The AFC South has for years been touted in the preseason as one of the strongest in the NFL, with the arrival of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, the 2010’s era Jaguars always seeming to be the most improved team in the offseason, and the Titans and Texans seem to alternate each year between being good and bad. But what does the 2018 season have in store?
2017 Record: 10-6 (Lost in the AFC Championship Game)
Free Agents Signed: OG Andrew Norwell, WR Donte Moncrief, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Cap Space: Around $14m
Draft Needs: LB, WR, OT
The Jags finally broke out of their long playoff drought last year, thanks primarily to the incredible play of a defense anchored by Calais Campbell at DE, and on the back end by two of the best cornerbacks in the game, in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye.
Heading into this season, ‘London’s Team’ has managed to shore up their O-Line with the signing of Andrew Norwell, who should help Leonard Fournette avoid the dread sophomore slump, but there is still work to be done in the draft, as an additional wide receiver to cover for the losses of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns would help Blake Bortles out immeasurably.
They could also choose to go with an inside linebacker in the first round, following the retirement of Paul Posluszny, although Myles Jack is more than capable of taking on that berth on his own.
2017 Record: 9-7 (5th seed in the playoffs, eventually losing in the Divisional Round)
Free Agents Signed: CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis
Cap Space: Around $45m
Draft Needs: OLB, WR, OL
Nobody really knows what the Titans will be like under new HC Mike Vrabel, but with his experience coaching the defense in Houston, the addition of top-tier cornerback Malcolm Butler will no doubt make the Titans a much stiffer team to pass the ball against.
Dion Lewis will act as a perfect complement to the angry, physical Derrick Henry at running back, but they will still need to improve the offensive line if the backs and QB Marcus Mariota are to have a successful season.
Speaking of Mariota, his WR corps was weak at times last season, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see an early round pick spent on a receiver who can win 1-on-1 against CBs and take some pressure off Delanie Walker as the team’s top pass catcher.
It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Titans in playoff contention again this season, especially if Mariota manages to take that next step to becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
2017 Record: 4-12 (3rd in AFC South)
Free Agents Signed: TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, G Matt Slauson
Cap Space: Around $61m
Draft Needs: OLB, ILB, OL
The Indianapolis Colts suffered heavily last year without the help of former no.1 pick Andrew Luck, who continues to go through rehab for a shoulder injury that happened at the back end of the 2016 season.
While nobody knows when exactly Luck will be back playing football, the Colts should spend the offseason making the team as good as possible that their quarterback can walk straight into a side capable of competing and winning games.
Signing free agents Eric Ebron and Ryan Grant to ‘prove-it-or-lose-it’ deals brings no risk for the Colts, who still have a lot of cap space to sign someone, should they be unexpectedly cut (think Dez Bryant or the like).
With the 6th overall pick in the draft this year, and a number of other picks thanks to the generosity/stupidity of the New York Jets, the Colts should be able to pick up a dominant edge rusher like Bradley Chubb, which should help the defense on a number of levels, and could propel the team into contention for a wildcard spot in next season’s playoffs, should Andrew Luck come back all guns blazing.
2017 Record: 4-12 (Last in AFC South)
Free Agents Signed: CB Aaron Colvin, S Tyrann Mathieu, OG Senio Kelemete
Cap Space: Around $34m
Draft Needs: TE, OL, CB
The Houston Texans struggled last year after franchise QB and NFL superstar of the future Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. Add to that season ending injuries to defensive leaders JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus, and you have all the ingredients for a shambolic season.
In theory, the team has everything in place for a successful run in 2018, if key players can stay healthy. The offseason additions of Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin suggest a change in mentality from Bill O’Brien, who is looking to shore up the secondary and take some of the pressure off their top tier pass rushers Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Without a first round pick in this year’s draft after the trade with Cleveland last year, the Texans will need to choose carefully at the top of the second round if they are to have any chance of challenging the Jags for the AFC South crown next year. A smart choice would be an offensive lineman to protect Watson, or a tight end to help free up space for DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V on the outside.
Feature image credit: TalkingBaws