Predictions are fun right?
No matter what sport we’re talking about, there’s no doubt that you or someone you know made a bold prediction regarding your favorite team.
Here, I’ll be doing the same.
As it stands right now, there’s only one word to describe the AFC South: Underrated.
Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars emerged as the division champions, with the Tennessee Titans appearing in the divisional round of the playoffs. Had DeShaun Watson been healthy, the Houston Texans could have been in the playoffs as well. Unfortunately, for the Indianapolis Colts, starting quarterback Andrew Luck was injured for the whole season, clearly proving that the Colts need more pieces around him to take the next step.
With nearly every member of the Jaguars defense returning in 2018, the Tennessee Titans having a new coaching staff, and DeShaun Watson returning for the Houston Texans, this is going to be a division that takes the NFL by storm in 2018. Now that we know that Andrew Luck is set to return, the Colts automatically just got better.
1. Houston Texans: The returning star power leads this team to one of the AFC’s top seeds in the playoffs.
Before he went down with a torn ACL last season, DeShaun Watson threw 19 touchdowns in seven games. It’s no secret Watson took the league by storm. He’s already stated that he has a desire to be great.
In addition to Watson, the Texans two biggest stars on defense: J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus all saw their 2017 campaign cut short due to injury.
With all three set to return in 2018, the Texans have everything needed to make noise in the AFC during the upcoming season. Watson, Watt, and Mercilus will join Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney and form a core that has one goal in mind: Super Bowl Champions.
Essentially, the Texans have a roster that is good enough to be a top-three seed in the AFC.
Houston may not be ready to challenge AFC Powerhouses like the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers, but they do have enough to beat any team within the conference.
The key for this team to make a run is to beat teams within their own division first. That means beating teams like the Titans and Jaguars. Both rivals easily possess talent that is equivalent to the roster that Houston has.
However, winning games within the division is still not enough. Houston must prove that they can beat teams like Denver, Dallas, and Philadelphia.
If the Texans can start fast and make a run early, then this team easily solidify its spot in the playoffs by the time December rolls around. However, they must be careful. One mistake could make-or-break this team’s season.
2. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck comes back better than ever
I know what you’re thinking. He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2016, how could you possibly make such a prediction? But I’m here to tell you that it’s totally possible.
It’s a new era in the Colts franchise. And the current regime seems to already be making this team better. Chris Ballard now runs the show and he’s already made some moves that will help his franchise quarterback.
With the sixth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Colts selected Notre Dame Guard Quenton Nelson. The motive behind such a move: Protect Andrew Luck to the fullest extent. When you protect your franchise quarterback, he’ll have time to throw. And when he has time to throw, good things can happen.
With someone as good as Nelson protecting him, it’s not hard to see Luck returning to his old form. Although the Colts are in the process of rebuilding up the roster again, in the NFL once you have a franchise quarterback, your team is automatically better.
Another thing the Colts did to help Luck regain his old form was hire an offensive-minded head coach in Frank Reich. Also known as the man who was responsible for the Philadelphia Eagles explosive offense in 2017, Reich is he the perfect man to help Andrew Luck.
Sure, Luck will have to shake off some rust, but for someone with his talent, he could get back to his old form over time and then lead the Colts back into the playoffs in 2019.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: The defense carries the team to a Super Bowl berth
There’s an old saying, one that we’ve all heard way too much: Defense wins championships.
Back in January, the Jaguars nearly defeated the greatest player-coach duo in NFL history in the AFC Championship game. And for such a young team, it was an impressive accomplishment. They may have fallen short, but the Jaguars are ready to hunt in 2018.
And the defense, as good as it was last season, is going to be hungry to win in 2018.
Led by Jalen Ramsey, this defense got even better in 2018 and has nothing but Super Bowl expectations on their mind. Most of the starting core is intact, while the depth that’s been added is going to be a huge difference maker for this team.
In 2017, Jacksonville had 55 sacks. To reach the Super Bowl, Jacksonville must build on a successful 2017 season. That means the front seven must replicate what it did in 2017 in terms of sacks. With the addition of defensive tackle Taven Bryan via the draft, Jacksonville appears to be hoping to do just that. It’ll be essential for veterans like Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus to lead the way. In the secondary, A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey will look to constantly intercept quarterbacks.
However, one thing that this team cannot do is get ahead of themselves. After they start winning a few games, they need to remain confident and take each game one step at a time. By doing so, Jacksonville is putting all the pieces to the puzzle together, but not trying to rush anything.
They may still have to beat the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Jaguars defense can be the reason this team hoists the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta in February.
4. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, and Corey Davis have breakout seasons
The Titans are going to surprise in 2018. You heard it here first.
The addition of Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator will work wonders for this team in 2018. Last season, as offensive coordinator of the Rams, LaFleur was the driving force behind an offense that averaged 29.9 points per game.
Now, in 2018 Lafleur’s best students will be Marcus Mariota, Corey Davis, and Derrick Henry.
You could call this trio the Triplets 2.0.
Even though Davis started in just nine games last season, he averaged 11 yards per reception, proving that he’s got everything it takes to be a solid number one receiver in the NFL. Davis should see a jump in year two if he can stay healthy. In fact, he could automatically be going into the season as the Titans number one receiver. As the 2018 season goes on, it won’t be a surprise to see him getting better and better each game.
Before he broke his leg towards the end of the 2016 season, Marcus Mariota was playing at an MVP level. In 2017, Mariota had somewhat of a down year, as his play was inconsistent. In 2016, he tossed 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Unfortunately, in 2017, he had 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But with the arrival of Matt Lafleur, he could finally fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback. Although he’ll have to learn a whole new offensive system, he’s shown to be someone who’s a fast learner. It may only be a matter of time before he joins the MVP conversation again.
And finally, the so overlooked Derrick Henry, who’ll establish himself as a dual-threat weapon very quickly in 2018. In 2017, Henry rushed for 744 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He also averaged 12.4 yards per reception. He posted those numbers while having to share time in the backfield with Demarco Murray. With Murray now gone, the Titans should be ready to give the keys to their backfield to Henry who’ll make the most of it all.
The Titans appear to be ready to breakout in 2018 and Marcus Mariota, Corey Davis, and Derrick Henry will be at the center of this team taking the next step. Big things are coming to the city of Nashville, Tennessee.