NFL: AFC South season preview

We take a look at each division before the start of the 2014 season, with this feature examining the AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

It seems almost a lifetime ago that a “Peyton Manningless” Colts finished the 2011 season 2-14. With Andrew Luck now at the helm, the prospect of repeating such a record seems close to nonexistent as the Colts appear primed for success this season. By far the best all round young quarterback in the league, Luck has filled the shoes of Manning quite nicely over the past two seasons and leads a Colts team that is one hot postseason run from a Super Bowl title. With weapons outside Luck such as T.Y. Hilton and a now fully fit Reggie Wayne, the Colts offence looks set to fire on all cylinders. However, their success with Luck is far from guaranteed as the Colts team include one of the worst offensive line units in the league. Injuries have plagued regular starters Khaled Holmes and Donald Thomas before the season’s even started meaning Luck faces inconsistency in his protection. The Colts’ defence also has the makings of a well put together unit, with players such as Robert Mathis and Vontae Davis not simply complimenting Luck on offence but also dictating the flow of the game. Barring too many hits on Luck, Indianapolis possess all the qualities of team destined to make a deep postseason run.

Houston Texans

After starting 2-0 in 2013, the Houston Texans proceeded to finish the season on a 14 game losing streak, and there was a reason for this. Most evidently, Houston’s quarterback woes with Matt Schaub and then Case Keenum proved to be their greatest downfall but worst of all, there appears to have been no consorted effort during this offseason to ensure the same situation doesn’t happen again. Veteran league backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Sunday, only after Case Keenum was released to make way for New England Patriots QB Ryan Mallett. The move reeks of disorganisation at the most important position, with the addition of Mallett appearing to be a last ditched attempt to salvage the season. Despite this, there is still cause for optimism in other aspects of Houston’s team. The Texans defence looks stronger and will no doubt carry the team most of the season if they are to pick up a winning record. Within this lies first round draft pick Jadeveon Clowney who has shown positive strides during the preseason and looks well placed alongside $100 million man, J.J Watt. Nevertheless, the NFL remains a passing league and without a viable option at quarterback, the Texans will do well not to struggle. Fitzpatrick has shown glimpses of promise in the past, but the lack of consistent starts and performances will no doubt have most Texan fans concerned.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

A 4-12 record in 2013 was both a fair and unfair reflection of the type of team that Jacksonville are. They of course had their difficulties, be it at quarterback, offensive line and much of their defence. However, there were positives to take away from last season which should pay dividends this year. Jacksonville are developing not only a young, but talented team. First round pick Luke Joekel returns from injury to give the offensive line much needed stability, whilst the drafting of quarterback Blake Bortles has proven (so far) to be a risk worth taking after several decent preseason performances. Although Chad Henne was picked without hesitation to start this weekend’s season opener, Bortles is undoubtedly the future of the franchise and will likely take over should the Henne struggle early on. Jacksonville’s offense is certainly not without its flaws as they will need a new playmaker following the suspension of Justin Blackmon and loss of Maurice Jones-Drew. Nevertheless, this remains a work in progress team, with head coach Gus Bradley certainly playing the long game. Whilst he does this, his team might just turn a few heads this season.

 

Tennessee Titans

In 2013, Tennessee became a prime example of an NFL team that only went as far as its quarterback could take them. Sadly for the franchise, it looks as though the same may happen again this year should Jake Locker fail to stay healthy. Locker, a fourth year pro is one of the unlucky few to show signs of great potential, only to miss out on being able to show it because of injury. In the two years as a starter in Tennessee, Locker has only played 18 games in total. In both seasons, the Titans at least had viable backups in place, yet following Ryan Fitzpatrick’s departure to Houston, Tennesee have been left with Charlie Whitehurst, a nine year veteran who’s only ever started four games in his career. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is certainly the man to push Locker, as well as the rest of the offence but with few playmakers following the departure of Chris Johnson and once heralded wide receiver Kenny Britt, Whisenhunt’s job will not be as easy as it was in San Diego. The Titans have clearly gone all in on Locker in the hope that he fulfils his potential as the team’s legitimate future. The trouble is that the rest of the team is relying on him to.

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