It has been a hectic offseason in the AFC South to say the least, as each team has undergone potentially franchise altering changes in just a short span of months. The Indianapolis Colts traded for their new QB in Carson Wentz and signed Eric Fisher to protect him on the o-line. The Jacksonville Jaguars revamped their offense by drafting QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Houston Texans have watched Deshaun Watson request a trade, and then get hit with a battery of sexual assault charges that has thrown their offseason into chaos. And now the Tennessee Titans decided to join in on the fun, and swung a trade for star wide receiver Julio Jones. Many thought the division would belong to the Colts after the Titans lost some key pieces in free agency, but the addition of Jones to the Titans certainly makes things interesting, and stirs the pot in a now competitive AFC South.
Not only did the AFC South have to worry about A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry when playing the Titans twice a year, now they have to be prepared for the two time All-Pro receiver as well. Jones adds another threat to the Titans offense that it has been missing for the past couple of seasons, ultimately derailing their playoff runs. Just this past season, the Baltimore Ravens figured out if you stack the box on Henry, and double team Brown, you can pretty easily slow down the Titans offense. That is no longer the case, as teams will now have to revert back to a number of different zone coverages to try to slow down this passing offense, while simultaneously hoping their run defense holds up against Henry.
All it takes is one look at last season’s stats to see just how much more dangerous the Titans become. In two games against the Colts last season, Henry totaled 281 yards and three touchdowns while carrying the ball 46 times, good for 6.1 yards per carry. Henry set the field ablaze when he went against Houston, as he rushed for over 210 yards in both games, while also scoring twice in each game as well. Against the Jaguars it was no contest either, as he rushed for a combined total of 299 yards and scored twice in both meetings. Henry mauled opposing defenses last season, and this production from Henry usually came without Brown producing too much to take the pressure off of him. The combination of Brown and Henry was already deadly, but now add in Jones, and opposing defenses can never take a down off against this team.
It will basically be a scenario of picking your poison for opposing defenses, as you aren’t going to be able to find a way to slow down all three of these guys at once. The Colts have the only defense in the AFC South that can match the new Titans offense, but even their DBs have their struggles at times, which Tennessee is now in prime position to take advantage of twice a season. Of course, only a portion of the schedule comes against teams in your own division, but winning these divisional matchups could go a huge way to determining who wins the division.
As of right now, the AFC South looks to be a two team race between the Titans and Colts. But realistically, the Texans and Jaguars could find ways to make noise as well. For all the commotion in Houston this offseason, Deshaun Watson is still set to be their quarterback heading into the season. He could eventually get traded away, or suspended by the NFL due to his pending investigations, but if he ends up suiting up for the Texans, you can never really count them out. And the Jaguars just added one of the top QB prospects in NFL history to their team, while also adding to both sides of the ball to ensure this team won’t end up with the number 1 overall pick again.
If things break right for either of these teams, they could find themselves competing for a Wild Card spot at the very least, but there are too many unknown variables to account for right now. It could end up being more competitive as the season plays out, but as of right now, the AFC South appears to be the Titans to lose.