The AFC South may be a two-team race, but it should be a hard-fought and exciting one.

Realistically, the Tennessee Titans (who have won the division in back-to-back seasons) will be duking it out with the Indianapolis Colts, who nearly made the playoffs last season. The Colts have upped the ante by dumping Carson Wentz in favor of longtime Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Tennessee, on the other hand, traded away A.J. Brown, let Julio Jones walk, and Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry aren’t getting any younger. Could there be a changing of guard in the AFC South, with the Colts searching for their first divisional crown since 2014?

In an added wrinkle, the Titans and Colts feature two of the best if not the best running backs in the entire NFL: Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans may not be ready to compete with the division’s powerhouses yet, but both teams made splashes in free agency as well as the 2022 NFL Draft to nudge their futures in the right direction. Last year’s first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, and Texans starter Davis Mills will both look to increase their win totals in their sophomore seasons.

How will the AFC South shake out in the 2022-23 season? Read on for my predictions, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any predictions, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.

1. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)

(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

With Carson Wentz at the helm last season, the Indianapolis Colts went 9-8 last season, finishing second in the AFC South. It doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but the fact that the Colts couldn’t be the Jaguars in Week 18 with a playoff berth on the line will sting for a while for Indianapolis fans, and basically drove Wentz out of town.

But the fact of the matter is, despite that Week 18 slip-up, the Colts became a dangerous team by December, and could have made some noise if they did qualify for the postseason. The Colts late-season surge was spearheaded by the incredible play of Jonathan Taylor, the hottest running back in the league heading in to the 2022-23 season.

Indianapolis’ defense kept the team in almost every game, allowing 21.5 points per game, the 10th-lowest in the NFL. With a 9th-ranked offense (26.5 PPG) to boot, it really is an anomaly that the Colts didn’t make the playoffs: they were the only team to rank in Top 10 scoring offense and defense to not make the postseason, and only one of two teams in the Top 12 offensively (Chargers) to not advance to the playoffs.

Squandering the Colts playoff position largely falls on Wentz, his decision-making, and his turnovers: which is why Indianapolis shipped him to the Washington Commanders. The Colts then went out and got veteran Matt Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons to lead the offense in 2022.

At 37 years old, Ryan doesn’t have to be the most talented passer in the league for the Colts to be successful. But after a string of ten straight 4,000+ passing yards, 20+ passing touchdown seasons (and only missing by 32 yards last season,) Ryan has proven himself to be one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the league.

Ryan’s career completion rate is 65.5%, with a 67.0% clip last season. His specialty is simply getting the ball in the hands of his receivers: he’s already being described as a “point guard” of sorts for the Colts. Hand the ball off to Taylor, hit Parris Campbell on a quick slant, find Michael Pittman Jr. in stride, lob one up for tight end Mo Alie-Cox. Ryan is a capable decision-maker who should be able to get rid of the ball quick and keep the offense churning.

With a more efficient offense and a still-strong defense, the Colts should be able to add a couple wins to their 2021-22 total and are my favorite to win the AFC South in 2022-23.

2. Tennessee Titans (9-8)

(Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

The Tennessee Titans have made the playoffs in all three seasons that Ryan Tannehill has been their starter. The former Dolphins quarterback’s efficiency, paired with the incredible rushing abilities of Derrick Henry and a stern defense, has been a winning formula for Tennessee. The Titans even earned the #1 seed in the AFC last season (something I predicted last August) with a 12-5 record and a head-to-head win over the Chiefs. And that was with Henry missing most of the season’s second half.

With the sixth-best scoring defense (20.8 PPG allowed) and a powerful rusher in Henry, Tennessee wins games differently, outlasting opponents and wearing them down. But the Titans offense (24.6 PPG) ranked 12th out of 14 playoff teams, and their +65 point differential was 11th in the entire NFL.

The Titans can’t win games the same way forever, Henry is getting older and coming off an injury, and Tannehill isn’t quite as spectacular as he was in his 2019 Comeback Player of the Year campaign. Throw in the loss of top receiver A.J. Brown (the team did acquire Robert Woods but he won’t play until later this season, and frankly, isn’t the same kind of game-changer) and the Titans offense may not be able to put up the same 24.6 points per game they did last season.

I still think Tennessee shouldn’t be slept on. Here I have them finishing 9-8 and missing the playoffs by one game, but just one additional win could nudge them i to the postseason. And if Indianapolis falters, or if Tennessee can sweep their division rivals head-to-head, the Titans could easily win the AFC South once again.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-13)

(NFL.com)

The Jacksonville Jaguars made a slew of offseason improvements via a loaded free agency spending period and a huge draft haul. Only adding one win to Jacksonville’s 2021-22 win total feels a bit brutal, but I only have 272 wins to hand out, and don’t really see the Jaguars taking a huge step forward despite the additions.

But let’s talk about the additions: free signees included wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram, offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, and cornerback Darious Williams. First overall pick Tavon Walker gives Jacksonville a top pass-rusher as well.

But forgive me if I’m still not sold. Kirk and Jones are great complementary receivers, but Jacksonville grossly overpaid these pass-catchers and put them high on the depth chart. Evan Engram was driven out of New York for his constant drops, despite being a “pass-catching receiver.” It’s as if Jacksonville felt they had to spend their massive cap space in free agency.

Finally, I’m not the biggest fan of last year’s first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence. If your first overall pick plays all 17 game in his rookie season and you’re still picking first overall the following season, there’s something wrong. Lawrence certainly got reps, with 602 passing attempts, but he threw for just 12 touchdowns against a league-high 17 interceptions, and posted an embarrassing completion percentage (59.6%, in todays NFL?) and a putrid yards/attempt of 6.0.

4. Houston Texans (3-14)

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

Much like the Jaguars, there was too much work needed on the roster for the Houston Texans to fix in one offseason. To the organization’s credit, the Texans did offload Deshaun Watson’s messy situation to the Cleveland Browns in return for a king’s ransom. Houston’s future looks bright, but right now, I don’t see them winning too many games.

The problem isn’t Davis Mills, who I would honesty take over Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, but rather the lack of talent on both sides of the ball. Houston scored a laughably low 16.5 points per game (3rd-least in the NFL) , and allowed 26.6 points per game, the sixth-worst mark in the league.

Third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr., a cornerback out of LSU, will help head coach Lovie Smith’s defense start to trend in the right direction. Brandin Cooks will catch a ton of passes, and possibly garner some trade interest. But beyond that, there’s just not too much to look forward to about this Texans roster. It looks like the Texans will be picking in the Top Five again in next year’s NFL Draft, and I actually have Houston’s 3-14 record tied with one NFC team for the worst record in the NFL.

2022-23 NFL Predictions

AFC EastAFC North, AFC South, AFC West

NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West

Previous AFC South Predictions

2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC South

See Also

Indianapolis Colts Articles

Houston Texans Articles

Jacksonville Jaguars Articles

Tennessee Titans Articles

More

NFL

NBA

More By Me

Header Photo (L-R): CBS Sports / Ryan Bennett-Getty Images

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