Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: AFC South

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Published on : August 21, 2015

 

This season’s AFC South promises a strong showing from the Colts despite Pagano being under extra post-season scrutiny, a Texans team itching to break into the big time, and a group of Jaguars and Titans still searching for an identity.

Simmer down. I’m trying to listen to the danged old ball…

 

Houston Texans:

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The Texans certainly have the potential to pop-off this season. A healthy Jadeveon Clowney alongside the indomitable monster that is J.J. Watt is going to provide for one of the best pass rushes in the league. And let’s not forget the addition of big man Vince Wilfork. Veteran Andre Johnson’s departure doesn’t hurt so much with the ascendency of DeAndre Hopkins, and Cecil Shorts could blossom under a new system. But the big offensive questions remain: can anything get accomplished at the QB position, and can Arian Foster stay healthy? Unfortunately it looks like the latter has already been answered with a pre-season groin injury, but there’s still hope in the backfield with Alfred Blue.

The QB question is much tougher. I like how Bill O’Brien is working with Hoyer and Mallett equally, but unless Mallett makes some amazing moves in the pre-season, I think it’s a no brainer to give the job to Hoyer. The guy’s got more starting experience, and while not being a top-tier quarterback in any capacity, I think he’s a lot better than he gets credit for.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Another solid year for the Texans with more scratches in the W’s column than L’s. The offense will just squeeze by, propped up by a defense that will surely put the fear of God into every quarterback they come across. The good times don’t roll on forever though as a costly divisional loss or two at the hands of the Titans or Jaguars leads to a repeat of last year’s near miss of the wildcard slot.

 

Tennessee Titans:

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Ken Whisenhunt was my top man for the job in Detroit when Jim Schwartz was given his walking papers, but with a frightful 2-14 record last year for his coming-out-party, I’m thinking Jim Caldwell is looking pretty good right about now. Obviously it’s not all Whisenhunt’s fault, as he came into a team that’s seemed to struggle in every department, hell, every facet of the game.

Second overall pick Marcus Mariota has a lot of expectations weighing on him coming into his rookie season. I love the draft call and think he’ll be a great fit with this team… eventually. It would be foolish to think that Mariota is gonna turn this Titanic around, especially with the limited weapons at his disposal. I could see Mariota and Kendall Wright achieving some chemistry together, and am super curious to see if veteran Hakeem Nicks boosts the offense or simply phones it in.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Mariota makes a difference, especially with the fire under Whisenhunt’s ass. The Titans improve gradually around their new QB and the whole thing begins to jell. David Cobb and Bishop Sankey will share most of the touches, creating an unspectacular, but reasonably effective run game. The Titan’s aren’t contenders yet, and they won’t be by the end of the season, but with a little luck they will manage to escape a repeat of having the worst record in the NFL.

 

Indianapolis Colts:

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Indy’s at the top of the heap in the AFC South and it looks like it’s going to remain that way for at least another year. Andrew Luck is killing it, and T.Y. Hilton, perhaps the best deep threat receiver in the league, got resigned this offseason. The Colts finally have a bit of stability in the backfield with Frank Gore. Sure, Gore’s lost a bit of his speed and he’s not going to get as many touches as he used to, but his instincts are still good, and he still has that battering-ram toughness that makes him so fun to watch and so frustrating for defenses. He also has the coolest nickname in the league (The Inconvenient Truth). In any case, one would be hard pressed to say that he’s not a huge step up from Trent Richardson, who I mistakenly thought was really going to make a go of it with the Colts.

With the Indy chumping it the past few years of playoffs, questions about Chuck Pagano’s competency are being raised. I think it’s a issue worth talking about, and the buck stops here, but I think it’s difficult to peg those losses, no matter how spectacular, on a guy who regularly racks up winning seasons for his team. Plenty of teams would be so lucky as to have Chuck Pagano as their head coach.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The offense is there, but the defense will continue to have trouble keeping up with the other side of the ball. The divisional situation gives the Colts another free ticket to the playoffs where they once again lose a heartbreaker. Questions will continue about Pagano’s coaching. He’s out of Indy in the next three years.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars:

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I like Blake Bortles, and not just because of his funny name. I like his arm when he’s on the run and I like his release. There’s plenty of room for improvement, and I think we’re going to see some of it this year. Julius Thomas was a nice off-season present for a guy in need of quality receivers, but let’s be honest, I think plenty of teams will be comfortable double teaming Thomas in the red zone while leaving Marqise Lee open. I like the multiple options at running back, and I think Bernard Pierce makes the roster and has an impact.

Something I’ve noticed: I never see a dude in just a Jaguars hat or jersey. It’s always an entire outfit with hat, jersey, shorts, and even team color sneakers. Just on the street. Just walking around. Crazy people like that deserve to see Julius Thomas succeed with his new team.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The most exciting games for the Jags this year will be divisional matchups, particularly against the Titans and Texans. Jacksonville has a solid shot at spoiling Houston’s playoff dream, and leaving Tennessee in the dust. The crystal ball says both these things happen. The non-divisional games on the other hand will be mostly losses with a tough schedule for a team in transition.

 

 


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