With no sports and nothing but time, due to the global pandemic we’ve been living through, I have tried to figure out how to approach the 2020 NFL season. A part of me thought about ranking every team from 1-32, another wanted to rank each team per conference, but since we’re here I might as well just do every division in the league.
Part VII: AFC South
1. Houston Texans
2019 record: 10-6
2020 over/under win total: 7.5
Has any team in the NFL had a worse last six months than the Texans? They held a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, and ended up losing 51-31. The craziest part was they didn’t even have a lead at halftime, as Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdown passes (three to Travis Kelce) to give Kansas City a 28-24 lead at the break.
Once their season was over, heartbreaking as it was, they went ahead and traded their best offensive weapon and one of the best wide receivers in the league — DeAndre Hopkins — to the Cardinals for a washed up running back playing on a bad contract (David Johnson) and a couple draft picks. I’d consider head coach Bill O’Brian at least average, probably closer to above average, but as a GM he clearly seems in over his head. Last year he traded away two first round picks for OT Laremy Tunsil, this year he traded Hopkins for a bag of potato chips, and later shipped off a second rounder for concussion-prone wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
On the field the Texans still have DeShaun Watson playing quarterback, the best at his position in the AFC South and the third-best QB in the league according to my makeshift list. He’s really good. But then you factor in that he’s probably pretty pissed off that the team traded one of his best friends (and one of the very best in the league), and who knows where his head is at.
Not a lot adds up, to me anyway, for why this team only has a win total of 7.5. It just screams for you to take the over, yet I’m going the other way and betting that O’Brian has lost the locker room and Watson will play less than inspired football. It’s hard to imagine an offense led by Watson being any worse than league average, but I’m expecting the defense to remain this team’s achilles heel.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
This organization is a mess. I don’t need to say a lot beyond that. Last year they were dealing with the headache of disgruntled superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and as the season wore on we learned about players like Leonard Fornette getting fined by the team for bullshit reasons, so bullshit that they even got the Players Association involved. The Jaguars have no quarterback to speak of, a head coach they retained but that no one seems to like playing for, and a front office that has sowed distrust among its players.
I’m not sure about you, but that seems like the recipe it’s going to take to go 1-15 and draft Trevor Lawrence with the #1 overall pick next year. Based on the fact that they traded away Nick Foles, didn’t do anything to address the QB position in free agency — whether it be Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, or Teddy Bridewater, as examples — and didn’t make a play to move up in the draft to take Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, I think it’s their very explicit game plan to play out the string with head coach Doug Marrone, fire him during or after the year, and start fresh in 2021.
All that means is a couple more wins for all the AFC South teams, and a lost Jaguars season. Kind of crazy that they were on the brink of winning the AFC Championship Game in New England just three years ago.
3. Indianapolis Colts
2019 record: 7-9
2020 over/under: 8.5
Indy was dealt a bad hand last year, as franchise quarterback and fellow Born In 1990 person Andrew Luck decided to retire just a couple weeks before the season started. Behind Jacoby Brissett, the Colts played solid football for the better part of the season, starting 6-4 and even beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
They ended up losing 5 of their last 6 contests, but I can’t really knock them for it. It’s a small miracle they won as many games as they did, because it’s truly an average roster and Jacoby Brissett is no Andrew Luck. He is what was he when Luck was still on the roster: a backup quarterback. I think it speaks to how strong Frank Reich is as a head coach that they managed to make a season out of nothing.
Their big free agent signing was future HoF quarterback Phillip Rivers, and they added WR Michael Pittman Jr. and RB Jonathon Taylor in the draft. That will give Rivers a couple more weapons to play with alongside WR TY Hilton and RB Marlon Mack, who are both proven contributors.
This team is the favorite to win the AFC South (+125), and if you want to bet the over on 8.5 wins you have to lay an insane -200 ($2 wins you $1). I guess everyone just assumes Rivers is some crazy upgrade over Brissett, that they have a great offensive line, and that the rest of the division is just weak sauce. I’m going the other way, because after seeing Rivers the last couple years in Los Angeles I don’t think he has very much left in the tank. This is a .500 team.
4. Tennessee Titans
2019 record: 9-7
2020 over/under: 8.5
I don’t know if it’s possible to take the under on every team in a division, but if there was a division where that was possible it would be the AFC South. The Titans went on a massive run in 2019 and even held a 10-point lead in the AFC Championship, eclipsing all expectations and getting on the doorstep of executing a historic playoff gauntlet. They beat the Patriots on the road in the Wild Card Round, they beat the top-seeded team, Baltimore, on the road. Then they ran out of gas in Kansas City in a 35-24 loss.
The big turnaround was credited to finally moving away from their former top draft pick — quarterback Marcus Mariota — in favor of former first round pick Ryan Tannehill, whom the Titans acquired last offseason. They finally hit rock bottom and made the switch in Week 6, a 16-0 loss to the Broncos, after which Tennessee fell to 2-4. After that they rallied, winning 7 of their final 10 games, and securing a Wild Card berth.
Tannehill garners most of the credit, which is fine, but the real highlight was running back Derrick Henry. Following Week 6 Henry rushed for 1,126 yards in the team’s final 10 games, but since he sat out Week 15 against the Saints he averaged 125 yards and some change, and the team went 7-2 in those 9 contests. Since most of the NFL has moved away from ground and pound in favor of a low-risk passing attack, Henry’s end of the season was nothing short of remarkable. (He even added 182 and 195 yards, respectively, against New England and Baltimore in the playoffs.)
Tennessee signed Ryan Tannehill to a large extension during the offseason, a move they kind of had to do even though he’s probably never going to take them to a Super Bowl. That obviously limits their ceiling, and odds are they won’t duplicate their end-of-2019 success. So really they are in a position where they have the same roster that last year went 9-7 and caught some fire in the playoffs.
A bunch of coin flips are going to decide the AFC South champion in 2020. With the exception of the Jaguars every team in the division is equal; you are probably going to look at a lot of -3’s for whoever the home team regarding individual matchups, whether it’s Colts at Titans, Titans at Texans, or Texans at Colts, and vice versa.
- Titans: 9-7
- Colts: 8-8
- Texans: 7-9
- Jaguars: 3-13
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