T-minus two weeks until we're done with this preseason BS and the real football begins! Every year, I try to get myself to care about preseason games and the bottom of the roster guys working their asses off to earn a spot on the team. And then every year - I see a 7th round quarterback overthrow an undrafted wide receiver who ran the wrong route and I remember why I don't care about the preseason. Why the NFL hasn't cut it down to 2 games is beyond me. Most guys only need a game to get back to speed and plenty of veterans don't even see the field. Now, I understand it's all about giving the plucky linebacker from Kent State the chance to make the roster, but I'm pretty sure the coaches can figure that out in training camp. Speaking of camp - when was the last time there was this much optimism coming out of the AFC South?
There is reason for hope throughout the division. The Jaguars boast one of the best defenses in the league and were a few offensive plays away from the Super Bowl. The Titans made their first playoff appearance since 2008. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was back at camp and looks like he's actually going to play this year. And JJ Watt and DeShaun Watson have recovered from their injuries and are slated to play week 1 for the Texans. These four teams all believe they have the talent to make a postseason run, but the South has sent the fewest amount of teams to the playoffs in the AFC in the last decade. So there are plenty of questions...
5) Will JJ Watt make it through a full season for the Texans? The most terrorizing defensive player in the league hasn't played a full season since 2015. He's coming off his second series injury in two years and there's no guarantee that he will ever get back to an elite level. Watt is one of the most likeable guys in the NFL and a must see player on defense. Despite missing 24 of the last 32 games - the three-time defensive player of the year is the favorite to bring home his fourth this year. But if Watt can't stay healthy and 2nd-year quarterback DeShaun Watson struggles in his return from a major injury - there will be a problem in Houston.
4) What can we expect from Colts QB Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck is another guy you just have to feel bad for. Touted as the next great generational quarterback - Luck has played behind atrocious offense lines his entire career and he's suffered for it. Luck injured his right-shoulder in Week 3 of 2015 and only played 7-games that year. He returned in 2016 only to re-injure that same shoulder in Week 17. After a weird offseason and little news on his status - Luck was ruled out for the 2017 season. Since then - Luck has passed every test during training camp and the preseason. First-year coach Frank Reich needs to find a way to protect his star quarterback. If he can - maybe we'll see the Luck that threw for 40 touchdowns and led the Colts to the AFC Title game in 2014.
3) Can Titans QB Marcus Mariota bounce back from a down year? Yes - the Titans made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. And yes - they won their first playoff game since 2003. But if you look deeper (and not even that deep) - you'll see that Marcus Mariota had a pretty poor year. The 3rd-year quarterback out of Oregon had a career low in touchdown passes (13) and a career high in interceptions (15). His 79.3 QB rating was also the lowest of his career. He did make up for it a little with his legs, running for over 300 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Titans shook things up this offseason firing Mike Mularkey and bringing in Mike Vrabel as head coach. His first move was hiring former Rams' offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to call the plays. LaFleur's offense was the top scoring team in the NFL and was in the top-10 in both rushing and passing. So if anyone can get the most out of Mariota - it's Matt LaFleur.
2) How will the Jaguars top their 2017 season? The Jaguars powered their way through 2017 with a suffocating defense and a dominating ground game. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette took the league by storm rushing for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. Coach Marrone was not afraid to run the ball down an opponents throat and in turn - Blake Bortles had one of the best years of his career. Bortles didn't shatter any records with his arm, but he did set a career high in completion percentage (60.2) and a low in interceptions (13). On defense - the Jaguars were the 2nd best team overall in 2017 and added even more talent through the NFL draft. As we witnessed last year - the Jaguars defensive unit is good enough to get them deep in the playoffs, but at some point Blake Bortles will have to step up and make a few big throws if the Jags want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
1) Will multiple AFC South teams make it to the playoffs in 2018? The AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football over the last decade and they typically don't win much outside the division. The South combined to go just 15 and 25 in non-divisional games last year which was the worst in the NFL. And if you go back even further - the South hasn't had a winning record in non-division games since 2009 when Peyton Manning was still lacing em up for the Colts That stat, coupled with the fact that most of these teams are a QB injury away from a lost season, leads me to believe that only one team will make the postseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars.
Have your own thoughts on the AFC South? Let me hear it!
Monday - NFC East