ALL 32 of the NFL’s franchises are working through their training camps in preparation for the new season.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking at the state of play in each division, this time continuing with the AFC South.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans are the two most successful teams in this division in terms of titles, with nine and three respectively. Since the division’s creation in 2002, the two franchises have finished top all but twice: in the debut year and in 2008, both times ceding control to the Tennessee Titans. Peyton Manning helped the Colts to seven of those nine division championships before Andrew Luck came along and led the team to wins in 2013 and 2014. All three of the Texans’ wins have come since 2011 – when All-Pro defender and genuine athletic freak J.J. Watt was drafted.
The division sent more than just its winner to the playoffs six times in its first 10 seasons, once even sending three teams to the playoffs (2007). Those days seem long gone. The division has been widely considered the weakest in the NFL for the past three years.
But once again the tide has turned. Andrew Luck struggled last year – even before going down to injury. That allowed those bringing up the rear to close the gap slightly, as Tennessee and the Jacksonville Jaguars both improved their records, and the Texans overtook the Colts to win the division outright.
Luck’s rollercoaster wasn’t the only factor that led to a down year in Indianapolis. The offensive line continued to struggle, while the defense had a propensity for giving up two big plays for every big play it made, like a sort of one step forward and two steps back affair.
The good news going forward? They drafted the top center available – Alabama’s Ryan Kelly – to help protect Luck, while defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway from Texas and linebacker Antonio Morrison from Florida can be big playmakers in their rookie years. That’s a good young crop of talent.
But the best news? That after coming off a mistake-riddled and injury plagued year and signing a five-year, $122.97 million contract extension – Luck is looking good.
Houston made a bold move to stay at the top of the South by signing Peyton Manning’s understudy Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72million deal. That’s a lot of faith in someone with only seven career starts. Just as well then that Houston moved to sign running back Lamar Miller in free agency, who was top of the list of players available at the position after two productive seasons in Miami in a row. Having DeAndre Hopkins – one of the league’s elite receivers – will help no end.
Jacksonville and Tennessee are two teams firmly on the up. They both believe they have franchise quarterbacks in place in Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota. Bortles has had an extra year to answer the types of questions asked of franchise QBs but that still doesn’t exempt Mariota from the same sort of questions (especially considering the fate of other dual-threat players in his position, like Robert Griffin III and Tennessee’s own Vince Young). The Jaguars have the edge on talent over the Titans, with the ‘Allen Brothers’ headlining at receiver and two years of solid drafting on the defensive side that yielded Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. The Titans will hope Dorial Green-Beckham makes the leap at their receiver position, while the league waits with bated breath to see if DeMarco Murray can return to his 2014, and how Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry translates to the NFL.
This is the best the AFC South has looked post-Manning. And it will only increase in competitiveness in the years to come. Buckle up.
1st – Indianapolis Colts
=2nd – Houston Texans
=2nd – Jacksonville Jaguars
4th – Tennessee Titans