Well, this is a little grosser now that training camp has started and an entire team has been annihilated. The AFC South was a division filled with potential very recently. A young, stud quarterback that needed a coaching change/roster overhaul. A Jacksonville team that had shown reason to believe that it would be a quick turnaround if things went in the right direction with the coaching search. Two playoff teams. Things were looking up.
2020 was a good year for the AFC South. Sure, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans finished as two of the worst teams in football, but the Colts under the leadership of Frank Reich and Philip Rivers were able to skate into a playoff berth; one in which they were dangerously close to unseating the AFC runners-up Buffalo Bills. The Tennessee Titans had an incredibly efficient year and ended up in a playoff rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. Both of these teams had legitimate Super Bowl dreams, and both fan bases were rightfully hoping those dreams would come to fruition.
2021 has already been unkind to the division. Everyone knows what Deshaun Watson’s outlook is for the 2021 year: we don’t know. A recent foot injury indicates that he may be holding out without holding out. He may also be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. The Houston Texans will be bad in 2021.
The Tennessee Titans have acquired Julio Jones as they make the most out of their Super Bowl window, but additions on the defensive side of the ball (or lack thereof) may indicate that they’re still a tier below the top four teams in the AFC. Bud Dupree’s entry into the defense opposite of Harold Landry should provide some much-needed pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Caleb Farley’s health will determine the success of the secondary room, one in which the safeties and corners all struggled in 2020. On offense, Arthur Smith is gone and it’s to be determined if the Titans can keep the same or a similar level of efficiency. If they can’t, will the addition of Julio Jones be as impactful as we think?
The Indianapolis Colts have been decimated by injury; their starting quarterback is hurt, their All-Pro guard has an identical foot injury, and they’re still waiting on key defensive pieces to return to health. The return of Parris Campbell and Marlon Mack, the second-year hype surrounding Michael Pittman, and the projected growth of running back Jonathan Taylor gives the Colt's reason to keep hope in 2021. Carson Wentz’s return may be met with turmoil and struggle, simply because he is now a broken quarterback with no chemistry with his receivers and potentially behind a worsened offensive line (sounds like last year’s version of him, to be quite honest).
The Jacksonville Jaguars, under new leadership in Urban Meyer, are a sneaky favorite of mine to win quite a few games. Trevor Lawrence has reportedly been looking like a rookie in training camp, and the Jaguars clips that I have seen have featured a lot of 20- and 21-personnel (two-back system). The college offense may be in full swing, and Urban’s is complex enough that it just might work.
Over the course of the next few weeks, our amazing contributors here at The Cut will be dropping team-specific content, featuring some of our projections, rankings, record predictions, and other forms of analysis. I will be diving into a few different divisions, but the AFC South will be top of my list. Will the Jaguars make the leap under Urban Meyer? Could they truly go worst-to-first? Are the Titans due for severe regression? What are the Colts going to do at quarterback? All of that and more will be on the way in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. Until next time.
(Cover Photo Credit: NFL & Couch Guy Sports / Yahoo Sports)