NFL 2018 – AFC South Season Preview

Jimmy McGinty previews the AFC South

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars

2017: (10-6) The Jags didn’t have a QB or offense that could beat a good side last year, but they had a defense that could and they probably should’ve made the Super Bowl. They had the Patriots on the ropes until Brady did what Brady does. Twice in the regular season they beat the Steelers. They had a terrific points differential and only won 2 of their 5 one-score games. They were arguably better than a 10 win side despite the offensive failings.

But saying all that they also had a very soft schedule against some bad QBs and OLs which allowed their D to thrive. Colts x2, Tom Savage x2, Bengals, Browns & Seahawks were perfect matchups. They lost 6 games; to Cardinals, Titans x2, Jets and 49ers. All of whom were fairly bad teams so I’m not getting carried away just yet.

The schedule in 2018 has better QBs – A Luck, A Smith, D Watson and a few top OLs to face – DAL, TEN, NE, PHI, PIT. Bortles and the offensive playmakers will need to go beat those teams. Bortles is below-average and that’s a fine description for Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, Dede Westbrook and Austin Seferian-Jenkins as well. The star of the offense, running back Leonard Fournette, was very busy last year carrying a big workload. In such a demanding position, breakdown (he had injury troubles in college and last year) or regression is highly possible. If the game script isn’t as positive as it regularly was last year the Jags won’t be able to lean on Fournette to run as often and control the clock/game. . I like the year two of head-coach angle.

Getting Andrew Norwell boosts the OL significantly but this is a passing league and without the talent in the passing team they’ll struggle to take the next step. The divisional rivals have all improved, Luck and Watson are back from injury to lead the Colts and Texans whilst there are significant coaching improvements in Tennessee.

They face all the top sides at home. Patriots, Eagles and Steelers all come to Jacksonville and there’s loads of bad teams on the schedule too. Despite the strength of the AFC South I’d be surprised if the Jags don’t equal or better last year’s total but there will be weeks (against steady QBs/OLs where the defense doesn’t have a big day) that they’ll be vulnerable.

Best bet:

2pts Over 9wins 4/5 Paddy Power

1pt to win AFC 11/1 SkyBet

Tennessee Titans

2017: (9-7) limped into the playoffs as a bad low-scoring team. They lost to some very mediocre teams in MIA, OAK, SF and ARI. They even needed overtime in Cleveland. They played an easy slate so last year’s Titans were probably more like a 7 win type of side.

Improvement looks likely. Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur are the new head coach and offensive co-ordinator duo. I’d be amazed if they aren’t better than their predecessors. They will make mistakes and it may not be until year 2 of their reign that we see a truly great side (think Eagles and Falcons).

Mariota was injured for most of last year and it showed. He seldom rushed and his feet are one of his assets. I’d imagine we’ll see more of that this year. The offensive line is still top 5 and Dion Lewis is a nice compliment to the non-catching Derrick Henry. On a soft schedule behind a talented OL, and a team likely to get going offensively, Henry has the potential to lead the NFL in rushing TDs. Delanie Walker is an underrated tight-end having cleared 800yds in 4 straight years. We only saw glimpses of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor last season but both look like talented receivers who could explode in 2018.

With the Jags still strong and Houston and Indy taking big steps forward at QB this season the AFC South will be loaded. I played around with a game predictor model and managed to have them finish with 11, 10, 10 and 9 wins.

Both Philly and NE come to Nashville so the Titans won’t have it easy, but Jets, Ravens, Dolphins, Bills, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants ensure they can win plenty of non-divisional games. They are setup for a fast finish with 4 of the last 5 at home, and the road game is at the Giants.

Anywhere between 7 and 11 wins is possible, a very hard team to predict, if pushed I’d say closer to 11.

Best bet:

1pt D Henry Most regular season rushing TDs 12/1

Indianapolis Colts

2017: (4-12) The Colts won 4 games but in truth they had no chance last season. Andrew Luck didn’t make it and they were forced to sign Jacoby Brissett days before the season opener. They paired him with a rookie running back and placed both behind a bad offensive line. Add in a bad defense that suffered injuries to key men (Malik Hooker played just 7 games) and yeah you get the picture. Mind you two of the losses came in overtime and another three came by 4 or less pts. So despite the lack of talent they could’ve easily been an 8-8 team.

Andrew Luck is back taking full part in practice so things are looking good. They drafted Quenton Nelson in the first round to help protect Luck. A wise move. Eric Ebron along with Jack Doyle gives the Colts a decent pair of tight-ends and TY Hilton is still a star receiver. Ryan Grant may not be a star but he’s not the worst no2 receiver in the league. Remember the last time TY had Andrew Luck for a full season he topped the league’s receiving yards table. Running back is possibly an issue but they have four young options to pick from and if Luck is fit they’ll find a way to move the ball.

A coaching upgrade can’t be a bad thing either (look at Rams, Eagles and Falcons in past two seasons). Remember the Colts had 4 picks in rnd2 of last year’s draft, as well as no.6 overall, so they’ve added plenty of talent. The defense is still a massive question-mark.

Road trips to Philly and New England (on a short wk) look daunting in the opening five weeks but it’s for the best that they are road games. Play the winnable games at home. The four teams in the AFC South will win lots of games. They face the weak AFC East (BUF, NYJ, MIA) and the not quite as weak NFC East (DAL, NYG, WAS). Indy get the best of this draw by facing the two strong teams (NE & PHI) on the road. CIN & @ OAK complete the schedule. 8 winnable games out of the 10 non-divisional games. Nice.

I want to be with Indy but the other 3 teams in the division are strong. They’ll get 8 wins but probably finish last.

Best bet:

3pts over 6.5 regular season wins at 8/11 with William Hill

Houston Texans

2017: (4-12) They lost all their best players, on both sides of the ball, to injury so the less said about 2017 the better.

A word of caution though. Deshaun Watson has now done both of his ACLs. The chance of him doing one again is higher than normal (medical experts may debunk that theory but I’m running with it). He’ll be operating behind the League’s worst offensive line and that 6 game stretch where he looked magnificent from last season is unsustainable. It came against some bad defences, the Watson hype is too high for my liking.

For the past 4 seasons the Texans highest yards per play rank was 20th. They aren’t going to become a top 5 side overnight.

There’s a big gap at tight-end and running back Lamar Miller doesn’t look like a top10 running back either. The defense has no such worries with game changers JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus returning from injury to be joined by Tyrann Mathieu coming from Arizona.

Much like Indy the season will be dictated by fitness of the star men but it’s the league’s softest schedule which for the past 3yrs has produced 10+ wins. Houston obviously face most of the same teams as the others here, but they have nice home/away splits. Philly and NE on the road are likely losses but it means they face Dallas, Miami, Giants at home. Throw in the Bills, Browns, Jets, Redskins and Broncos and you have a schedule that includes 6+ non-divisional wins. Assuming they don’t suffer any of the big injuries they did last year it’s hard not to see this side win 9+ games and make the playoffs.  If they open 0-2 (highly likely) I’d recommend topping up and getting stuck into them in wk3.

Best bet: I got nothing.

AFC South 2018 predictions:

Titans 10-6

Jags 10-6

Texans 10-6

Colts 8-8