AFC South could quickly become one of the top divisions in the NFL
Over the last 10 years the AFC South has been generally considered one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, typically sending just one team to the playoffs while the remaining three teams pick in the top 10-15 of the draft. This has led to a lot of pundits looking down on the division winner citing an easier schedule as the reason for their success. That reputation could begin to change with the amount of young talent, particularly at the quarterback spot this division. Starting this year and for the foreseeable future this division should become a fun race to watch with at least two teams capable of making the post season and finding success once they get there.
Only the Indianapolis Colts have consistently been a playoff team/contender in the South, and they have finished with a winning record (and 10 or more wins) in 8 of the past 10 seasons. The Texans are the next best with 5 winning records in the past 10 seasons, but only two of those seasons saw even 10 wins. The Titans and Jaguars have a combined 4 winning seasons over that time frame and over the past 4 seasons neither one has managed even a .500 record. Here’s how these four teams look in the coming years:
-The Colts struggled to an 8-8 record last season, but they dealt with a myriad of injuries including star quarterback Andrew Luck missing 9 games. Luck struggled throughout the year, but he should be fine going forward and establish himself as among the leagues best quarterbacks in a short period of time. The Colts have finally started to invest in the offensive line and it should help keep Luck upright more often. Luck has an impressive group of receivers and tight ends to get the ball to and they are a young unit that should thrive for years. Defensively the Colts still have question marks, but this team should be able to go far given their offensive talent.
-The Texans have made the playoffs the last two years almost solely due to J.J. Watt and their defense which remains one of the best in the league. The Texans QB play last year was among the worst in the league, yet they still were able to produce offensively given the presence of stud WR DeAndre Hopkins. Now the Texans have signed QB Brock Osweiler, who doesn’t have to do much to be an improvement over what the Texans have had of late under center. Houston has also invested in some young receivers and a quality young back in Lamar Miller to add more weapons to this offense. Given their defense even a slightly above average offensive output could make the Texans a quality contender, and if this group hits it’s potential they could be one of the best teams in the league.
-After a rough rookie season QB Blake Bortles rebounded last year showing some nice improvement and flashes of his upside. He’s far from being a top QB just yet, but if he keeps developing the Jaguars have the offensive talent to take advantage. Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas all are big time receiving weapons, and the 1-2 punch of Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon could be one of the better RB tandems in the league. The offensive line should start to improve as well this year. Defensively the Jaguars have a ton of potential and if they start to gel that could quickly be a very good unit. The best part is the Jaguars are one of the youngest teams and they have a very healthy cap situation.
-The Titans are probably the furthest away team right now, but their future remains incredibly bright. Rookie QB Marcus Mariota looked pretty good last season before he went down with injuries. The Titans should have an improved offensive line and running game to support their young QB this year. The receiving corps is still a work in progress, but TE Delanie Walker gives Mariota one quality option. Defensively the Titans should be better this season, but they still have some work to do. The future looks good for Tennessee though with two first round selections next year and plenty of cap room going forward.