We’re into Week 3 of the preseason, and before the regular season has even kicked off, all signs point to the AFC South being highly competitive this year. The Jaguars are going to have to go through three teams to win the AFC South crown and earn a home playoff game. I went behind enemy lines to see what we could expect from the rest of the AFC South this year.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck’s leg injury, which started as a calf injury and is now being reported as an ankle injury as well, is dominating the headlines surrounding the Colts. Despite a highly efficient offense, Luck is the key to the Colts’ success, and I don’t think they can do it without him. If Luck is healthy, then the Colts have a scary good offense coming into the season. After acquiring wide receiver Devin Funchess in the offseason to play across from T.Y. Hilton, then add in a top offensive line, Eric Ebron at tight end, and Marlon Mack who is projected to be improved this year. The Jags defense and the rest of the defenses around the AFC South are going to have their hands full.
Their defense does feature 2018 Rookie of the Year, Darius Leonard, at outside linebacker. Their defensive line features two players on the wrong side of 30: Justin Houston and Jabaal Sheard. Additionally, no one on the Colts’ starting defensive line had double-digit sacks in 2018. Houston and defensive end Denico Autry both finished the year with nine and Houston was still playing with the Kansas City Chiefs. Moving to the secondary, cornerback Kenny Moore did have three interceptions and 63 tackles last year. But with an improved passing attack and healthy offensive line, I like the way the Jaguars stack up against this defense.
When the Jaguars and the Colts face off in weeks 10 and 16 it will come down to the Colts offense vs. the Jaguars defense. With or without Andrew Luck, I still like the Jaguars ability to rush the passer and play defense against the pass. That will likely be the formula to beat the Colts this year. With that being said, I still think the Colts are the Jaguars’ toughest hurdle in the AFC South.
Houston Texans: The Jaguars will meet the Texans early in Week 2 and then again in London Week 9. The Texans won the AFC crown last season thanks to a nine-game winning streak that included beating the Jaguars at home 20-7 in Week 7 and eventually sweeping the Jaguars with another victory in Week 16. However, looking forward to 2019 I like how the Jaguars matchup against the Texans.
The Week 2 matchup in Houston will be on a short week for the Texans — they open their season on Monday Night Football — and after losing in London to the Eagles last year, I think the Jaguars are primed for a win in Wembley Week 9 no matter who they play. Looking at how they match up on the field, it’s no secret the Texans’ biggest weakness is their offensive line. Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times last year and hit 133 times. The Texans did make some moves this offseason, acquiring offensive tackle Matt Kalil and spending their first two draft picks on offensive linemen. Despite the additions, the Jaguars’ defensive line, that will feature Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Marcel Dareus, and Josh Allen on third down should be able to capitalize on a porous O-line. However, it’s not all bad on the Houston offense. You can’t write about them without at least mentioning wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins – you may have heard of him. He’s undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, receiver in the league and it’s always a treat getting to watch him and Jalen Ramsey battle.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans feature a stout front seven led by defensive end JJ Watt and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. They should enjoy success defending against the run. However, their pass coverage could be an issue again this year. The Texans let safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Kareem Jackson walk at the end of the season and replaced them with former Jaguars’ safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Bradley Roby. They also added slot corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun and spent a second and sixth-round draft pick on cornerbacks Lonnie Johnson and Xavier Crawford.
In a Week 15 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles down the field on the last drive of the game which led to a game-winning field goal for the Eagles as time expired. I’m sure the Texans are not looking forward to seeing him again twice a year. If the Jaguars can win in the trenches and get to Watson, I like how they match up against the Texans this year.
Tennessee Titans: Despite being the team that I like the least to win the AFC South, they’re the team that always seems to have the Jaguars’ number. After failing to make the playoffs in 2018, this is probably going to be a make-or-break season for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Going into the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, Mariota will be looking to cash in. But the Titans aren’t going to just hand it to him, quite the opposite in fact. The Titans spent a 2020 fourth-round pick, 2019 sixth-round pick, and 2019 seventh-round pick to acquire Ryan Tannehill from the Miami Dolphins to compete with Mariota for the job.
As for the rest of the offense, love him or hate him left tackle Taylor Lewan is an elite tackle and a solid anchor for the Titans’ offensive line. Lewan, however, is suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season and will miss the Thursday night game Week 3, which is great news for the Jaguars. Running back Derrick Henry should continue to improve, and it’s hard to find negative things to say about him after he carried the entire Jaguars’ defense into the end zone last year on a 99-yard touchdown carry. Outside of Lewan and Henry, there isn’t much to like on the Titans offense. Their second-round selection, wide receiver AJ Brown, has potential but it’s too soon to tell. Tight end Delanie Walker is 35 years old, and the Titans failed to pick up right tackle Jack Conklin’s fifth-year option.
I have to give credit where it’s due with the defense in Tennessee, which was the third-ranked scoring defense in the NFL last year (18.9 PPG). It all starts with the anchor of the defensive line, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who is coming off this fourth-consecutive Pro Bowl season. Their 3-4 scheme allows them to rotate in the likes of DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Matt Dickerson, and Brent Urban making for a stout rotation. The Titans will feature some new faces at linebacker after Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan departed. To make up for the loss, the Titans signed 37-year-old Cameron Wake to a three-year $23 million deal. The secondary in Tennessee is also able to hold their own on game day. With the additions of cornerback Logan Ryan in 2017, Malcolm Butler in 2018, and Adoree’ Jackson in the first round of the 2017 draft. Combine that with ball-hawking safety Kevin Byard, and there’s plenty to keep opposing offensive coordinators busy. I want to say I like the Jaguars to beat the Titans this year, but with how the past couple of years have gone I’ll have to see it to believe it.
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