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The Tennessee Titans Ready to Take Control(?)- 2017 AFC South Preview
Photo courtesy USA Today

The Tennessee Titans Ready to Take Control(?)- 2017 AFC South Preview

The AFC South came into existence in 2002. Since then, they’ve only produced two AFC champions (the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 and 2010). That’s the least of any of the AFC divisions in the last 15 years. In many ways, it feels like the South is overdue to send a team to the Superbowl. But is this the year it finally happens? The outlook on this division only shows one team with a chance to end the drought. Meanwhile, the rest of the division is in what has become far too familiar territory, serious quarterback questions and a search for an identity.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Record in 2016: 3-13

Key Player: Quarterback- Blake Bortles

Player to Watch: Running Back- Leonard Fournette

Outlook: On paper, Jacksonville is a talented team. However, bad quarterback play can derail a team in a way no other position can. I don’t usually like to use a quarterback as a team’s key player. It feels like cheating but in the case of the Jaguars, their fate lies in Blake Bortles’ interception prone hands. He has a trio of talented wide receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquis Lee. Those three can put up points quickly but only if the ball makes it to them. Last year, Bortles threw 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. That’s just not going to get the job done. Unfortunately, he hasn’t looked any better this preseason. The addition of rookie running back Leonard Fournette should help. Fournette was a monster at LSU. If he can be a bell-cow for the Jaguars, it will cut down on Bortles pass attempts (and hopefully his turnovers). The defense is unproven but with talented players like Myles Jack, Malik Jackson and Jalen Ramsey at all three levels, they should be improved. Whether or not they can hold opposing offenses will greatly depend on how many times Bortles forces them to defend a short field. Prediction: 4-12

 

Indianapolis Colts

Record in 2016: 8-8

Key Player: Nose Tackle- Jonathan Hankins

Player to Watch: Running Back- Frank Gore

Outlook: Unlike Jacksonville, Indianapolis has been able to find their quarterback. They just can’t keep him on the field. Andrew Luck is still recovering from a shoulder surgery that took place ages ago and there’s no timetable for his return. The loss of Luck just highlights how poorly constructed this roster is. Luck is extremely talented but the Colts have consistently failed to give him enough protection or weapons. With their terrible offensive line and Scott Tolzien likely the week 1 starter under center, this team will lean on ageless wonder Frank Gore. Gore rushed for over 1000 yards last season in spite of the offensive line and being 33 years old. Will this be the year he finally slows down? If so, how does Indy plan to produce yards? Things don’t look much better on the other side of the ball. A lack of play makers, Vontae Davis’ injury and little support from the offense is going to make life very difficult for the Colts defense. They’ll lean on former Giant defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins to be their anchor. It’s hard when your quarterback goes down. It’s harder when you haven’t acquired talent around him. Prediction: 4-12

 

Houston Texans

Record in 2016: 9-7

Key Player: Running back- Lamar Miller

Player to Watch: Outside Linebacker- Jadeveon Clowney

Outlook: Continuing the division’s trend, the Texans also have uncertainty at quarterback. The difference is that Houston has a very well constructed roster to mask it. The defense was stingy last season. Now they have the luxury of adding a generational talent as J.J. Watt comes back from injury. In his absence last year, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney improved, racking up 52 tackles and 6 sacks. If he can replicate that type of production or even improve upon it, he and Watt should be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. They can win a game on their own, and the Texans may need them to considering they’ll be starting Tom Savage under center. DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets at wide receiver but his talents are limited without a quality passer. Will Fuller’s injury doesn’t help. Deshaun Watson is the future but he may not be ready. Still, don’t be surprised to him starting if Savage struggles. This team will rely on it’s defense and ball control. Veteran running back Lamar Miller will need to run effectively for Houston to play to their strengths. Prediction: 8-8

 

Tennessee Titans

Record in 2016: 9-7

Key Player: Nose Tackle- Sylvester Williams

Player to Watch: Wide Receiver- Corey Davis

Outlook: The Titans must feel blessed for an AFC South team. They have a healthy franchise caliber quarterback in Marcus Mariota. That alone would give them an edge in this division but this team boasts more than just Mariota. The Titans have the fourth best offensive line in the NFL (per profootballfocus.com) and a pair of punishing running backs behind it. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are one the best backfield combinations in the league. Add in Mariota’s running ability and you have one of the NFL’s most lethal rushing attacks. The only thing holding them back last year was a lack of receiving weapons outside of tight end Delanie Walker. Tennessee addressed that issue through the draft and free agency and are particularly excited about rookie wide receiver Corey Davis. The former Western Michigan standout should be able to stretch the field and make all of the Titans’ other weapons more effective. The defense should be solid, if not stellar. The Titans’ division opponents will need to run the ball effectively against them to have a chance. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams will be a crucial piece to shutting down opposing run games and getting the ball back into Mariota’s capable hands. Barring a catastrophe, the Titans should take this division easily this year. The bigger question is, how far can they go from there? Prediction: 11-5

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