Neil Reynolds' Division Preview - AFC South

It's never easy to predict how an NFL season is going to play out, but the AFC South has to be one of the hardest divisions to gauge as we head into the 2020 campaign. In the past three years, all four teams have been in the playoffs with two of them reaching the AFC Championship Game. Jacksonville look like they are rebuilding but Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee will fancy their chances.

Neil's Predicted Finish

  1. Tennessee Titans
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars

TENNESSEE TITANS

State of the Franchise

The Titans have produced four straight 9-7 seasons but January did see them take their game to new heights. Tennessee knocked off New England and Baltimore in the postseason before giving Kansas City a scare in the AFC Championship Game. This bruising, tough and well-coached team – led by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel – is ready to show that was no fluke and sits at the top table of AFC teams.

Star Man

Reigning NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry is a battering ram who takes away the will of the opposing team. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, Henry becomes tougher to tackle as games and seasons go on. And his big games were no flukes – time and again he was topping 150 yards as the Titans marched to the playoffs.

Secret Superstar

In his first NFL season – which was delayed due to a torn ACL – versatile defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons showed that the sky is the limit. He was a force of nature strong against both the run and the pass.

By the Numbers

56… The Titans allowed 56 sacks in 2019 – third-most in the NFL.

117.5… Ryan Tannehill was the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL last season. Prior to 2019, he had a career passer rating of 87.0.

149.1… From Week 10 onwards last season, Derrick Henry averaged 149.1 rushing yards per game compared to 71.6 in Weeks 1-9.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

State of the Franchise

This time last year the Colts were reeling from the late-summer retirement of Andrew Luck. Things are a lot more stable this time around as Philip Rivers takes over the quarterback duties from Jacoby Brissett. The Colts are well built by general manager Chris Ballard and well led by head coach Frank Reich. They will feel good about competing for a playoff berth in 2020, giving Rivers one last shot at championship glory.

Star Man

It may not be glamorous, but it sums up the 'trenches-first' approach of Ballard… offensive guard Quenton Nelson is the best player in Indianapolis. He is a nasty, old-school, grind-them-into-the-dirt lineman.

Secret Superstar

Injury de-railed his 2019 just as defensive end Kemoko Turay was emerging as an edge-rushing force. His quarterback pressure rate of 22 percent was second only to Nick Bosa. Turay could shine in 2020.

By the Numbers

23… Philip Rivers threw 23 touchdown passes in 2019 – the fewest he has thrown since 2007.

513… Linebackers Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker have combined to make 513 stops over the past two seasons.

6,174… Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards in three seasons at Wisconsin.

HOUSTON TEXANS

State of the Franchise

The Texans have won this division in four of the past five seasons and are led by one of the most dynamic players in the game today in quarterback Deshaun Watson. So why does an air of negativity hang over this team? Much is to do with the offseason trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But make no mistake, this is still a talented club capable of competing for the playoffs.

Star Man

As evidenced by a new $39 million-per-year contract, it's all about Watson. He is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL, regardless of position. This genuine superstar can do it all.

Secret Superstar

Fifth-round draft choice from 2019, defensive end Charles Omenihu, recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles as a rookie. Playing opposite JJ Watt in 2020, those numbers should get pushed much higher.

By the Numbers

31.9… Since Deshaun Watson entered the NFL in 2017, 31.9 percent of Houston's throws have gone to DeAndre Hopkins – the highest percentage of any team in the league.

34… Deshaun Watson accounted for 34 touchdowns (running and passing) in 2019 – only Lamar Jackson (43) had more.

1,239… Running back David Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards in Arizona in 2016. He has rushed for just 1,308 yards in the three seasons since.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

State of the Franchise

It's mind-blowing to think the Jags were about five minutes from the Super Bowl at the end of the 2017 season. Now, with many star performers gone and 16 rookies on the roster for 2020, it's time for Jacksonville to star over and build it up again. That will take time. This season will be about discovering if quarterback Gardner Minshew is the real deal.

Star Man

One of the biggest bright spots in Jacksonville in 2019 was the form of wide receiver D.J. Chark, who topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his young career. The Pro Bowler gives Minshew a field-stretching game-breaker and he has the tools to take his game to even greater heights this season.

Secret Superstar

After progressing nicely in his first two seasons, defensive tackle Taven Bryan will be called upon to up his game in 2020, especially following the departure of Calais Campbell.

By the Numbers

3… Jacksonville scored just three rushing touchdowns in 2019 – only three teams have scored fewer over the course of a season in the Super Bowl era.

6-6… Gardner Minshew finished with a 6-6 record as a rookie, throwing 21 touchdown passes.

13.8… Defensive end Josh Allen posted a QB pressure rate of 13.8 percent in 2019 – fourth-best in the NFL.

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