Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2016-17 Season AFC South Preview

The AFC South has been far and away the weakest division in the league for several seasons now. The Colts, the only team that many people felt were truly a quality club, suffered an embarrassing failure and missed too many opportunities to win the division or qualify for the playoffs. The Texans had a surprisingly strong season, but at their best, they still only managed to go 9-7 and barely tool the division, before getting humiliated in a blowout, playoff shutout loss to the Chiefs. The Titans have a bright young quarterback with a very promising future, but he still needs both time and help before he fulfills his true potential and helps his team to the playoffs. As for the Jaguars, they have been improving, but they still are a far cry from being serious contenders. 

So, how will the AFC South shape up this season? Let me take my best shot to predict it:

1. Indianapolis Colts (projected division winners) - Last season, the Indianapolis Colts had a truly miserable follow-up to their AFC title game appearance the season before, and losing out on a chance to win a third straight division title, losing out to the Houston Texans, Despite that, I am predicting that the Colts will rebound and enjoy success again this year. They had difficulty scoring a lot of points last season, which is surprising, given that Andrew Luck should be fully coming into his own right around this point in his career. The defense was not much better, as opponents scored over 400 points against the Colts last year. Given the struggles of both units last season, it seems almost shocking that the Colts actually were successful enough to avoid a losing season, although when you take into account just how weak this division is, it becomes a little easier to understand. Most people felt that Indianapolis was the only really strong, standout team in this division last year, and so it came as a shock that they not only struggled, but outright failed to win the division title or qualify for the playoffs, after what seemed like tremendous promise the year before. But they have had an entire offseason to think about it, to let it stew, and to work out their problems and get ready for the new season. It is hard to tell just how good they will be, but they should be good enough to get back on track, at least enough to come out of this season with a division title. 

2. Houston Texans (projected second place) - The Houston Texans had everything go right for them last season, and it culminated in a surprising division championship title and a playoff berth. However, they are not a particularly strong team, and that became painstakingly clear when they were humiliated before their home fans in an embarrassing shutout loss before their home fans in a Wildcard meeting with Kansas City. The offense could do nothing, and the defense - which was one of the best defensive units last season and has carried this team for years now - just could not stop the red hot Chiefs offense. A season that began with a disappointing loss to Kansas City ended the same way, only with an exclamation point in the playoff contest! Still, the Texans did win the division, and they enter this season with a solid defense behind superstar J.J. Watts. Whether their defense can contain a rejuvenated Luck and Company in Indianapolis may be another story. Also, can the offense step up enough to help the Texans to be a serious contender? Those are some serious questions, and the answers remain hazy at the moment. That is why it is hard to predict another division title for this team, or really anything better than a second place finish. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (projected third place team) - The Jacksonville Jaguars have been on the verge of major improvements for quite a few seasons now. They have acquired some talent, which is perhaps the inevitable result of years and years of losing badly. Yet, despite this, the Jaguars continued to struggle badly last year. Their offense was inconsistent, although they at times were downright explosive. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts, who were blown out 51-16 late in the season by Jacksonville, in a game that perhaps cost the Colts any real chance that they had at the division title. Other than this role of spoilers, however, the Jaguars remained consistently a losing team. Again, their offense was not consistent, but it was the defense that was the true Achilles Heel for this team. They allowed 30 or more points fully eight times, or in half of their games. When you allow that many points as often as this team did, you likely are not going to be able to win with any measure of consistency. This season, the Jaguars likely will make yet more improvements. But they probably will fall short of being competitive enough to overtake either the Texans or the Colts to compete for a playoff spot, let alone a division championship. It is hard to see this team above third place for the upcoming season.

3. Tennessee Titans (projected last place) - The Marcus Mariota era began last year for this team, and it is indeed promising! He looks like a solid bet to be a star quarterback, and to lead this team to better days. Yet, the Titans endured yet another miserable season last year, going 3-13 overall. As promising as Mariota may be, his youth and inexperience combined produced some big and costly mistakes, although that will be alleviated over time. Indeed, he should get better, although the Titans really need to find some more consistency on offense. it was feast or famine for them last year, as they scored well over 30 points four times, and won three of those games. However, they managed to break 20 points in the remaining 12 games only twice, and they literally lost every single game where they did not score at least 30 points. That probably tells you everything that you need to know about the poor quality of their defense, which was one of the worst in the league. In 16 games, they allowed 27 points or more 10 times, which is simply far too much. That did not allow the young and developing offense to stay in too many games, and that accounts for the struggles that the Titans endured last season. Still, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for the future, but just do not expect a huge leap this coming season. It is hard to see how this team will escape being the cellar dweller this season, even if it is probably still the worst division in the league right now.

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