QB Philip Rivers may be the oldest gunslinger in town but after riding into the AFC South he can steer the Colts to the title, according to Ross Williams.
Predicted AFC South Finish:
- Indianapolis Colts
- Tennessee Titans
- Houston Texans
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Following the shock retirement of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck on the eve of the 2019 season, Indianapolis were forced into an uphill struggle last year, yet still managed to grind out a commendable 7-9 record under the guidance of Frank Reich. Fast forward nine months and things look brighter still for the boys in blue, with long-time Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in town to steer the ship.
The 2020 version of Rivers may not be the player he once was, but he has plenty of help around him. A suddenly robust backfield is now paired with a receiving trio of T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell that could cause teams a lot of headaches this season. The offensive line also has its merits, and boasts the best lineman in football in the formidable Quenton Nelson.
Defensively, there are undeniable holes in the secondary, but the superstars in the front seven will provide many an NFL offence with all they can handle. Darius Leonard is a tackling machine in the middle of the field, and the Colts’ big offseason acquisition DeForest Buckner is a force to be reckoned with in the trenches.
A Cinderella run last season makes Tennessee an interesting proposition this year, with many pundits on the fence as to how the Titans will react this time around.
Mike Vrabel’s troops shocked everyone on their remarkable run, and not least the New England Patriots on that fateful night in Foxborough. But can they make history repeat itself in 2020? That much is up for debate.
Ryan Tannehill played out of his skin to earn a long-term deal in Nashville, but the jury is still out on whether he can truly put a team on his back when things get tough. Last season, he simply didn’t need to, thanks to the phenomenal displays of Derrick Henry – a man who cemented his position at the top table of NFL running backs.
The worry for the Titans is that Henry may struggle to find that level of production for a second year in succession. The heavy workload will have taken a toll on the former Alabama power back, and if his numbers do slip, Tennessee have not invested heavily in the rest of the players around him on offence. Defensively though, the Titans have made something of a splash. A unit otherwise devoid of bonafide star names now features the destructive Jadaveon Clowney, a man who knows all about wreaking havoc in the AFC South.
When you possess one of the league’s top three receivers on your roster, the common opinion is that you should keep that player on your books at all costs. However, Bill O’Brien doesn’t subscribe to what the majority believe.
Houston’s decision to allow DeAndre Hopkins to go to Arizona shocked the NFL world to its core, and the move is bound to have a major impact on how the Texans perform in 2020.
At quarterback, the franchise is set for the foreseeable with the fantastic Deshaun Watson now tied up with a lucrative $160m deal. But no matter how good he is, he can’t do it all himself. David Johnson came the other way as part of the Hopkins deal, and he could significantly add to the Texans’ run game. However, it’s been four years now since DJ’s outstanding breakout year, and he’s never hit the same heights since.
Watson has essentially four good receivers to aim at this season in Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb. On name value alone, it appears to be a strong committee, but were a solid set of good receivers really worth losing a truly great one? That remains to be seen.
There is genuine concern around the league that Jacksonville are conspiring to simply not win games this season, and that really tells you all you need to know about the 2020 Jaguars.
In the last week alone, the franchise has shipped out star defender Yannick Ngakoue to Minnesota and released former first round selection Leonard Fournette, with very little capital coming the other way. They are simply odd moves that have only weakened a team that was already looking extremely thin on the ground.
The Nick Foles experiment didn’t work in Florida, and even the biggest Gardner Minshew fan would struggle to say he’s the future with a straight face. So, with star quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields topping the list of talent in next year’s NFL Draft, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what Jacksonville may be thinking.
The franchise is littered with problems, and their luck with quarterbacks has been nothing short of terrible for their entire tenure in the league. It’s an extremely negative mind-set to have, but is it possible that Jacksonville are writing off this season, with the hope that a high draft pick next year can kick-start their revival?
Add in the fact that many of their games will likely be played with a severely reduced crowd, so their fans can’t suffer the shame first hand, and yes – unfortunately, it’s very possible.
In many ways, the AFC South is one of the hardest divisions in the league to predict this season. Realistically, there’s three teams that could snatch the top spot, if we’re completely disregarding the hapless Jaguars (and we absolutely should disregard them).
Realistically, the Philip Rivers project in Indianapolis has a lifespan of a year or two – that’s all the time the front office can afford to give the borderline Hall of Fame gunslinger, before they look to the future and attempt to bring in a quarterback who can lead the franchise for the next decade. Therefore, the Colts have made a very immediate leap to a ‘win now’ mentality, and they have the tools to make a real statement thanks to some shrewd recruitment work over the past couple of years.
The strange move to ship out DeAndre Hopkins undoubtedly sets the Texans back, but the brilliance of their quarterback gives them at least a chance against anyone. With seven teams from the AFC getting a play-off berth this season, Houston still have an outside chance of getting in if everything goes to plan and David Johnson regains his best form, but that’s a big ‘if'.
A safer bet for a post-season challenge though seems to be the Titans. They’re not as well rounded as the Colts, so may fall just short of top spot in the South, but the aggressive move to capture Clowney to anchor their defence proves that Tennessee are far from willing to be a one-season wonder.