While the fight for the AFC South crown might not be the closest race in the NFL, there are still tons of storylines to follow in this divison.
Will the Tennessee Titans soar to new heights with the acquisition of superstar wide receiver Julio Jones? Could they be one of the best teams in the league in the 2021-22 season? Last year, Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts tied the Titans with an 11-5 record in the regular season. How will Carson Wentz fare in Indianapolis, assuming he’s healthy enough to play after suffering a foot injury? Could the Colts bring in even more quarterback help?
In the bottom half of the division, the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars were two of the worst teams in the NFL last year. Can first overall pick Trevor Lawrence start to steer the Jaguars ship in the right direction? Is there any hope for the disastrous Texans franchise?
Barring any major surprises, this was the easiest division in the league to predict the standings for. While I could be off on the records and win totals, I would find it hard to see the standings shake out any other way than as follows.
- AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West
- NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
- Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Matchup
- Other Seasons: 2020-21, 2019-20
1. Tennessee Titans (14-3)
I have seven teams finishing with 12 or more wins in the upcoming season, a clear-cut pack of the NFL’s best teams. But I only have one team with 14 wins: I predict the Tennessee Titans will finish with the best record in the NFL.
Since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback for the Titans, Tennessee has gone 18-8 in the regular season, including 11-5 and a first place finish in the AFC South last season. In Tannehill’s first season as the Titans starter, Tennessee advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game and nearly knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year’s postseason results were a bit more disappointing, as the Titans fell 20-13 to the Baltimore Ravens in the wildcard round.
The Titans are set up to keep contending, and this year, they might reach new heights. Unfortunately for Tennessee, offensive coordinator Arthur Smith (who led the team’s offense for the past two seasons) moved on to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Fortunately for Tennessee, they get a shiny new toy that should result in an instant offensive upgrade: wide receiver Julio Jones.
Tannehill already took an unlikely leap from average quarterback to one of the league’s most efficient passers, and with Jones at his disposal, the Titans offense becomes that much scarier. There are concerns surrounding the wear and tear Derrick Henry is already accumulating, but with seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver on the field, there should be less pressure on Henry to put up another 2,000-yard season.
Tennessee’s defense isn’t especially stout, but the offseason addition of linebacker Bud Dupree, as well as the first round selection of cornerback Caleb Farley in the 2021 NFL Draft, should shore things up a little. The Titans should also be able to poach five or six wins from their AFC South rivals, giving them a quick leg up in the race for the NFL’s best record.
2. Indianapolis Colts (7-10)
When I first drafted my predictions, I gave the Indianapolis Colts a 9-8 record, which would have left them one game out of the wildcard race. But now with uncertainty at the quarterback position following Carson Wentz’s foot injury, I docked the Colts two victories and distributed those wins elsewhere.
Wentz could miss as few as one or two game or as many as six or seven, and I would still stand by this prediction. The Colts roster is solid all-around, and whether it’s been Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, or Philip Rivers, the team has remained competitive over the last few seasons. Rivers led Indianapolis to an 11-5 record and wildcard berth in his first and last season with the Colts last year.
Assuming Wentz comes back both healthy and strong, the Colts are fully capable of cranking out another 11-win season and competing for a playoff spot, in a best-case scenario. But even before his injury, I pegged the Colts as a 9-8 team: it’s not that I don’t think the Colts are a good team, I just see better teams out there, specifically in the AFC wildcard race.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-12)
Improving on last year’s 1-15 record shouldn’t be hard for the Jacksonville Jaguars, as there’s practically nowhere to go but up. First overall pick Trevor Lawrence will be the starter, and while there’s still a lot of work to do with Jacksonville’s roster, the rookie quarterback should find some wins over the course of the season.
Don’t expect a Cinderella season though, as Lawrence isn’t going to walk in on day one and turn the Jaguars in to a playoff team. For reference, Joe Burrow (last year’s first overall pick) went 2-7-1 with the Cincinnati Bengals. All things considered, four to six wins would be pretty solid for Lawrence’s rookie campaign.
4. Houston Texans (3-14)
The Houston Texans franchise is in disaster mode and doesn’t appear to be emerging from the dumpster fire any time soon. It’s hard to remember how good the team was and how good they could have been, with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt on the roster.
Hopkins and Watt are gone, without too much to show for it, and while Watson is still one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league… there’s his ongoing off-the-field issues. If Watson is barred from taking the field at any point this season, the Texans could literally go winless. And even if Watson, a Top Five quarterback in the NFL, plays all 17 games, I still see Houston finishing with the worst record in the league.
Houston’s story will be a valuable asset to the rest of the league: as a lesson on how not to run a franchise. The Texans did somehow convince a mixed bag of players to sign with the team this offseason, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running backs Philip Lindsay and Mark Ingram, wide receivers Andre Roberts and Donte Moncreif, and some defensive additions. However, most of these players came on cheap one-year deals, which says something about their current worth in the league.
Best-case scenario for the Texans is a strong season from Watson supported by breakout years from veteran players on one-year “prove it” deals. But even in that case, five or six wins and a third place finish in the AFC South is probably the absolute ceiling for the Texans this year. Worst case scenario, Houston earns the dubious honor of being the first NFL team to finish 0-17.
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- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC West
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC North
- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC East
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