Early 2020 NFL Preview-AFC South

Published: 11:36pm, May 11, 2020 EDT | Updated: 10:55am, May 12, 2020 EDT

Written by Ben the Pen

1)Tennessee Titans

Last year's record: 9-7 SU, 8-7-1 ATS, 10-6 O/U

Super Bowl Odds:+3000; AFC South: +150

Key Offseason Additions: Edge Vic Beasley (FA-Atlanta), CB Johnathan Joseph (FA-Houston).

Key Offseason Subtractions: QB Marcus Mariota (FA-Raiders), OT Jack Conklin (FA-Denver), DT Jurrell Casey (Trade-Denver), RB Dion Lewis (FA-NY Giants), WR Tajae Sharpe (FA-Minnesota).

The Titans had a decent regular season, going 9-7, but they made their hay in the playoffs. It started with a 20-13 shocking win in New England on Jan. 4 and a 28-12 dominant win over the Ravens on Jan. 11. They blew a 10-0 and 17-7 lead at Kansas City and fell to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. The bottom line was that the Titans were different when Ryan Tannehill ran the team. They were 9-4 with Tannehill as the starter including the playoffs and with Mariota, just 2-4. Tannehill didn't put up huge numbers, but he made plays and took care of the ball. Tannehill threw for 2,742 yards with 22 TDs and six picks. He also completed 70.3% of his passes, but the star of the offense was Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry. The 6-3, 250-pounder ran for 1,540 yards with 16 TDs on 303 attempts. He was a beast, but they need to find some help. Dion Lewis was the third-down back, but he's gone in free agency. They did draft Darrynton Evans from Appalachian State at 93, who can help some as a backup. The Titans may have found a star in WR A.J. Brown (6-1, 226), who caught 52 passes for 1,051 yards with eight TDs as a rookie. The offensive line loses RT Jake Conklin in free agency and replaced him with Dennis Kelly, who was the first tackle off the bench unless rookie Isaiah Wilson from Georgia can replace him. Wilson is a powerful run blocker and fits in with the Titans well.

Defensively, the Titans were about average. They finished 20th in overall defense, allowing 363.7 yards per game. They allowed 223.9 yards per game in the air (11th), but stunk against the run, allowing 138.9 yards (5ypc), which ranked 30th. So improving the run defense was important, but they also gave up on Pro Bowl DT Jurrell Casey, who they just gave away to the Broncos. Larrell Murchison (6-3, 300) is a pretty good run-stuffer from NC State, who should be in the rotation. The Titans also needed help on the Edge and brought in Vic Beasley from the Falcons, though he's more of just a pass-rush specialist. At linebacker, Harold Landry produced nine sacks and had 54 tackles. The Titans also needed some help with the secondary. With Pro Bowl CB Logan Ryan (113 tackles, 4.5 sacks) apparently not coming back, they drafted Kristian Fulton from LSU and added veteran Johnathan Joseph from the Texans. Joseph is going to be 36, so he's just a band-aid, but he can still play. Fulton was a need-pick at 61 and has a lot of upside if he can stay healthy. The Titans tied for 13th with 43 sacks, so getting a bit more pressure on opposing quarterbacks would help. At safety, Pro Bowler Kevin Byard (84 tackles, 5 INTs) and Kenny Vaccaro (84 tackles) are a very good duo.

Prediction: 10-6. Tough schedule with NFC North games at Minnesota and Green Bay. At least they know their identity. Teams will really have to load the box this season to stuff Derrick Henry.

2)Indianapolis Colts

Last year's record: 7-9 SU, 7-7-2 ATS, 9-7 O/U)

Super Bowl Odds: +2200 ; AFC South: +115

Key Offseason Additions: QB Philip Rivers (FA-Chargers), DT DeForest Buckner (Trade-San Francisco), CB Xavier Rhodes (FA-Minnesota), TE Trey Burton (FA-Chicago).

Key Offseason Subtractions: WR Devin Funchess (FA-Green Bay), QB Brian Hoyer (FA-New England), TE Eric Ebron (FA-Pittsburgh), OL Joe Haeg (FA-Tampa Bay), CB Pierre Desir (FA-NY Jets).

Indy made two of the biggest splashes in the offseason in the AFC South. It started with the signing of 38-year old veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. He had a tough season, throwing for 23 TDs and 20 picks with an 88.5 passer rating. The former Chargers Pro Bowler signed a one-year deal worth $25 million. The Colts hope he can improve an offense that ranked 30th in passing (194.2ypg) and 25th overall (327.4ypg). Last offseason, the Colts were in a predicament as Andrew Luck had just retired. Jacoby Brissett took over and started out 5-2 with a 99.7 passer rating. Then he suffered a knee injury and came back going 2-5 with a 75.0 rating. It also didn't help that the wide receiver corps was subpar, especially after T.Y. Hilton was injured. Indy took big WR Michael Pittman from USC with their first pick (34th). He's a talented player that could start right away The Colts are hoping that tight end Trey Burton returns to his 2018 form with the Bears, where he caught 54 passes for 569 yards. They also drafted RB Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin, a big-time talent, who has had fumbling issues. He has all the size and speed to be a star, but he has to get over putting the ball on the carpet. He's more talented then Marlon Mack, who had 1,091 yards rushing (4.4ypc) and eight TDs. The offensive line is anchored by LT Anthony Costanzo, who was re-signed after contemplating retirement. Left guard Quenton Nelson is one of the best in the business and center Ryan Kelly is elite.

The Colts have never really had a dominant defense, but they had some impact players in the past led by S Bob Sanders and DE Dwight Freeney. They were in the middle of the pack last season, allowing 346.8 yards per game and 97.9 yards rushing (7th). They added some even more help with the addition of DL DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick from San Francisco. Buckner is one of the best in the linemen in the game, who had 62 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season. They picked up DE Justin Houston last season and he recorded 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. At linebacker, All-Pro Darius Leonard is a tackling machine, recording 121 with five sacks and had five picks in just five games. Cornerback Kenny Moore II leads a solid secondary, that has to replace Pierre Desir. Xavier Rhodes was once an elite corner at Minnesota and really fell off last season. He takes over for Desir alongside TJ Carrie and Moore. Rookie S/CB Justin Blackmon from Utah (85th pick) and slot corner Isaiah Rodgers from UMass should fill up the depth.

Prediction: Second place (10-6). The Colts are most people's favorite to win the division, but it won't be easy. Rivers is not ascending and the Colts' receivers are still shaky, especially if Hilton gets hurt. Fortunately, he does have a very good offensive line protecting him.

3)Houston Texans

Last year's record: 10-6 SU, 7-8-1 ATS 7-9 O/U

Super Bowl Odds:+6600; AFC South: +350

Key Offseason Additions: WR Brandin Cooks (Trade-LA Rams), RB David Johnson (Trade-Arizona), WR Randall Cobb (FA-Dallas), CB Jaylen Watkins (FA-LA Chargers).

Key Offseason Subtractions: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Trade-Arizona), DT D.J. Reader (FA-Cincinnati), OLB Barkevious Mingo (FA-Chicago), CB Johnathan Joseph (FA-Tennessee), S Mike Adams (retired).

What in the world is going on with Bill O'Brien? He traded for Brandin Cooks from the Rams and David Johnson from Arizona, but gave up star WR DeAndre Hopkins. Trading a receiver in his prime for picks and a running back who ha been injury-plagued since 2016, makes little sense. Johnson ran for just 345 yards last season with the Cardinals and is basically a third-down back at this time in his career. He is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, but you can't find one in the draft? They also acquired Randall Cobb, a soon-to-be 30-year old slot receiver, who caught passes for 828 yards last season for Dallas. Cobb might be Deshaun Watson's favorite target. Cooks was a very consistent receiver for four seasons, before catching just 42 passes for 583 yards last season with the Rams. Even though he's just 26, he's been dealing with concussion issues. Watson was having an MVP-caliber season until late. He threw for 3,852 yards with 26 TDs and 12 picks, but was sacked 44 times. He also rushed for 413 yards and seven TDs. Carlos Hyde rushed for 1,070 yards last season with the Texans, but is a free agent. That leaves David Johnson and Duke Johnson (410 yards) at running back. The Texans also have Will Fuller (49 catches for 670 yds in 11 games) and Kenny Stills (40 catches for 561 yds), but they are No. 2 receivers at best. If Cooks does get back to his 2018 form, they could have a pretty good corps with him and Cobb. The offensive line improved last season, even with the 44 sacks. They really struggled at guard, but didn't address that in free agency. The first player they took in the draft was an offensive tackle. Charlie Heck from North Carolina at 126 should provide some depth. Houston did average 4.6 yards per carry and 125.6 rushing yards per game, despite not having an exceptional prime back.

Defensively, Houston was not good last season. They allowed 388.3 yards per game to rank 28th in the league. They allowed 4.8 yards per carry and 121.1 yards per game on the ground to rank 24th. They were even worse against the pass, allowing 267.2 yards per game (29th) and ranked tied for 26th with just 31 sacks. It starts up front where DE J.J. Watt (four sacks) played just half the season and continues to struggle with injuries. They did not have a first-round pick (thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade last season), but they concentrated on defense. DE D.J. Reader (6-3, 347) is gone is expected to be gone in free agency. They replaced him with second-rounder Ross Blacklock from TCU. He's a first-round talent and solid against the run. In the third round, the Texans added Edge Jonathan Greenard from Florida, who can rush the passer. The linebackers are solid led by Zach Cunningham (142 tackles) and Benardrick McKinney (101 tackles). At cornerback, the Texans re-signed Bradley Robey and Vernon Hargreaves but lost veteran Johnathan Joseph to the Titans. They drafted John Reid from Penn State at 141 to add some depth. But the bottom line is that they need a better pass rush to help the secondary, which is average-at-best.

Predictions: 9-7. Another tough schedule for an AFC South team. Fortunately, they play Green Bay and Minnesota at home. But there are so many questions on this team, except at the quarterback position. Watson at least gives them a chance.

4)Jacksonville Jaguars

Last year's record: 6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS, 8-8 O/U

Super Bowl Odds: +20000; AFC South: +2500

Key Offseason Additions: TE Tyler Eifert (FA-Cincinnati), DT Rodney Gunter (FA-Arizona), CB Rashaan Melvin (FA-Detroit), LB Joe Schobert (FA-Cleveland), QB Mike Glennon (FA-Raiders)

Key Offseason Subtractions: DE Calais Campbell (Trade-Baltimore), CB A.J. Bouye (Trade-Denver), QB Nick Foles (FA-Chicago), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (FA-Seattle).

It's not an enviable position to be a head coach in Jacksonville. Doug Marrone has his work cut out for him, coming off a 6-10 season and with a team that appears to be heading towards the bottom of the NFL on purpose. On offense, they finished a reasonable 20th in the NFL with 341.8 yards per game but they averaged just 18.6 points per contest. Nick Foles' career in Jacksonville lasted just four games, as injuries derailed him, though he struggled in that short time. Enter sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew, a 6-1, 225-pound gunlsinger from Washington State. Minshew showed some flashes of a right-handed Mark Brunell, tossing for 3,271 yards with 21 TDs and six picks. He completed 60.6% of his passes and ran for 344 yards. He had a 91.2 passer rating and was sacked 33 times with 10 fumbles. Minshew will not be a surprise to defenses this season and if he's really good, the Jags will not be quite as bad as most experts think. But he was pretty good last season and they won just six games. Leonard Fournette (1,152 yards, 4.3ypc) is back, but you have to wonder how long he'll be with the Jags. Second-year wide receiver D.J. Chark turend into a number one target with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight TDs. Chris Conley was the vertical threat with 47 catches for 775 yards and five scores. Enter rookie Laviska Shenault from Colorado, who struggled with injuries, but is a first-round talent taken in the second round. TE Tyler Eifert was added as a starter, but he's really near the end of the line due to injuries. That's a shame, because he's just 29. He played 16 games for the first time in his career last season, after playing just 14 over his previous three seasons with the Bengals. But at this point, he's just a second tight end. The Jags did very little to improve their offensive line. The elusive Minshew was able to make the line look better than it was, especially the interior.

Defensively, the Jags allowed 24.8 points per game (20th) and 375.4 yards per game (23rd). The biggest issue was the pass defense, which allowed 139.3 yards per game (27th), 23 rushing touchdowns (31st) and 5.1 yards per carry (31st). To their credit, the Jags did make some personnel moves up front, adding DT Rodney Gunter (6-5, 305) from Arizona. They also traded away veteran DE Calais Campbell (6.5 sacks), a staple on the Jags' defense for years. In the draft, the Jags chose DaVon Hamilton, a 6-3, 320-pound run-stuffer from Ohio State in the third round. With their second pick of the first round, they added K'Lavon Chaisson, a 6-3, 254-pound Edge rusher from LSU. He was a more important pick considering Yannick Ngakoue (8 sacks) wants out. Their best pickup of the offseason was the signing of Joe Schubert, who had a big season with Cleveland (133 tackles, four interceptions). With their first pick at nine, they went for a cornerback. C.J. Henderson, from Florida, was a solid pick and a need for a team that traded away star Jalen Ramsey last season and starter A.J. Bouye this season to Denver. They also drafted a corner at 137, taking Josiah Scott from Michigan State. They could have three new corners in the starting lineup as they also picked up veteran Rashaan Melvin from Detroit in the offseason. Both safeties, Ronnie Harrison (79 tackles) and Jarrod Wilson (71 tackles), led the team in tackles, which is rarely a good thing.

Prediction: 6-10. A schedule that's not quite as difficult as the rest of the AFC South. Getting six wins again looks realistic and potentially an improved defense.

(Some information from NFL.com and ESPN.com)