Is there a more boring division in the NFL than the AFC South, the division containing Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston. In 2002, when the AFC South was created and the NFL went from six to eight divisions, it marked the beginning of the New NFL. In the 12 seasons since, Indianapolis has won this division 8 times. Houston won twice, bowing out in the division round of the playoffs both seasons. I’m going to stick with history in this division because the Houston Texans season in 2013 is a cornerstone of why the NFL is so difficult to prognosticate. Picked by some to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 48, the Texans finished 2-14 and ended up with the #1 draft pick, Jadaveon Clowney, who could end up the biggest bust of all time if he doesn’t have multiple All Pro Seasons. Here’s the order of finish.
Year 3 of the Andrew Luck era lands the Colts atop this division for the second year in a row. One can only wonder the landscape in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning still at the helm. Denver is the favorite to win Super Bowl 49 with Manning at the helm and after reviewing the Washington Trade for Robert Griffin III, I ponder what Indianapolis could have put around Manning, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the past 2 seasons and how the projections for the Colts, with Manning, would look for 2014. Luck has been outstanding and will only get better so it’s difficult to criticize the decision to replace Manning with Luck. Reggie Wayne is ready to go for another season, T.Y. Hilton is ready to an elite fantasy receiver, and Hakeem Nicks, if healthy, will produce. Trent Richardson has to play better, I predicted him to lead the NFL in rushing in 2013 (a total miss) and the Alabama product has to prove this year he’s as talented as everyone thought he was coming out of university. The defense will be this team’s liability come 2014 AFC Playoffs but the atrocious situation amongst the other 3 members of the division has the Colts riding high come the first week of January 2015. 11-5, however, lets note the schedule. Games against the NFC East, plus New England, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, will have Luck and the Colts tested.
The Matt Schaub/Gary Kubiak regime is gone in Houston and it’s a tough thing for a franchise to finally say “you’re not the guy to lead us the promise land” and make significant changes at the head coach and quarterback position. There’s a corollary between a new NFL head coach and new “we hope this guy can lead us to promise land at the QB position”, aka, a franchise quarterback. Bill O’Brien, who replaced Joe Paterno when he was dismissed by Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky scandal, enters his first year as the Texans coach and did not bring in a franchise QB. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, and Tom Savage are the current options and in the 2014 NFL Draft, Houston went ahead and selected the best pass rushing prospect ever and passed on a QB. In the second round, the drafted a lineman to help protect the QBs currently on the roster. All Pro J.J. Watt and rookie Jadaveon Clowney chasing opposing quarterbacks improves a defense finishing 7th overall in 2013. Inconsistency at QB, an aging Andre Johnson and Arian Foster has the Texans improving over 2013 but falling short of the 2014 AFC Playoffs. 7-9
A team I predicted to make the playoffs in 2013 (another miss) is giving Jake Locker one more year to prove he might “be there guy to lead them to the promise land.” Problem is Locker cannot stay healthy for an entire season. It’s a new regime in Tennessee, Chris Johnson (CJ2K) and Kenny Britt are gone, replaced by Dexter McCluster and second round draft pick Bishop Sankey (at Pick 54, the longest the NFL Draft has ever waited for a RBs name to be called. You don’t think this is the New NFL? Pass First? RBBC?). Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter emerged at WR and the offensive line will be improved with 2014 first round pick Taylor Lewan and the signing of Michael Oher. For some reason, I’m high on this team again in 2014, however, Locker HAS to stay healthy but the reality of games against Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis twice, an inevitable split with the Texans, has this team on the outside looking in come Week 17. 7-9
Thankfully the Blaine Gabbert experiment is over in Jacksonville and Blake Bortles, selected third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, is coming to save the Jaguars. Gone is face of the franchise Maurice Jones-Drew, replaced by Toby Gerhart (Adrian Peterson’s backup), stud WR Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely, there’s little talent at TE, the offensive line is a mess, and the defense is terrible, finishing 27th overall in 2013. Cecil Shorts III will shine at times, Chad Henne can take the pressure off Bortles starting Day 1, and Marqise Lee, drafted 39th overall, is first round talent. A note on Marqise Lee, the Browns passed on him for a versatile lineman in Joel Bitonio. I cannot argue against protecting your franchise QB Manziel, and love any Nevada Reno player in the NFL, but combined with the Josh Gordon situation I cannot help but think how Browns training camp would feel with a rookie first round talent at the WR position in 2014. The Jaguars will be looking to add weapons to Bortles’ arsenal, protection, and impact players on defense in 2015. 2-14