Colts tipped for play-off contention in AFC South.
The AFC South struggles to be relevant as neither the Texans, Titans, Jaguars, or Colts have a lot of name recognition.
All teams except Indianapolis have major quarterback questions, while the Colts should be the class of this division but all three other teams are trending up.
Don’t expect two playoff teams out of this bunch.
In 2013, if you recall, the Indianapolis Colts actually beat the 49ers and the Seahawks last year, no small feat and a testimony to the talent on this roster. At times, the Colts biggest adversary seemed to be themselves, namely offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s infatuation with the power run game, despite talent that could better be utilized with a different scheme.
Actually, the biggest adversary turned out to be a lack of ability to run and more importantly stop the run, as the Patriots turned them away in a playoff blowout in Foxboro in January.
In 2014, quarterback Andrew Luck welcomes back his safety valve in aging wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who joins a deep group of pass catchers in T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and youngsters Da’Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief.
The running back stable is thin with only the surprisingly ineffective Trent Richardson and the veteran Ahmad Bradshaw. Add two tight ends that can make plays in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, one can surmise the Colts best bet is to throw the ball—a lot.
The offensive line isn’t adept at run blocking but is a little better at pass blocking so they’ll still a semblance of a running game to keep Luck from getting smashed. Luck can also run the ball quite well.
The defensive line on the other hand is quite adept at allowing big, gashing run right into the teeth of the defense. They have some pass-rushing chops when Robert Mathis comes back from suspension; but other than linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and cornerback Vontae Davis, there aren’t many splashy playmakers on this side of the ball.
Overall: The Andrew Luck show rolls on, but not seeing an 11-win season again; they’ll fight and scratch to make the playoffs, but Luck will get MVP consideration by the time it’s all said and done.
The BetBright Verdict
9-7 (1st in the AFC South) – We have them priced as third favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 17/2.
Colts’ opening game: Indianapolis Colts vs Denver Broncos at 1:30am on Sunday September 7th at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Texans went from AFC South champions to 2-14 doormats in 2013. The wheels completely fell off on the artist formerly known as Matt Schaub as the Texans were forced to hand over the keys to Case Keenum.
In 2014, Schaub and former coach Gary Kubiak who had been at the helm in H-Town for years were jettisoned in favor of Bill O’Brien (a Belichick disciple) and journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
There is cause for optimism though, since the number one pick netted them defensive end Jadaveon Clowney who instantly (with defensive player of the year J.J Watt) makes the pair of pass rushers in Houston one of the NFL’s most feared.
On offense, the Texans have some All-Pro pieces at key positions. Running back Arian Foster missed most of the year and is back, although there is lingering injury concern and backup plan Ben Tate left for Cleveland.
At wide receiver, perennial 100-catch Andre Johnson is still one of the NFL’s best, and DeAndre Hopkins looked great in his first season. The key here is Fitzpatrick, who went to Harvard, and has a history of poor play down the stretch. It doesn’t bode well for the Texans as Fitzpatrick has only won 35% of games he’s started.
The defense is strong up front and decent in the secondary which signifies Houston could be playing a lot of 17-13, 13-10 type games.
If Brian Cushing can play a full season at linebacker and Jonathan Joseph can regain his stature as an above-average cornerback, there is plenty of talent on this side of the ball.
Overall: This team is far too talented to not win at least 7 games, if Fitz can avoid the pick-sixes. The defense will need to carry the water, if that happens they can beat up on some divisional foes and be a sneaky playoff team if all falls right.
The BetBright Verdict
7-9 (2nd in AFC South) – We have them priced as ninth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 18/1.
Texans’ opening game: Washington Redskins vs Houston Texans at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Reliant Stadium.
The Titans seemingly make a habit of falling under the radar during these types of early season analyses and this year is no exception. We don’t really know who quarterback Jake Locker is capable of being, but we know Ken Whisenhunt wants to recreate some elements of the San Diego balanced attack and the defense appears suspect.
On offense, the Titans drafted big Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan with the 11th pick in the hopes of solidifying that position for years to come, as Locker has succumbed to injury the past two seasons. If Locker goes down again, then all bets are off although Titans insiders have to like some of what they’ve seen from Zach Mettenberger.
Whisenhunt is good for an ailing offense, as we saw him revitalize San Diego’s passing attack. The offense has an unheralded group of receivers in Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter and they drafted a speed/power combo in running back Bishop Sankey. The Shonn Greene experience will leave viewers wanting.
On defense, the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense has not been without struggles, but they aren’t as challenged as everyone makes them out to be. In a division that lacks a true offensive juggernaut, they could surprise. The Titans Achilles heel in 2013 was poor tackling and not generating a pass rush.
If they can’t figure out how to replace cornerback Alterraun Verner in Ray Horton’s scheme things can implode quickly on that side of the ball. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will get a chance to show he’s worth the big contract.
Overall: With a healthy Jake Locker, the Titans appear to be a 7-9 type club. If the defense gels, maybe a win or two more, but not likely.
The BetBright Verdict
6-10 (3rd in the AFC South) – We have them priced as fourteenth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 35/1.
Titans’ opening game: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Jaguars could have made the case for the NFL’s most irrelevant franchise in 2013. They started a mediocre Chad Henne and teamed him up with a suddenly-old Maurice Jones-Drew to form the NFL’s second worst offense. At the same time, however then-new coach Gus Bradley was quietly molding the defense and the Jags now look to make the leap in his second year.
On offense, the Jaguars drafted hometown hero Blake Bortles (from UCF) to give the fanbase hope and erase the nasty taste of Blaine Gabbert from their mouths.
They still plan to start Henne in Week 1 and will bring Bortles along slowly, although he has arguably outplayed the incumbent in the preseason. Jacksonville could be surprisingly good at wide receiver if either rookie Marqise Lee or Allen Robinson takes some pressure off of fragile-but-fast wideout Cecil Shorts, who is too small to be true number one threat.
The Jags thought they had the answer in wide receiver Justin Blackmon, but he’s been suspended for the year a la Josh Gordon. The running game will probably be serviceable with Toby Gerhart running inside, and Denard Robinson running outside, reverses, etc.
On defense, the Jaguars hung close with the Broncos and Gus Bradley wants to continue to turn this unit into Seattle-east and it shows with their taller corners and deep set of linemen.
They added former Seahawk Red Bryant as a run-stopper extraordinaire. They only sacked the quarterback 31 times in 2013, tied for last in the NFL.
Overall: The Jaguars could be a surprise seven or eight-win team, but that would require Bortles taking the job and running away with it early. They will probably not lose convincingly enough in the short term for that to happen. Henne should sit as soon as possible.
The BetBright Verdict
4-12 (4th in the AFC South) – We have them priced as sixteenth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 90/1.
Jaguars’ opening game: Philadelphia Eagles vs Jacksonville Jaguars at 6pm on Sunday September 7th Lincoln Financial Field.
We move the AFC West next, for our penultamite season preview covering the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers!