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AFC South: Titans, Colts could be a 2-team race

Updated September 8, 2020 - 5:36 pm

Tennessee Titans

VS. RAIDERS: None

ADDITIONS: CB Johnathan Joseph

SUBTRACTIONS: QB Marcus Mariota, T Jack Conklin, CB Logan Ryan

OUTLOOK: No one made a more dramatic in-season turnaround than the Titans did in 2019, going from dead in the water to one of the most dangerous teams in the conference and one that pushed the Kansas City Chiefs to the brink in the AFC championship game. The catalyst was making the quarterback change from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, then letting Tannehill defer to playoff-dominating running back Derrick Henry and emerging young wide receiver A.J. Brown. It was a recipe for brilliance as the Titans rode a rugged, higher-percentage offense and a solid defense to a surprising playoff run. Duplicating that achievement should not be ruled out. Tannehill seems to have found himself and plays beautifully off the Titans’ run-first approach. The Titans appear up to that challenge.

PREDICTED FINISH: First place, 10-6

Indianapolis Colts

VS. RAIDERS: Dec. 13, Allegiant Stadium

ADDITIONS: DT DeForest Buckner, QB Philip Rivers, CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Michael Pittman Jr. (draft) RB Jonathan Taylor (draft)

SUBTRACTIONS: TE Eric Ebron, WR Devin Funchess

OUTLOOK: The Colts are turning into one of the most well-run organizations in football. Their personnel decisions have been spot on as they go about picking up the pieces after the loss of Andrew Luck. The addition of DeForest Buckner and the drafting of Michael Pittman Jr. and Johnathan Taylor are indicative of their shrewd roster decisions. So in many ways, it’s completely understandable that the signing of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers has left many pundits declaring the Colts the prohibitive favorites to win the AFC South. But in so many other ways, this feels exactly like what Rivers has dealt with so many times over the last few years in Los Angeles, where a highly regarded Chargers roster always seemed poised for a breakout. The problem was, Rivers’ reckless play and ill-timed turnovers often left the Chargers vulnerable. If he can play safe and prudent football, the Colts will be in a position to make a run. If he reverts to last year’s form, the Colts will end up much like the Chargers did.

PREDICTED FINISH: Second place, 8-8

Houston Texans

VS. RAIDERS: None

ADDITIONS: WR Brandin Cooks, RB David Johnson, WR Randall Cobb, DT Ross Blacklock (draft)

SUBTRACTIONS: WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT D.J. Reader, CB Johnathan Joseph

OUTLOOK: An inexplicable offseason left Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson without one of the best wide receivers in the game, and it’s a loss Houston will feel for some time. The stunning trade of Texans star wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals — for reasons still mostly unexplained — was a gut-punch to the team and a roundhouse right to Watson, a tremendous talent who played perfectly off his dominating teammate. Watson and the Texans must carry on. While the addition of Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb certainly softens the blow, it just feels like a Band-Aid on an open wound. The addition of Johnson gives Houston a chance to have a solid run game to support Watson and the pass game, but in a competitive division, that might not be enough to get it done.

PREDICTED FINISH: Third place, 6-10

Jacksonville Jaguars

VS. RAIDERS: None

ADDITIONS: LB Joe Schobert, CB C.J. Henderson (draft), DE K’Lavon Chaisson (draft), WR Laviska Shenault (draft)

SUBTRACTIONS: QB Nick Foles, DE Calais Campbell, DT Marcell Dareus, CB A.J. Bouye, DE Yannick Ngakoue, RB, Leonard Fournette

OUTLOOK: The scene in Jacksonville just reeks of dysfunction, and it has resulted in a steady stream of players leaving North Florida. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue forced a trade to the Vikings because he wasn’t happy with his contract. Then the team waived star running back Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars have some young players in place to field a fun offense, but so much relies on second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew now that Fournette is gone. The draft supplied some interesting young players, but they will likely be groomed more as part of a successful rebuild rather than a win-now operation.

PREDICTED FINISH: Fourth place, 3-13

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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