2014 Scout AFC South Preview

A look at the AFC South heading in to the 2014 season...

Houston Texans
By Patrick Starr, BattleRedNation.com

OUTLOOK: New head coach Bill O’Brien has made the Texans buy into the team approach for the 2014 season. A season of optimism falls into the hands of new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and how well he can guide the new offense. The team has received a complete retooling in offense, defense and special teams.

OFFSEASON: The Texans signed two of Romeo Crennel’s former Kansas City players -- Kendrick Lewis and Jerrell Powe -- to help implement the new defensive. With Fitzpatrick and Andre Brown added to some veteran depth on offense, the Texans concentrated on 1-2 year deals to improve depth on the roster. The real story surrounds Andre Johnson and if and when he will return to the Texans as he has currently been absent from team activities.

OFFENSE: With a healthy Arian Foster, the Texans could have a potent offense running through the former All-Pro. Then throw in the fact that the Texans will be depending on DeAndre Hopkins to make the jump as a wide receiver and a much more versatile tight end group with Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin to help out the passing game. Fitzpatrick will be the key piece for an offense that turned over the ball at an alarming rate in 2013.

DEFENSE:The defense will be centered around Brian Cushing, who has missed the majority of the past two seasons with leg injuries. The Texans defense on paper appears to have two very capable pass rushers with J.J. Watt and newcomer Jadeveon Clowney. The new 2-gap scheme coached by Crennel will expect the Texans to play the run better than they did in 2013.

SCHEDULE: Based on the 2013 winning percentage, the Texans have the third easiest schedule in 2014. The AFC South is not the strongest in the NFL, which gives the Texans a chance to knock on the door to compete for the division title. The team’s toughest stretch will start in Week 6 when they face Indianapolis, then travel to Pittsburgh and Tennessee the following weeks and finish up with Philadelphia at home before their bye week.

ROOKIES: This rookie class will be depending on five to six rookies to make immediate contributions to this team. Clowney, OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, NT Louis Nix III. and FB Jay Prosch will all be called upon for early action to help provide significant depth. One rookie to watch closely is RB Alfred Blue, who has a chance to move up the depth chart during training camp.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... Fitzpatrick takes care of the football and the Texans defense is a top-10 unit for 2014. The entire season rests on Fitzpatrick and how quick he can get the new offense down and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers.

THE FRANCHISE:
DE J.J. Watt

MVP - Offense:
RB Arian Foster

MVP - Defense:
DE J.J. Watt

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
OG Brandon Brooks

FAN FAVORITE:
DE J.J. Watt

OVERRATED:
ILB Brian Cushing

SWAN SONG:
WR Andre Johnson

ROOKIE STUD:
OLB Jadeveon Clowney

ROOKIE DUD:
None

BEST FA SIGNING:
FS Kendrick Lewis

WORST FA SIGNING:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
DT Earl Mitchell

TEAM TO BEAT:
Indianapolis Colts

MUST-WIN GAME:
Washington Redskins

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis Colts
By Terry Hutchens, ColtsDaily.com

OUTLOOK: The Colts should be favored to win the AFC South with Andrew Luck entering his third season, better options at wide receiver and a friendly schedule. Luck and company should be able to be productive, but there are plenty of question marks. At age 35, Reggie Wayne is trying to bounce back from an ACL injury. The offensive line improved a little bit in the draft, but is it measurably better than a year ago? And the biggest question mark is on the defensive side of the ball where little was done in a secondary that was picked on repeatedly last season.

OFFSEASON: The addition of WR Hakeem Nicks and the loss of RB Donald Brown were the most notable of the comings and goings, but the additions of Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson should help on the defensive side of the ball. The other big story was the loss of OLB Robert Mathis for the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. The Colts made the best of a draft where they didn’t have a first-round pick.

OFFENSE: Big things are expected from Luck as he begins his third season in the NFL. A lot of that will hinge on Wayne’s ability to bounce back from an ACL injury though. The combo of Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and T.Y. Hilton could be a potent one if everyone is healthy. A bigger question mark is how productive will Trent Richardson be as a running back.

DEFENSE:The loss of Mathis for the first four games cannot be understated, especially coming off a year where he had 19.5 sacks. The Colts’ secondary remains suspect and will be an area of concern. A healthy Vontae Davis should be a plus and the addition of Arthur Jones up front should help the pass rush.

SCHEDULE: Yes, the Colts play Denver and New England in 2014, but they also face a ledger ranked 32nd in strength of schedule. In terms of playoff teams from a year ago, the Colts only play four and all of the teams on the Indianapolis schedule combined for a .430 winning percentage last season. The only way to look at this schedule is to do so in favorable terms. The Colts should be the favorite to win the AFC South.

ROOKIES: The addition of OL Jack Mewhort from Ohio State in the second round of the NFL Draft should be a plus for Luck’s protection. A couple of other intriguing draft picks were WR Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss in the third round and LB Andrew Jackson from Western Kentucky in the sixth round. The Colts were immediately behind the 8-ball in this draft, handcuffed without a first round pick. But if those three players in particular can give the club some production, the draft will have been serviceable.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... the wide receiving corps can make enough plays, if Richardson can bounce back and look more like the player the Colts expected to pick up a year ago, and if the club can take strides on the defensive side of the ball. With Luck at QB, the offense will find a way to be sufficient. How far this team goes will ultimately fall on the defense.

THE FRANCHISE:
QB Andrew Luck

MVP - Offense:
QB Andrew Luck

MVP - Defense:
OLB Robert Mathis

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
QB Andrew Luck

FAN FAVORITE:
QB Andrew Luck

OVERRATED:
RB Trent Richardson

SWAN SONG:
PK Adam Vinatieri, WR Reggie Wayne

ROOKIE STUD:
WR Donte Moncrief

ROOKIE DUD:
OT John Ulrick

BEST FA SIGNING:
WR Hakeem Nicks

WORST FA SIGNING:
C Phil Costa

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
RB Donald Brown

TEAM TO BEAT:
Seattle Seahawks

MUST-WIN GAME:
New England

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
New England

Jacksonville Jaguars
By Charlie Bernstein, JagsInsider.com

OUTLOOK: The Jaguars should be an improved team in the 2014 season. They have the right pieces in place in terms of the coaching staff and upper management so better days are on the horizon. As for how good they’ll be, they likely won’t be participating in the postseason. But with a complete roster rebuild, that’s to be expected. If the Jaguars can develop third-overall pick Blake Bortles and the rest of their rookie class, 2014 will be a success regardless of the win-loss record.

OFFSEASON: The Jaguars secured their immediate face of the franchise when they used the third-overall pick in the draft to select UCF quarterback Bortles. With additions on defense like Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, the Jaguars should be back to respectability.

OFFENSE: The Jaguars should be improved on offense as they added speed at wide receiver in the draft with Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, as well as Zane Beadles on the offensive line. Still, this is a team that will be transitioning at quarterback at some point from Chad Henne to Bortles and growing pains are expected.

DEFENSE:The Jaguars should have a respectable unit defensively as the front seven has great experience and a certain amount of tenacity. The team improved greatly as the season went on last year and with an influx of talent and another year in Gus Bradley’s system, the Jaguars should be in the top half of the league defensively.

SCHEDULE: The powers that be that make up the NFL schedule didn’t do the Jaguars many favors as they open with two consecutive road games and travel for three of their four games in September, a time when Jacksonville has enjoyed its biggest weather advantage. Wins will be at a premium with an out-of-division slate, including the AFC North and NFC North. With that said, the Jaguars managed to win half of their division games in an otherwise nightmarish 2013 campaign so any improvement should get the team closer to .500.

ROOKIES: The Jaguars have one of the most exciting rookie classes in franchise history as they selected Bortles, Lee and Robinson. Former FSU Seminole Telvin Smith will make a push to start at linebacker and Aaron Colvin and Chris Smith will play situational roles.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... they get a lot of help to make the playoffs -- and it would likely have to be as a division champ. They play in arguably the worst division in the NFL so an injury to the Colts’ Andrew Luck gives not only the Jaguars but the Titans and Texans postseason hope.

THE FRANCHISE:
QB Blake Bortles

MVP - Offense:
WR Cecil Shorts

MVP - Defense:
DE Chris Clemons

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
OT Luke Joeckel

FAN FAVORITE:
LB Paul Posluszny

OVERRATED:
LB Paul Posluszny

SWAN SONG:
TE Marcedes Lewis

ROOKIE STUD:
WR Marqise Lee

ROOKIE DUD:
RB Storm Johnson

BEST FA SIGNING:
DE Chris Clemons

WORST FA SIGNING:
WR Tandon Doss

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
DE Jason Babin

TEAM TO BEAT:
Indianapolis Colts

MUST-WIN GAME:
Tennessee Titans

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans
TitansInsider.com

OUTLOOK: Jake Locker returns and is the key for the 2014 season. If he can show flashes like he did in 2013, there is a chance the Titans could compete for a division title. The emergence of Kendall Wright and a good looking offensive line could potentially bring some solid offensive days to the Titans. The kicking game becomes a question mark without long-time kicker Rob Bironas, which could be reason for slight concern.

OFFSEASON: The offseason was a busy one and the Titans made a big decision to let Alterraun Verner walk in favor of Jason McCourty and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Brining back Bernard Pollard was the biggest move for the Titans with his leadership and play making ability from the secondary. Signing Michael Oher for insurance is a decent move since there is never enough offensive linemen on one NFL roster.

OFFENSE: Locker will be asked to do plenty offensively, but the question marks in the backfield with Shonn Greene and rookie Bishop Shankey are not to be overlooked. The addition of Dexter McCluster could be something to watch. He has an ability to line up anywhere in the formation and open room offensively for Kendall Wright and Nate Washington to do extra work.

DEFENSE:The defense is anchored by Jurrell Casey, who can easily control the line of scrimmage by himself. He will be asked to be a plugger to free up his linebackers. The strength of the group could be the secondary and their trio at cornerback with McCourty, Wreh-Wilson and Sensabaugh. Add in the fact the Pollard is back to lay the hammer from the middle of the field and the defense for the Titans has some bright spots for 2014.

SCHEDULE: The Titans have a four-game opening to the 2014 season that will set the tone early for the season. They face three playoff teams from 2013 in their first four games and all three are on the road. If the Titans want to take the step this season, they have to take two of the four. Tennessee also runs into a tough stretch starting in Week 8 with the Texans and ending with them in Week 13.

ROOKIES: It is hard not to think that Taylor Lewan, DaQuan Jones and Sankey are not contributing from the first day the season opens. The addition of Lewan is another young piece to an offensive line that needs to get together in a hurry. Sankey could be the sleeper who could get some big work in 2014 with the hot and cold career of Greene. Sankey could be in line to start being a bigger portion of the offense.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... Jake Locker shows up this season healthy and ready to take a step as an NFL quarterback. The defense has showed enough depth this past season to feel like they can take a step as a collective group. Locker is the key to the Titans 2014 season.

THE FRANCHISE:
WR Kendall Wright

MVP - Offense:
WR Kendall Wright

MVP - Defense:
DL Jurrell Casey

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
G Chance Warmack

FAN FAVORITE:
S Bernard Pollard

OVERRATED:
RB Shonn Greene

SWAN SONG:
LB Shaun Phillips

ROOKIE STUD:
OT Taylor Lewan

ROOKIE DUD:
QB Zach Mettenberger

BEST FA SIGNING:
S Bernard Pollard

WORST FA SIGNING:
RB Jackie Battle

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
CB Alterraun Verner

TEAM TO BEAT:
Indianapolis Colts

MUST-WIN GAME:
Houston Texans

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Houston Texans


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