Among all of the top headlines heading into the 2019 NFL season, the clash of the four teams of the AFC South will be the most intriguing to watch.
The Jacoby Brissett led Colts now faces immense pressure with the retiring of four time pro-bowler Andrew Luck. After a miserable start to their 2018 season, the Colts had a rejuvenation with the exceptional performances of their offensive line, and their defense. While they still possess high potential and the highly plausible opportunity to remain playoff contenders, it will come down to the last 50 meters in this footrace.
With the spontaneous changes that had just recently taken place within the Houston Texans franchise, there is still much to ponder about this wildcard team. Should Deshaun Watson continue to stay healthy, and DeAndre Hopkins continue to produce at the rate in which he is doing, it would not be a surprise to see them as a top 10 offense this season. However, with the shocking injury of Lamar Miller’s torn ACL, the question arose as to who will step up to handle to run game. Fast Forward to Saturday evening, the Texans completed several trades, with Carlos Hyde being sent to Houston from the Chiefs, as well as welcoming Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil and pass catcher Kenny Stills from the Dolphins. Even with the new faces and promising talent that is within this offense, there is much to question about their now underwhelming defense. While they will not be a 25th ranked defense, they certainly will not be the 12th ranked YDS/G defense they were this last season. The departures of Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, and new Seahawk, Jadeveon Clowney, it will be very difficult to fill the void that is left in their wake. Not to mention that J.J. Watt is now on the worse side of 30, and is not getting any younger. In a division that is recognized for the strong ability to prevent touchdowns, the Texans are going to need to be the dominant offense that everyone knows they can be.
Getting Over the Hunch
While on the topic of defense, the debate of whether Sacksonville can regain that prowess that they had in 2017 is still hanging in the air. It can be argued that, due to the lackluster offense led by Blake Bortles and the underwhelming playmakers with the inability to create any big plays, apart from the one-handed grab by Keelan Cole, the defense promoting superstars like Jalen Ramsey was demoralized and lacked any motivation to continue the losing battle to maintain a mediocre record. However, even with the addition of 2018 Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles, might not even be enough to turn this franchise around. The addition of Foles provides a consistent and accurate passer, however the Jaguars still do not have the reliable pass-catcher after Allen Robinson left and joined the Chicago Bears prior to the 2018 season. While Dede Westbrook flashes at times, he does not provide the playmaker that a team needs to win the division. Their front seven, which highlights premier talent in Calais Campbell and newly extended Myles Jack, is not getting any younger. If the Jaguars wish to make another appearance in the playoffs, they will need to look for a trade option to obtain a receiving threat, as well as a sufficient backup to the injury prone Leonard Fournette.
This leaves us with the sneaky talented Tennessee Titans. While Marcus Mariota is anything but a standout quarterback, Derrick Henry is now growing into the dominant starting running back that displayed his ability to carry the ball after a season showcasing 217 carries for 1,059 yards averaging 4.9 YPC and 12 TDs. The animal that is Derrick Henry was caged for far too long, and is now hungry for what should be a record year for the former #Bama power back. Should the defense produce similar to their 2018 efforts, do not be surprised to find the Titans in a wild card game come this winter. While there are many note-worthy headlines for the NFL in the 2019 season, the AFC South will simply be THE division to watch from week 1 to week 17.
There are many factors that will play into who will be the AFC South division leader. So long as no significant injury unfolds during the regular season, the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will vie for that title, with the Colts emerging from the smoke as the victors. Their defense will be able to support any minor setback that their offense faces, as the former “Wolfpack” QB Jacoby Brissett is now the starter for the potent offense that Indianapolis provides. He will have superior protection under the offensive line that gave up an astounding 18 sacks, the fewest in the league. Brissett will also have a former receiving yards leader in T.Y. Hilton, being one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the league. Hilton also is poised to have a breakout season, as he proclaimed that he will dedicate his performance this season to his former field general, Andrew Luck. Paired with the passing game, is a modest run game that will be able to provide a balanced offense to keep opposing teams on their toes. The defense, led by 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year winner Darius Leonard will remain top 15, with room to improve in the secondary to move up a few slots. Houston may have a lethal offense, however they might have lost one too many key players in the defense, keeping them out of the top spot.