Jacksonville in the Playoffs?- Looking at the AFC South for 2017
Man let me tell you something, this division is a lot more unpredictable than in years past. In case you haven't read my other posts I'll say this again, i went through and pick every game for this upcoming season and didn't go team by team. So if the records look weird I wasn't keeping up with it but I agree with them give or take a game or two. Anyways, thanks for reading and let's see if Houston can make it 3 straight years on top of the AFC South.
1st Place: Indianapolis Colts, 10-6
The answer is no...or at least that's what I think. I'll get into why the Houston Texans won't make it a 3-peat later but for now I'll tell you why I think Indy will be the kings of the South. The biggest reason is pretty simple, Andrew Luck. I don't think anyone would disagree that Luck is head and shoulders above the rest of the QBs in the division, even though Marcus Mariota has had a productive start to his career. Luck was banged up most of 2016 but still managed to keep the Colts in the playoff hunt for most of the season. A big reason the Colts did miss out on the playoffs was their horrible pass defense, and also an offensive line that couldn't keep Luck standing upright.
The Colts didn't have too many losses in the off-season but the biggest was them cutting veteran starting MLB D'Qwell Jackson. The also traded starting tight end Dwayne Allen to the Patriots for some Ramen noodles. The Colts made some big moves to the front seven by signing Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo from the Patriots, and Johnathan Hankins from the Giants. To help out the 27th ranked pass defense, the Colts drafted secondary players in the first 2 rounds of the draft, taking ball-hawking safety Malik Hooker in the first, and press corner Quincy Wilson in the second.
The Colts were hit hard with the injury bug last season at all levels and hope to avoid soft tissue injuries this season. With offensive players like veteran running back Frank Gore and wide receiver TY Hilton who led the league in receiving yards, the Colts will lean on the offense to carry them. The Colts also hope the additions on defense, along with guys like Vonte Davis being able to stay healthy, will be enough to help them get back to the AFC championship, which they made it to just a few years ago.
2nd Place: Tennessee Titans, 9-7
Tennessee has really turned their team around, and I guess that's what happens when you're able to get a guy like Marcus Mariota. Tennessee made 2015 interim head coach Mike Mularky the full time coach for 2016 and he helped them to a 9-7 record. A big reason Marcus Mariota was so successful in year 2 was because the team went out and acquired one of the best running backs in football in DeMarco Murray, and they drafted Derrick Henry in 2016 to give them the 3rd best rushing attack last season. Marcus Mariota fractured his right fibula in week 16 or we could have seen Tennessee in the playoffs last season.
Two key reasons the Titans missed out on the playoffs were the lack of playmakers in the passing game, and a pass defense that gave up the 3rd most yards. To address both of those Tennessee used their 2 first round picks on receiver Corey Davis (5th overall), and corner Adoree Jackson (18th overall). In free agency they added cornerback Logan Ryan from New England, and safety Jonathan Cyprien from Jacksonville. The Titans allowed the second fewest rushing yards and added to that run stuffing front seven by adding defensive tackle Sylvester Williams from Denver. The Titans already have one of the best offensive tackle pairings in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, and they hope they can anchor an already solid offense into becoming elite.
If Mariota can stay healthy this season you'll see an offense led by him that contains Murray, Henry, Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and rookie Corey Davis, which is a pretty good offense. If Logan Ryan can be the guy they hope and Adoree Jackson can produce similar to the way he did at USC then you could see Tennessee in the post season for the first time since 2008.
3rd Place: Houston Texans, 8-8
The Texans will try to move past Brock Osweiler's first and last season that saw them make the playoffs, but no thanks to the QB play. To address that need at QB the Texans traded up to get Clemson signal caller Deshaun Watson 12th overall. Watson will be expected to compete with Tom Savage for the starting job. Obviously the Texans have one of the strongest defenses in the NFL and last season might have proved that more than any with reigning defensive player of the year JJ Watt going out with a season ending injury early on. That caused former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to have his breakout season.
The Texans saw number 1 corner AJ Bouye go to divisional rivals Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. The Texans didn't sign anyone of note in free agency, but opted to go with the draft to fill holes. If Watson does win the starting job he will inherit an offense that features DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller to get the ball to. The Texans have a Super Bowl contending team if they can get the QB situation squared away and Watt can come back healthy.
If Watson can transition to the NFL and play the way he did in back to back national championship games while at Clemson, then you could see Houston back on top of the division. I think Watson will end up being a good quarterback but I think he will have some struggles as every rookie does, and that could be enough to barely keep Houston from making the playoffs.
4th Place: Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-9
I put a picture of Leonard Fournette up because he could be what Jacksonville's season hinges on. The Jags selected Fournette 4th overall in hopes to improve a running game that averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season. The Jags decided to give Blake Bortles another year after he had another up and down season. The offensive struggles were due in large part to one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Last off-season saw the Jags spend big money to improve the defense and it helped when it came to the yards allowed category. Where it didn't help is the points per game allowed category, but when you have an offense that turns the ball over the 4th most in the NFL, it becomes difficult to stop opposing offenses from scoring.
To add to an improved defense that features young stars like Jalen Ramsey and Donte Fowler, the Jaguars added AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell, and Barry Church in free agency. The only real move the Jags made on the offensive line in free agency was getting Branden Albert from the Dolphins, but they did also draft Cam Robinson in the second round of the 2017 draft. The Jaguars defense is definitely good enough to make them a playoff team, they just need the offense to do their part. The Jacksonville offense features some really good recievers, the two biggest being Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. If Fournette can bring some balance to that offense and cause Blake Bortles to throw less then it could mean we see Jacksonville back in the playoffs for the first time since Tom Coughlin was head coach.
Speaking of Tom Coughlin, it's both his and Doug Marrone's first years in their new roles. Coughlin is the Vice President of football operation and Marrone is the new head coach. Both will be looking to help Jacksonville make it out of a top 5 pick in next years draft, they extended the record of picking in the top 5 to 6 straight years, that's not good.
So there you have it, I picked this to be the standings of the upcoming season but I think this division is so competitive that the standings could be flipped backwards when it's all said and done.
Thanks for taking the time to read it, share if you enjoyed and remember to check back tomorrow where I'll be tackling another competitive division in the AFC West, peace!