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A River(s) Runs Through The South: 2020 AFC South Preview
Photo Courtesy of Sharp Football Analysis

A River(s) Runs Through The South: 2020 AFC South Preview

The AFC South ended last season with the feel good story of the NFL with the Tennessee Titans falling one game short of the Super Bowl. But with Indianapolis adding a potential Hall of Fame quarterback, Houston retooling their roster and the saga of the Jaguars in Jacksonville, the AFC South might be the most entertaining division in the league.

 

Houston Texans

Record in 2019: 10-6

Key Player: Running Back – David Johnson

Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Brandin Cooks

Houston not only won the division last season, they even won their home playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. After giving up 51 points to Kansas City in the divisional round, the Texans front office decided changes had to be made on both sides of the ball.

Gone is All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins via trade. 1,000 rusher Carlos Hyde and strong safety Jaheel Addae were not brought back. But in their place, Houston added running back David Johnson, wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb and cornerback Vernon Hargraves. 

With new pieces in place, quarterback Deshaun Watson will have to figure out a way to get this team back into the playoffs or the Texans could potentially lose their franchise player in the offseason. If Houston’s receiving core can stay healthy, the Texans can find a way to outscore everyone in the division. 

Even with a healthy J.J Watt back, the Texans are going to need to find another playmaker on the defensive side of the ball in order to make it back to the playoffs. But unfortunately, they got worse while most of the division got better. Prediction: 7-9 

 

Indianapolis Colts

Record in 2019: 7-9

Key Player: Defensive Tackle – DeForest Buckner

Player To Watch: Quarterback – Philip Rivers

The 2019 season was filled with injuries on both sides of the ball, which were some of the main causes of the Colts losing five of the final six games of the season. Even though Jacoby Brissett had a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio, the Colts had one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. 

So the Colts went out and acquired eight time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers to lead the offense in 2020. Rivers will have a healthy T.Y. Hilton at wide receiver and Jack Doyle, Trey Burton and rooke wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. as targets in head coach Frank Reich’s offense. Indianapolis had the seventh best rushing attack in the league and they added Wisconsin star running back Jonathan Taylor in the NFL Draft. Taylor could be the long-term solution for the Colts.

Darius Leonard is considered the best middle linebacker in the NFL right now. So, when the Colts traded for former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner during the NFL Draft, they gave their star the opportunity to increase his tackle total in 2020. Buckner is also a pass rushing threat, as he had 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons. 

Yes, Rivers will throw interceptions (63 over the last four seasons) but he has thrown 30 or more touchdown passes six times in his career. His ability to make the throws that Brissett could not make could get the Colts back into the playoffs in 2020. Prediction: 9-7

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Record in 2019: 6-10

Key Player: Quarterback – Gardner Minshew III

Player To Watch: Linebacker – K’Lavon Chaisson

The Nick Foles’ quarterback experiment failed as he was injured in the opening quarter of the opening game and it went downhill for him afterwards. His crash and burn season ended up with Foles being traded to Chicago. But rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew III became not only a feel good story in the NFL, but potentially Jacksonville’s future at quarterback.

But every young quarterback needs a solid running game and the Jaguars moved on from Leonard Fournette right before the season started. Now with questions at running back, Jacksonville will have to use Minshew’s arm to stay competitive in 2020. Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Chark returns and they added Tyler Effert and Laviska Shenault in the offseason.

On defense, the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell to Baltimore and Yannick Ngakoue to Minnesota will be huge holes to fill. So Jacksonville will move second-year defensive standout Josh Allen to play defensive end. The combination of Allen and Rookie K’Lavon Chaisson could end up in double digits in sacks coming off the edge. But replacing not only the defensive team captain and the mayor of “Sackonville” in Campbell, will be too much for this group of Jaguars. Prediction: 5-11

 

Tennessee Titans

Record in 2019: 9-7

Key Player: Wide Receiver – A.J. Brown

Player To Watch: Defensive End – Jack Crawford

Tennessee not only exceeded expectations…they fell one game short of the Super Bowl last season. When Quarterback Ryan Tannehill took over the starting job in Week seven, the Titans began their march up the AFC South standings. His 22 touchdown passes forced teams not to stack the box against Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry.

Even though rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown did not win Offensive Rookie of the Year, his 1,051 receiving yards not only led the team, he was also the only rookie to reach over 1,000 receiving yards. His ability to stretch the defense will help Tannehill be able to replicate his 70% completion percentage. 

On defense, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is now in Denver but the additions of two former Atlanta Falcons could prove to be the difference makers in the Tennessee pass rush. Vic Beasley and his 37.5 career sacks will be on the opposite side from the team’s leading sack artist Harold Landry. Defensive Tackle Jack Crawford will replace Casey and if he can replace his 2018 numbers, his one year- $1.05 million dollar contract could be the steal of the off-season.

Repeating the magic of last season will be extremely difficult, but a return trip to the playoffs will give Tennessee a chance to do it again. Prediction: 10-6

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