterbacks, but that is EXTREMELY tentative as those two age and Luck only grows more and more (I hate you lucky Colts fans).

Of course, Luck gets to throw to TY Hilton (82 rec, 1,345 yards, 7 TD’s), one of the NFL’s best deep threats, Andre Johnson, a future Hall of Famer as his #2, and Donte Moncrief, so he has arguably one of the best receiving cores in the league at his disposal.

Defensively, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are one of the best CB duo’s in the league, and are essentially the centerpieces of the Colts defense for better or worse. (Mostly for worse).

Weaknesses: Oh WOWWWW, the Colts added an undersized aging pass rusher in Trent Cole, so how does that fix their front seven and run defense issues again?

The Colts bring back largely the same front seven after wisely (HAHAHA) spending a 1st round pick on a receiver they didn’t need in Phillip Dorsett. So how exactly are things supposed to change against teams with physical ground game fronts like the Patriots or the Ravens, or say the Seahawks in the NFC?

D’Qwell Jackson is a slightly above average ILB but not a difference maker as is companion Jerrell Freeman, while DT Arthur Jones and OLB Erik Walden are just being set up to yet again be cannon fodder for Belichick’s boys.

Oh and did I mention, the over-the-hill Frank Gore is now the RB? With an offensive line that can’t make any holes? Super Bowl or Bust? Stop.

Thanks Jim Irsay!

2015 Predicted Record: 11-5, 1st in AFC South

2) Houston Texans-2014 record: (9-7)

Dec 28, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) waves to the crowd after the Texans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-180502 ORIG FILE ID: 20141228_rnb_at5_062.JPG

2014 Quick Recap: Quick! Name a completely new not renamed and moved over successful expansion franchise to a new city! (*Crickets)

The Texans may as well be the poster-child for “Oh man, this is their year” or now recently “If only they had a QB”.

I honestly have no idea how this team won nine games last year (Maybe because they’re in the AFC South?). Oh right, they won two games each against the Titans and Jaguars, the Bills, Raiders, the Redskins, the Browns, and SOMEHOW the Ravens. So basically mostly teams along the same platform of mediocrity they inhabit. Cupcake schedules are fun!

Anyone who was irate this team didn’t make the playoffs should be ASHAMED of themselves.

But it’s not like the Texans roster was particularly loaded. Maybe it was because the man above, DE JJ Watt, basically the big brother tool no football fan in America asked for…http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2015/7/8/8911539/j-j-watt-zach-mettenberger-fighting-selfies-again-texans-titans-nfl (I mean seriously, what’s this guy’s deal?) is just an absolute football freak of nature……

I mean, he’s essentially the reason Houston is even remotely relevant on the football landscape. There is seriously no point to recap anything else from 2014 because JJ Watt was, is, and will be THAT good.

It was a season that saw a resume of Watt with 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, an 80 yard game winning pick 6, more tackles for loss than some teams combined, AND THREE receiving touchdowns.

There was no way this kind of history could culminate in less than a 2nd Defensive Player of the Year award for Watt, as he put himself on fast track into the conversation of some of the best defensive players to ever play football. A surefire First Ballot Hall Of Famer at this rate with his work ethic and ability.

He’s still a HUGEEE tool though.

Strengths: Let’s see….JJ Watt, JJ Watt, and oh some JJ Watt. When you have people already talking about you as one of the best to ever play the game, and you’ve only played FOUR seasons (draft steal) you are all of your team’s strengths and more.

The Texans roster surrounding Watt isn’t wholly bad though. The Texans did sign aging NT Vince Wilfork to basically eat up space for Watt and as a whole, a front seven of MLB Brian Cushing (provided he doesn’t get injured), OLB Whitney Mercilus, and PROPHETIC PASS RUSHING TALENT JADAVEON CLOWNEY isn’t that bad. They might be in pretty good shape.

(Clowney’s career seems to be based off of this one hit in my mind)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC44nP7ClxM

Offensively, while the Texans don’t have a QB (which we’ll get to, don’t you worry) they do have a promising 2nd year receiver in DeAndre Hopkins (76 rec, 1,210 yards, 6 TD’s), ready to step into the #1 role and a pretty solid offensive line led by LT Duane Brown and RT Derek Newton.

Beyond that…..yeah, let’s talk about it.

Weaknesses:

Your QB is Brian Hoyer. I repeat, your QB is Brian Hoyer, otherwise known as the man who couldn’t beat out Johnny Manziel and fell out of favor in Cleveland (They’ll take anyone).

The Texans think Hoyer is the dynamic stabilizing force when he basically won their QB competition because of Ryan Mallet’s laziness? Yeak. OK.

Also Arian Foster is hurt. Again. After injuring his groin, the RB is out for an undisclosed time. Hmm, interesting. So an offense with a game manager at best at QB, now can’t let the QB game manage with one of the best RB’s in the NFL, at least for the time being? That should work out GLORIOUSLY.

I mean seriously does anyone expect a RB like Alfred Blue with a less than 4 yards per carry career average to be the Texans’ savior? (I reserve the right to take this back if he explodes).

Yeah it doesn’t look like a promising year of support for Hoyer.

Then you get to the secondary defensively where mega rich corner Johnathan Joseph has regressed dramatically from his 2012/2013 performance while safeties Andre Hal and Rahim Moore might as well be overrated out of position turnstiles. But hey other corner Kareem Jackson looks promising? (Get excited Texans fans!)

Seriously though, this team goes as JJ Watt goes. Watt probably needs to have another historic season, which may not be impossible, but nonetheless is asking a lot of anyone, even the best defensive player in the league.

This team was 17th in total yardage offensively and 14th in scoring, and 16th in total defense and 7th in scoring. That’s WITH a boost from Watt and as middle of the pack as it gets.

They finish 2nd in the AFC South almost by default because the Titans and Jaguars are so bad.

2015 Predicted Record: 8-8, 2nd in AFC South. 

3) Jacksonville Jaguars-2014 record: (3-13)

blake-bortles-nfl-new-york-giants-jacksonville-jaguars-850x560

2014 Quick Recap: Can you household name ONE player on the Jaguars besides QB Blake Bortles, if that? Seriously, I’ll wait.

That’s how the 2014 season went and how most of Jacksonville’s existence in the NFL has been. The Jaguars are the NFL’s most irrelevant franchise and the redheaded stepchild of Florida.

Despite known “genius” (air quotes for a reason) head coach, Gus Bradley, getting more control over his roster in now two years removed from being Seattle’s defensive coordinator (Starting to think it was more the talent of Seattle), the Jags success or lack thereof largely hasn’t changed.

A 3-13 season where rookie 1st round pick Blake Bortles led the NFL in interceptions was listless and completely unmemorable (Hey they beat Eli and the Giants that one time!) other than for the fact of how irrelevant the Jags were. It’s been 2 years of 4-12 and 3-13 now for Gus Bradley and he supposedly has his franchise quarterback of the future in Bortles, yet it still feels like something’s missing.

The roster building so far for Jacksonville has gone quite poorly and the only reason I put the Jags at #3 in this awful division is because I expect improvement from Bortles, but that is obviously still wait and see. Many rookie QB have struggled in their first season and gone onto great things, but that will be entirely more dependent on Jacksonville than Bortles.

For now watch a “highlight” reel of Bortles

I know it’s preseason. I’M TRYING TO BE POSITIVE!

Strengths/Weaknesses: Any strengths and negatives we count here, to be fair I will count as more like “hoping” and “potential”.

  • WR Allen Hurns had a nice rookie season with 51 receptions, 677 yards, and 6 TD’s. At 6’3 with his physical gifts, he appears to be a “promising” #1 target for Bortles.
  • At his side he’ll have #2 receiver Marqise Lee, who also enjoyed a “solid” (Nixon would be proud of me for all these air quotes) rookie season with 37 rec, 422 yards, and a TD. So at least Bortles has someone to throw to, right?
  • A defense that was 26th in total yardage and points, really bulked up it’s front seven OLB Dan Skuta, and DE Jared Odrick to help out the solid MLB Paul Pozluszny and DE Ziggy Hood.
  • The Jags secondary is still the Jags secondary meaning can you tell me who Sergio Brown, Jonathan Cyprien, Aaron Colvin, and Demetrius McCray are? Exactly! You can’t! (I know, I’m funny)
  • Maybe RB TJ Yeldon is finally the man in the backfield coming over from FOOTBALL POWERHOUSE (Damn you Saban) Alabama, especially with a now slightly stabilized offensive line that features LT Luke Joeckel, LG Zane Beadles, and RT Stefen Wisniewski. (Toby Gerhart as the #1 was SUCH a train wreck)

Now to the final two negatives: TE Julius Thomas is already hurt with broken after signing a big free agent deal to be Bortles’ target down the middle, and Andrew Luck is still QB in Indy.

So unless Bortles really starts growing into a generational talent (He might, I don’t know, seems to have a lot more talent around him), the outlook isn’t bright. The Jags may be committed to second or third fiddle for quite awhile regardless of improvements they make.

I do hear LA was looking for an NFL team. That wasn’t just a rumor, right? Maybe they’d find better success if they moved? No? (Just KIDDING Jags fans)

2015 Predicted Record: 7-9, 3rd in AFC South

4) Tennessee Titans- 2014 record: (2-14)

mariota600-050215

2014 Quick Recap: *Looks at Titans’ 2014 stats and results. Immediately wipes memory*.

BEHOLD TENNESSEE FOOTBALL. YOUR MESSIAH (not blasphemy) HAS ARRIVED!

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman prodigy himself, the guy who couldn’t handle Ohio State’s physical NFL defense will cure all your ails!

Yes Mariota is largely the only thing notable thing to talk about with the Titans. As a 2-14 season that saw the Titans possess the 29th offense and defense, became a complete sideshow to “SUCK FOR THE DUCK” (I’m pretty sure there were other monikers).

And with Lovie Smith and the Bucs settling on Jameis Winston, Tennessee got their man in the 2015 draft! Yay? Maybe. There’s still plenty of work to do with a largely talent devoid roster that lacks any cohesion (I’m not afraid to be harsh).

Strengths/Weaknesses: Are there any denoted strengths for a team that had a -184 point differential? I mean do we really have to get into it?

I guess there’s some talent on the roster as TE Delanie Walker (63 rec, 890 yards, 4 TD’s) is halfway decent and WR Harry Douglas comes over to join the speedy Kendall Wright (57 rec, 715 yards, 6 TD’s) and draft pick Dorial Green-Beckham (ALL the potential in the world, but where have we heard that before?).

So it looks like Mariota will have someone to throw to when he’s airing it 40+ times a game because RB Bishop Sankey is certainly not the answer in the running game (Just nothing special). And it’s a shame too, because quietly Tennessee is building one of the better offensive lines in football, at least talent wise (50 sacks allowed, still a work in progress), in drafting LT Taylor Lewan and RG Chance Warmack in recent years.

Defensively there’s even less available to work with. OLB Derrick Morgan is probably the only real talent Tennessee has on defense and on most other rosters, he is a situational pass rusher at best. So there’s heavy construction on defense needed at ALL levels.

So unless MESSIAH Mariota is doing this all the time (which will be hard to do considering what’s around him)

The Titans will still be poised to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2015.

Don’t get me wrong. With Mariota in the fold there is now some promise (This is how NFL teams hook you in for your money, using words like “promise”), but it’s going to take quite a while. Mariota does have talent and appears to be more than poised to succeed in the NFL, its just a matter if the Titans can develop him and the team around him enough for that success.

One last note: Head Coach and offensive QB guru, Ken Whisenhunt, has never developed his own young franchise QB, so there’s that. (It must be said).

For now Titans fans, you have the MESSIAH. Never forget that.

Until his career possibly goes RGIII-esque.

-Robert Zeglinski

Robert Zeglinski is an aspiring sportswriter who absolutely loves all the nitty gritty that comes with pro sports. He is currently attending Aurora University in Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigZags82 or reach him through email (robertpoduski@gmail.com) for questions or feedback.

Sources: (horseshoeheroes.com, fantasyteamadvice.com, USA Today, NFL, Zaynalll, SB Nation, ESPN, blackandteal.com, JagsJaxFan, titansonline.com, Elite Sports Highlights)

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