Teams and Division Championships All-Time (Last 10 Years):
- Indianapolis Colts: 16 (4)
- Houston Texans: 5 (5)
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 3 (1)
- Tennessee Titans: 9 (0)
This division is a strange one, being one of the newest in the NFL and containing the teams currently in the weirdest positions in the AFC. Jacksonville was fresh off an AFC Championship appearance coming into 2018 and came out with a 5-11 record. The Houston Texans have managed to win the division several times over the past few years despite being a below average team in terms of the rest of the league. The Indianapolis Colts managed to be the clear front-runner in the division, collapse for exactly a single year, and then get bailed out by their extremely underrated quarterback. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans tend to be almost entirely irrelevant to the rest of the league, regardless of who’s on their team or what moves they make. Here are my predictions:
The Indianapolis Colts are good solely because of Andrew Luck. Without him, they struggled to even put together something that looked like a real football strategy. At the very least, Frank Reich doesn’t seem nearly as brainless as their last Head Coach, who once drew up this play. The best thing about that play is that it’s not even legal to line up like that. They broke the rules and all it did was give the ball to the Patriots. That’s impressively bad, which is also a phrase that can be used to describe the rest of this team when Luck isn’t on the field. T.Y. Hilton is their best receiver, and it’s impressive that he manages to be alright despite how undersized he is for the league. Young running back Marlon Mack showed out last year, proving that he could be viable as a bellcow back in the future. It was nice to see him do that after sitting on the bench for a whole season doing absolutely nothing. While their defense is nothing to write home about, they only truly struggle against elite offenses, which can be expected.
Despite their recent struggles aside from the quarterback position, this team is moving in the right direction and in good shape to win the division next year. It certainly doesn’t hurt that their only real competition, the Texans and Jaguars, have two of the hardest schedules in the entire league in 2019. The Colts defensive line became a force to be reckoned with last year, and rookie LB Darius Leonard proved to be one of their best overall players. Who needs a strong secondary when you’re only giving the QB a second or two to throw the ball, right? Jokes aside, this team knows what they can do, and forces opponents to beat them in certain areas. Coupled with an Andrew Luck who should be fully healthy, expect the Colts to make playoffs again.
Projected Record: 10-6
I feel fully validated in giving the Houston Texans the same record as the Colts and having them lose the tiebreaker solely because that’s how this division works year after year. Somehow the teams are all equally good and equally bad, and nothing matters when they play each other. Seriously though, the Texans are a really good team. Deshaun Watson is fantastic at QB, though still prone to making mistakes, and extremely fun to watch. The defense is as great as ever, featuring OLB Jadeveon Clowney and DE J.J. Watt at one of the best front-seven duos in the entire league. Their secondary is still hurting a little bit from the loss of A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville, but the overall unit is scary nonetheless. At receiver they have the best one in the entire league, in DeAndre Hopkins, but their running backs do leave something to be desired. Overall this is a team with high potential on both sides of the ball. I expect them to drop a couple games that they should win due to mistakes or lack of a solid running game/pass defense, but this is a team that no one would want to play should they qualify for the Wild Card.
Head Coach Bill O’Brien deserves a ton of credit for getting this team to where it is today. Despite playing in a competitive division and completely lacking a talented quarterback until Watson showed up, O’Brien has consistently kept the Texans relevant. He’s singlehandedly built a winning culture in an organization that easily could have been the second coming of the Cleveland Browns. I anticipate that his coaching will again play a role in making up for deficiencies this season. This team will be overmatched at times, but they have enough big-play ability to keep them scary throughout the year. It’s worth noting that they won the division last year as well, and will likely be favorites going into this one.
Projected Record: 10-6
This is a team that two years ago had the best defense in the league by a longshot. It was actually so good that it led them to an AFC Championship game that they would have won if they didn’t give the game away in the second half. The offense in Jacksonville has, for years, been nonexistent, at least partially due to the fact that their quarterback was one of the worst in the league. With a shiny new passer in Nick Foles, it only seems logical that the Jaguars will be more complete and motivated to win in the upcoming season. I’m just not that convinced. Their defense is still scary, especially with the addition of First-Round Draft Pick Josh Allen at DE to help out the diminishing pass rush. Their secondary, led by a very confident Jalen Ramsey , to say the least, is unbelievably talented. At running back they have Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t yet convinced me that he’s all that good or all that bad. Overall they’re alright.
How the Jags end up doing this season is mainly in the hands of the big man himself, Nick Foles. After winning a Super Bowl MVP in 2017, he finally gets another shot at being the first-string QB on an NFL team. Personally, I think Foles is much better than people give him credit for. He once threw seven touchdowns in one game, which is a ridiculous number. Whether he’s good enough to carry a bottom-of-the-barrel JAX offense to a playoff spot though? Who knows. I can’t say I’m confident in either his backfield or his receivers, so it’s really going to be entirely on his shoulders to make great plays. He won the Eagles a Super Bowl when they had the most talented roster in football–does that translate to success on an average team?
Projected Record: 7-9
All I can think of when I look at this organization is that it’s how the Texans could have turned out if they were unlucky. As a team, they just aren’t that exciting. They don’t have a clear identity, they can’t consistently win games, their players don’t seem to develop, the Tennessee Titans just exist. Exisiting is not going to be good enough for the playoffs this year. Every other team in the South took large strides last year toward being a next-level team, and the Titans sit exactly where they were two years ago. Two years ago, by the way, they made playoffs because no one else was good enough. They actually managed to win a game off of Marcus Mariota throwing a touchdown to himself, and then were bounced in the Divisional Round by a real team. I do not have high expectations for them this year.
As for talent on this roster they have a pretty good backfield in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, and an alright young receiver in Corey Davis. Their defense is anchored by two ex-Patriots cornerbacks who are also alright (Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan), a very old Cameron Wake, and actually-very-good safety Kenny Vaccaro. They also just traded for Ryan Tannehill, who is really just an older version of their current quarterback anyway. I have nothing against Mariota but he isn’t going to lead this team anywhere by himself. If they built around him I’m sure it would work out, but for the present they aren’t looking too great. Mike Vrabel’s game planning doesn’t strike me as especially scary either. It’s hard to see a scenario where this team finishes above last place in the division (but if there is one, it involves the Jaguars).
Projected Record: 5-11