AFC South projections in June? Okay, it may be way-too-early to begin thinking about the NFL season, but who else can’t wait until fall? In this way-too-early series, I will give my take on each of the NFL divisions and how I believe they will shape up. Who is going to finish the season atop the AFC South division?
Way-Too-Early AFC South Projections
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)(0-6)
Losses: Kansas City Chiefs (week 1), at Houston Texans (week 2), Tennessee Titans (week 3), at Denver Broncos (week 4), New Orleans Saints (week 6), at Cincinnati Bengals (week 7), Houston Texans (week 9 in London), at Indianapolis Colts (week 11), at Tennessee Titans (week 12), Los Angeles Chargers (week 14), at Atlanta Falcons (week 16), Indianapolis Colts (week 17)
Defense wins championships. The issue with the Jacksonville Jaguars is their offense. The addition of Nick Foles brings Super Bowl experience, but what else? Leonard Fournette is a great running back when he wants to be. If he is lackluster, what then? Alfred Blue and Thomas Rawls back him up, but those names will not spark excitement. The silver lining for the Jags this year will be their defense. Myles Jack, Calais Campbell, and Jalen Ramsey are three of the best at their positions. In a division with Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, and Marcus Mariota, the Jags will have to be solid defensively if they want to compete.
Despite this projection of four wins, the Jaguars can certainly go 8-8 if they can win the toss-ups against Tennessee and Cincinnati. Plus, they can poach a win from a much better team, as we see every year. As it is every year, the NFL sends the Jaguars overseas to play their week nine home matchup against Houston in London. If Foles cannot lead the Jaguars to a few early-season wins, expect their sixth-round draft pick, Gardner Minshew, to see some playing time.
Tennessee Titans (5-11)(2-4)
Wins: at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 3), Buffalo Bills (week 5), Tampa Bay Buccanneers (week 8), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 12), at Oakland Raiders (week 14)
Losses: at Cleveland Browns (week 1), Indianapolis Colts (week 2), at Atlanta Falcons (week 4), at Denver Broncos (week 6), Los Angeles Chargers (week 7), at Carolina Panthers (week 9), Kansas City Chiefs (week 10), at Indianapolis Colts (week 13), Houston Texans (week 15), New Orleans Saints (week 16), at Houston Texans (week 17)
The 2019 Tennessee Titans will be a quiet team. Fifth-year quarterback Marcus Mariota is in a contract year and will be the reason for their success or failure. In his four years, Mariota has not been able to play a full season. He’s missed at least one game each year. Offensively, Derrick Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Corey Davis will solidify their roles as playmakers. For a defensive-minded coach, Mike Vrabel has certainly set his team up to succeed on offense. Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Adoree Jackson will make opposing offenses work for their passing yards. Ultimately, the Titans will continue to be sub-par and will most likely be on the market for a new franchise quarterback.
The tone will be set in week one. If the Titans can go into Cleveland and stymie their potentially explosive offense, they will be able to carry their momentum into two crucial divisional matchups. Going through the NFC South division will be difficult, so don’t be surprised if the Titans manage to go 0-4.
Houston Texans (11-5)(5-1)
Wins: Jacksonville Jaguars (week 2), Carolina Panthers (week 4), Atlanta Falcons (week 5), Oakland Raiders (week 8), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 9 in London), Indianapolis Colts (week 12), New England Patriots (week 13), Denver Broncos (week 14), at Tennessee Titans (week 15), at Tampa Bay Buccanneers (week 16), Tennessee Titans (week 17)
Losses: at New Orleans Saints (week 1), at Los Angeles Chargers (week 3), at Kansas City Chiefs (week 6), at Indianapolis Colts (week 7), at Baltimore Ravens (week 11)
The Houston Texans will certainly not be boring. Deshaun Watson is beginning to make his case for being one of the top young quarterbacks in the league. When you can throw the ball to Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins and hand it off to Lamar Miller, you’re going to look good. Hopkins has established his place as a top-three wideout in the game, so it opens everything up for Watson. Defensively, the Texans will continue to be at the top of the league. J.J. Watt is still a guy opponents must gameplan around. The Texans franchise tagged former first-rounder Jadeveon Clowney and have been reported to be open to trading him, so we will have to keep an eye out for that. Linebacker Zach Cunningham has quietly developed into one of the best young backers in the game as well.
The Texans schedule does not do them any favors. Houston has to play five of the best teams in the NFL in the Ravens, Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers, and Saints. They will drop games to each of these strong teams but will surprise the Patriots. Despite not being projected to win the division, the Texans will be just outside of the playoffs. It will come down to them and Baltimore for the Wild Card, so their week 11 matchup will be crucial. If not for a few games here and there, AFC South projections could favor the Texans.
Indianapolis Colts (12-4)(5-1)
Wins: at Tennessee Titans (week 2), Atlanta Falcons (week 3), Oakland Raiders (week 4), Houston Texans (week 7), Denver Broncos (week 8), Miami Dolphins (wee 10), Jacksonville Jaguars (week 11), Tennessee Titans (week 13), at Tampa Bay Buccanneers (week 14), at New Orleans Saints (week 15), Carolina Panthers (week 16), at Jacksonville Jaguars (week 17)
Losses: at Los Angeles Chargers (week 1), at Kansas City Chiefs (week 5), at Pittsburgh Steelers (week 9), at Houston Texans (week 12)
The Indianapolis Colts will be very difficult to stop. Aside from the Chiefs, who is going to field a more explosive offense? Andrew Luck is primed for an MVP-caliber season. Wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Deon Cain will pair nicely with second-round draft pick Parris Campbell and newly signed free agent Devin Funchess. Marlon Mack has quietly been a solid running back and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-two punch at tight end. Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle provide Luck with trustworthy options. On defense, the Colts will be lead by the 2018 rookie of the year Darius Leonard. The defense was Indianapolis’ priority in the draft, where they took an NFL-most seven defenders. Prepare yourselves for the Colts to possibly take over the AFC if Kansas City misses a step.
If there will be a weak spot in the Colts season, it will be due to an early bye week. Despite the possibility for last season fatigue, the Colts will end the season on a five-game winning streak which could earn a first-round bye. Their matchups against the Steelers and Chiefs will give us a good preview for what is to come in the post-season.
More Than Just a Little Luck
The Colts will be the champions of these 2019 AFC South projections. Indianapolis joins Pittsburgh, New England, and Kansas City as the top four teams in the AFC. The Chiefs will be the top-seeded team and the number two will come down to a tie-breaker, which New England would win. The number three seed would go to the Colts and the four to Pittsburgh. Who gets the Wild Card? We have two 11-5 teams and one 13-3. The first Wild Card would go to the LA Chargers, who went 13-3, and the second would go to Baltimore. That week 11 matchup with Houston is that much more crucial. These matchups will make for some an extremely exciting post-season!
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