Last year I probably paid too much attention to the NFL offseason, and I think it clouded some of my judgements heading into the season. As a consequence I decided for the 2022 NFL year I would pay as little attention as possible. Obviously — and I do mean obviously — I didn’t miss out on the wide receiver carousel, what with Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown all getting traded; I didn’t miss out on the NFL Draft or other significant free agency signings. I consider those to be givens.
At the same time, when last year I was paying attention to depth signings — inconsequential minutia that doesn’t shift the needle all that much — this season I have let some information fall through the cracks. I don’t love the NFL any less now than I did a year ago, and come time for meaningful football games I will be in the lab just as I always am. Previewing the NFL is an experiment for me. It’s a way to test myself against the market of football fans. I simply went through a different process this time around.
All over/under win totals are courtesy of Draft Kings.
Part VI: AFC South
1. Houston Texans
2021 record: 4-13 2022 over/under: 4.5 wins
The Texans are going to be terrible again and everybody knows it. What I care more about is the potential of them trading away their most valuable asset — left tackle Laremy Tunsil — and perhaps netting another first round pick to add to the two they already have in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Houston are a particularly undesirable organization (for multiple reasons) with limited redeemable qualities, but it has to mean something that they are another year removed from the black cloud that Deshaun Watson cast during the 2021 season, and if they continue stockpiling premium draft picks they can absolutely put themselves in a position to compete in the AFC South as early as next season.
2. Indianapolis Colts
2021 record: 9-8 2022 over/under: 10 wins
I really like Matt Ryan, but Matt Ryan is (and has been) washed up. I also really like head coach Frank Reich, but his biggest claim to fame is being the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles in 2017. In his four years with the Colts he has had four different starting quarterbacks: Andrew Luck (2018), Jacoby Brissett (2019), Philip Rivers (2020) and Carson Wentz (2021). This year he’s on his fifth, and I really don’t understand why anyone expects results that are much different.
I’m not big on throwing around the word “overrated,” but it kind of summarizes the divide between what the Colts have accomplished in the Reich era versus being considered one of the better front office/personnel pairings in the league. I get it, they drafted Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, and they are both very good. But they play left guard and middle linebacker, respectively; those low-priority positions don’t swing the pendulum enough to compete with above average teams in the AFC when all the chips are in the middle of the table.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 record: 3-14 2022 over/under: 6.5 wins
Unironically, the head coach of that 2017 Eagles team was Doug Pederson — who is now head coach of the Jaguars. He is probably in the best position of any head coach in the NFL, for he is replacing the absolute train wreck that was the Urban Meyer experience of 2021. Pederson can do jack shit in 2022 and wake up with a record that isn’t the worst in the league.
And I don’t know, would it require that much of a leap of faith to argue that Jacksonville could actually compete in the South this year? If the Titans take a step back as everyone expects, and if Matt Ryan is truly as mediocre as people like me believe him to be, there you have the untapped potential of second-year QB Trevor Lawrence playing against a last place schedule in a totally winnable division. I know it sounds crazy, but is it?
4. Tennessee Titans
2021 record: 12-5 2022 over/under: 9 wins
Here’s what I don’t really understand: the Titans clearly overachieved by going 12-5 last year and capturing the top seed in the AFC despite being, like, the fifth best team. Their over/under last season was 9.5 wins. This offseason they traded away their best receiver, A.J. Brown, and now all of a sudden their over/under is only 9 and the Colts are the favorite in the South? Under the leadership of head coach Mike Vrable, the Titans have had a real knack for performing better on Sundays than on paper — as has been proven by virtue of making the AFC Championship in 2019, and winning the South in 2020 and 2021.
2022 was the offseason of teams trading away their star wide outs and betting on their quarterbacks. The Packers did it with Davante Adams, the Chiefs did it with Tyreek Hill, and the Titans did it with Brown. I would not in any shape put Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill on the same level as Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but something tells me that the teams who traded away their stars will be in better positions than those who acquired them.
AFC South Projection:
- Titans: 11-6
- Colts: 9-8
- Jaguars: 8-9
- Texans: 3-14
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