The AFC South has been one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL in recent seasons, as two teams have made the playoffs in four consecutive years. However, it’s been more than a decade since a team from this division has reached the Super Bowl, and two teams (the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars) have never even made it to the “Big Game” once. Hopefully, things could soon change for one of these teams, so let’s give a quick early preview of each teams’ needs in 2021.
Tennessee Titans (11-6 record in 2020)
Last year’s AFC South champs (for the first time since 2008), and led by Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. This team reached the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2007 and 2008, before being eliminated at home in the Super Wild Card game by the Baltimore Ravens 20-13. Despite having an explosive offensive attack with weapons at all the skill positions, the Titans defense was lackluster at best. The main reason for that was the lack of a pass rush, having only 19 sacks, and only three other teams in the league allowed more passing yards than them. With veteran Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson, as well as Safety Kenny Vaccaro, all gone now (after all being released), Tennessee will need to search for help this off-season when it comes to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. On offense, the team will also need to replace the loss of WR Corey Davis (who signed with the New York Jets) and TE Jonnu Smith (who signed with the New England Patriots) this offseason. In addition, the Offensive Line will need a replacement at Right Tackle, since Dennis Kelly was just released after four seasons with the team. Despite all this, the Titans still look like a potential playoff team, and probably the second best team in this division in 2021.
Indianapolis Colts (11-6 record in 2020)
This team made the playoffs, and finished with the same record as the Tennessee Titans, but came up just short of winning the division. In the Super Wild Card round against the Buffalo Bills, they lost 27-24 in a very close competitive game that they may have won had they had new starting Quarterback Carson Wentz behind center. With veteran QB Phillip Rivers now retired and Wentz coming over via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles, the Colts look like the most balanced team in this division and almost a guaranteed lock to make the playoffs this season, barring any major injuries. They are led by Guard Quenton Nelson on the Offensive Line and Linebacker Darius Leonard on defense, along with weapons at the skill positions (like WR T.Y. Hilton, WR Michael Pittman Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor). The biggest question for Indy this year could be who replaces recently retired Left Offensive Tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Houston Texans (4-12 record in 2020)
In an offseason filled with plenty of controversy surrounding Quarterback Deshaun Watson, new Head Coach David Culley’s biggest concern (other than that) will be rebuilding both the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense and the league’s worst unit against the run from last year. The team made moves by releasing veteran Defensive End J.J. Watt and trading away Inside Linebacker Benardrick McKinney, but they were able to add Linebacker Christian Kirksey via free agency and trade for Defensive End/Linebacker Shaq Lawson. On offense, the team may need to find their next franchise Quarterback, since Watson’s future is very much still up in the air and unknown at this point. Veteran Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley have both been signed as possible short-term replacements for now, but rumor has it that that the team could also sign Alex Smith (who was released by the Washington Football Team (WFT) earlier this off-season). If that were to happen, we could potentially see a three man race for the starting Quarterback job, with Smith likely to be the favorite to win the job. The Texans will also need to draft and upgrade at both Running Back and Wide Receiver as well, with the recent departures of RB Duke Johnson (who was released) and free agent WR Will Fuller V (who signed with the Miami Dolphins). Recently signed Running Backs Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay, as well as Wide Receivers Chris Conley, Alex Erickson, Chris Moore, and Andre Roberts could help somewhat. That being said, none of these guys seem like long-term options to help an offense that could struggle mightily in 2021 without star Quarterback Deshaun Watson behind center. At best, Houston is the third or fourth best team in this division heading into next season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15 record in 2020)
They were, by far, the worst team in the division last year. New NFL Head Coach, Urban Meyer, takes over a team that has lost 3 times as many games (36) as it has won (12) since 2018. The Jaguars also bring a 15-game losing streak into 2021. Both sides of the ball need to be upgraded for Jacksonville, and the signing of free agents WR Marvin Jones Jr. (from the Detroit Lions) and CB Shaquill Griffin (from the Seattle Seahawks) will certainly help. However, everything starts at the Quarterback position, where the Jags have the first pick in this year’s draft and are likely to draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State QB Justin Fields (since Coach Meyer has ties to Buckeyes players, being the former Head Coach at Ohio State from 2012-2018). Whoever they draft with the first pick will certainly help this team win some more games in the upcoming season but, for the most part, this is very much a rebuilding situation that could take a few years.