The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite to win the AFC South in Vegas’ most competitive division according to Vegas Insider. Can the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, or the Jacksonville Jaguars contend for the division crown?
Entering the 2019 NFL Season, the AFC South is the tightest race in professional football. The spread between the favorite Colts (13/10) and bottom-dwelling Tennessee (6/1) is the least among the other seven divisions. Houston (5/2) and Jacksonville (4/1) suggest a competitive division.
Prognosticating division winners before the draft is an exercise in futility. Vegas agrees this will be a tight division race all season resulting in entertaining and intriguing season prospects for all four franchises. Mike Vrabel enters his second year in Tennessee, joining Colts head coach Frank Reich, also in his second year. Doug Marrone is hanging on in Jacksonville under constant scrutiny by hawk General Manager Tom Coughlin. Bill O’Brien in Houston enters his sixth year with expectations. Is O’Brien coaching for his job?
Indianapolis, engine revving, waiting to put it all together this season
The Colts, featuring a fully healthy Andrew Luck, coupled with the best draft class in team history last season, are resulting in high expectations. Darius Leonard, a second-round choice in 2018, was defensive rookie of the year for a Colts defense impressing during last season’s playoff run. Kansas City defeating the Colts 31-13 provides a blueprint for the 2019 NFL Draft find the missing pieces on defense to help Luck appear in another Conference Championship Game.
Guard Quenton Nelson, sixth overall a season ago, was everything advertised resulting in an All-Pro season as a rookie. Choosing Leonard and guard Braden Smith back to back in the second round, combined with Nelson’s play, provided critical pieces during the Colts 2018 somewhat surprising playoff run. Smith’s performance as a rookie at right tackle demonstrates draft acumen by the franchise. Indianapolis still has Darnold draft capital to spend and will select twice in the second round this coming April in Nashville.
Houston and Deshaun Watson something to prove
Losing Watson his rookie season to a torn ACL remains a tragedy for the Texans, fans, and the NFL as a whole. Entering his third season, Watson throws to one of the best in the business, DeAndre Hopkins, and the Texans feature one of the most impressive sack artists in a generation, J.J. Watt.
Wide receiver Will Fuller remaining healthy for 16 games and unleashing Lamar Miller coupled with Watson’s third season, fully healthy, could find Houston winning a playoff game in 2019. Losing to division rival Indianapolis in the Wild Cardround last season provides Houston film to review to address team needs for this upcoming season.
Jacksonville and the 88 million dollar man
Signing Nick Foles makes a statement to the rest of the division and the AFC the Jaguars are here to play. Foles is the only quarterback in the division with a playoff win let alone a ring the past five seasons. Jacksonville’s defense still features the best shutdown corner tandem in the league in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Re-signing Calais Campbell and signing line while stud linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith are producing a highly effective tandem.
Left tackle Cam Robinson and stud guard Andrew Nowell anchor the left side of the offensive line. A.J. Cann signing a three-year extension results in continuity in the trenches as he returns to right guard this season. The Jaguars will look to the draft to fill holesat the safety positions with Tashaun Gipson signing a deal with division rival Houston. Many consider anchoring the right side of the offensive line a top priority for Coughlin and Marrone.
Tennessee and Mariota entering fifth-year option
Mariota is an enigma. After four seasons and a playoff win in 2017, Mariota is looking for a new deal. Will Mariota produce the season we all are wanting to see? There are flashes of brilliance in his game, but Mariota has trouble staying healthy. A player getting injured is an x-factor in the NFL. The invariable variable. Injury in professional football will be an occurrence. Injury has de-railed promising careers. The player had all the talent, displayed unusual feats of athletic ability on the field, but the player couldn’t stay healthy.
Trading for quarterback Ryan Tannehillshows Mike Vrabel’s concern for the position. Tannehill is a solid plan B (a good idea revealed by the Philadelphia Eagles over past two seasons). Mariota’s injury history dictates trading for Tannehill ensure a viable back-up quarterback plan is in place in Nashville. Perhaps both Tannehill and Mariota are competing for new deals in 2020. Will Vrabel continue to unleash Derrick Henry who put on a display of punishing running Weeks 14-16 last season? The AFC South in 2019 is one of those divisions designed to entertain this upcoming season.