Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)
Suddenly things have taken a huge swing in the AFC South with the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. I have the Jaguars sliding into the top spot after this. There are some questions with this team as they move on from Blake Bortles with postseason hero Nick Foles. Foles has failed as a full-time starter with a new team before with the Rams, to the point where he almost walked away from the game. I am sure he has figured that out with experience but it still has to be a concern. Leonard Fournette has to be on the field and productive on a regular basis as well. Blake Bortles gets blamed for a lot, but with this teams lack of outside weapons, if Fournette is not a threat in the offense or on the field any quarterback will struggle. Dede Westbrook is their most reliable target and they are gambling that Chris Conley will finally be consistent. I have my doubts about both areas. Defensively, this team is loaded and they added Josh Allen in the draft. This defense simply quit last year and while that is unacceptable, with a new quarterback and playing focus they will be dangerous. Their corners are A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey and they are both capable of locking down receivers. Myles Jack is an underrated linebacker and their defensive line has everything it needs. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are excellent against the run and pass and are turnover machines. Marcell Dareus should once again be effective up the middle and I look for them to use Josh Allen at linebacker some just to get him on the field. I believe Nick Foles will have this team back to form and focused on his play and leadership.
Houston Texans (9-7)**
Lost in the Andrew Luck news was the torn ACL suffered by Lamar Miller. This is a big loss but not a killer loss. I like what they have done with their offensive line. Center Nick Martin is developing into one of the best and they drafted Tytus Howard and Max Scarping in the first round and second rounds at tackle. I expect this line to provide time for Deshaun Watson to really stretch the field with his big-play weapons led by DeAndre Hopkins. Defensively, I have some concerns. J.J. Watt will, of course, be solid, but Jadeveon Clowney could be traded. The interior linebackers aren’t spectacular either. In the secondary, they are led by the aging Johnathan Joseph. They have tried to address this by drafting Lonnie Johnson Jr. in the second round and signing Bradley Roby in free agency. Bill O’Brien is a good coach, and there is talent on this team to keep them right in playoff contention.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
Obviously, the sudden announcement of Andrew Luck’s retirement changes things for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. I don’t think it’s all bad news, however. As of now, they are going with Jacoby Brissett, though a veteran could be acquired. Brissett is a fringe starter in my opinion (a la Case Keenum), and productive play from him could have this team in the playoffs. Marlon Mack is a productive under the radar running back and that line is solid on the left side with Quenton Nelson and Anthony Costanzo, guard and tackle respectively. Big body receiver Devin Funchess is a nice compliment to T.Y. Hilton in the passing game. Let’s see how Brissett can incorporate them. This team has made significant strides on the defense as well. Veteran Justin Houston will make a difference rushing the passer and look for second-year linebacker Darius Leonard to improve on his Rookie of the Year season. Malik Hooker continues to improve at safety and Pierre Desir has really improved at corner. There is talent on this team left and if Jacoby Brissett (or a late acquired veteran) can keep the quarterback play professional, the season does not have to be lost.
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
There are plenty of questions for the Titans this season in Mike Vrabel’s second season as coach. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is now the head coach in Green Bay and Marcus Mariota will have to learn a new system. This is a make or break year for Mariota. He has shown flashes and has won games, but his consistency just hasn’t been there though. Corey Davis needs to become that number one receiver they hoped when they drafted him, and soon. They made a great addition adding Rodger Saffold at left guard, but with the suspension to left tackle Taylor Lewan, that will be for not for a while. With a team as reliant on the run game with Derrick Henry as the Titans are, this has to be an issue. Defensively, they have talent on all three levels. Jurrell Casey is a quality tackle, and veteran addition Cameron Wake should be fresh moving to linebacker in the 3-4. Malcolm Butler is still a quality corner, but Adoree’ Jackson has not lived up to his billing. Safety Kevin Byard has been an All-Pro and has ball hawk instincts. Too many questions for me to put them in the playoffs, but they should be competitive in this tough division.
**Denotes Wild Card berth