Ryan Dunleavy previews the AFC South as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.
1. Tennessee Titans
Coach: Mike Vrabel
2020 record: 11-5
O/U wins: 9.5
Key additions: WR Julio Jones, OLB Bud Dupree, LB Jayon Brown, CB Janoris Jenkins, DE Denico Autry, CB Caleb Farley
Key losses: TE Jonnu Smith, WR Corey Davis, CB Adoree’ Jackson, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT DaQuan Jones, CB Malcolm Butler, S Kenny Vaccaro
First-and-goal: The Titans have created a “pick-your-poison” conundrum. Trading for Julio Jones and pairing him with A.J. Brown should command double-teams. Except that leaves fewer defenders in the box for tackling 2,000-yard bulldozing RB Derrick Henry. And a case could be made that Jones was only the second-most important acquisition of the offseason because the Titans upgraded from the sack-less Clowney by signing Dupree (off of a torn ACL). QB Ryan Tannehill is coming off the best year of his career and rarely commits turnovers.
Fourth-and-long: Health, health, health. Not just with Jones, who was in and out of the lineup for the Falcons throughout last season. There’s Dupree. There’s Farley, who slipped from the top 10 of the draft to late in the first round because of back problems. There’s LT Taylor Lewan, who tore his ACL, too. The Titans are counting on career resurgence from Jenkins and S Kevin Byard because 80 percent of the five defensive backs who started the 2019 AFC Championship game are off the team.
Dunleavy’s Decision: 12-5. If the Titans were in the NFC, they could be a Super Bowl contender. But the AFC is loaded.
2. Indianapolis Colts
Coach: Frank Reich
2020 record: 11-5
O/U wins: 8.5
Key additions: QB Carson Wentz, RT Mitchell Schwartz, DE Kwity Paye
Key losses: QB Philip Rivers, QB Jacoby Brissett, DE Denico Autry, LB Anthony Walker, OLB Justin Houston
First-and-goal: Does it even matter who plays quarterback here? Wentz is the Colts’ fourth different primary starter in the last four seasons, and a reunion with Reich, his former Eagles offensive coordinator, has created high expectations. The last three (Andrew Luck, Brissett and Rivers) are a combined 28-20 with two playoff appearances. When G Quenton Nelson and Schwartz get healthy and join Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith, the Colts could have the best young offensive line in the NFL in front of RB Jonathan Taylor. LB Darius Leonard is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Fourth-and-long: Which Wentz shows up, the one who was an MVP candidate with the Eagles in 2017 or the one who was historically bad before being benched last season? This much is clear: It’s the oft-injured one because he already required foot surgery that sidelined him for most of training camp. Where is the pass rush coming from? The Colts obviously were concerned because they used their first two draft picks on Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, who tore his Achilles in January. The gap between the Colts and Titans seems to be growing.
Dunleavy’s Decision: 9-8. The top-two and bottom-two in this division are clear. A 4-0 record against the have-nots would help land a playoff berth.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach: Urban Meyer
2020 record: 1-15
O/U wins: 6.5
Key additions: QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Marvin Jones, DT Malcom Brown, CB Shaq Griffin, DL Roy Robertson-Harris, S Rayshawn Jenkins
Key losses: WR Dede Westbrook, WR Keelan Cole, LB Joe Schobert, DT Al Woods
First-and-goal: Lawrence is the highest-rated QB prospect since Andrew Luck, who was drafted No. 1 overall and led his team to the playoffs as a rookie. But the 2021 Jaguars — entering the season on a 15-game losing streak — are not as talented as the 2012 Colts. The success of this season rides on Lawrence’s development and developing the young players drafted as the return for the many stars (Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue, A.J. Bouye, etc.) the Jaguars have traded away over the years. RB James Robinson was an undrafted gem uncovered by that last staff.
Fourth-and-long: The Jaguars entered free agency with nearly $74 million in cap space but the offensive line still is shaky. Franchise-tagging LT Cam Robinson and using a second-round pick on RT Walker Little were questionable moves. First-round RB Travis Etienne — Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson — will miss the entire season with a foot injury. Meyer wants to play in attack mode — speed on offense and man-to-man press coverage on defense — but the talent on the roster doesn’t match up just yet. This rebuilding takes longer than recruiting dozens of five-stars.
Dunleavy’s Decision: 5-12. Meyer has no patience for losing. If he survives this long slog, the Jaguars should be competitive sooner rather than later.
4. Houston Texans
Coach: David Culley
2020 record: 4-12
O/U wins: 4.5
Key additions: QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Marcus Cannon, RB Phillip Lindsay, RB Mark Ingram, OLB Jordan Jenkins, DT Maliek Collins
Key losses: WR Will Fuller, WR Randall Cobb, LB Bernardrick McKinney, DE J.J. Watt, OLB Shaq Lawson, P Cam Johnson
First-and-goal: GM Nick Caserio was one of the most coveted executives in the NFL for years before leaving New England for … this mess? It’s hard to find reasons to be optimistic about the Texans, who won only four games with one of the seven best QBs in the NFL last season. But Caserio added 14 new players who are making more than $2.5 million per year on their contracts, which suggests a total overhaul of the starting lineup. The Texans played a lot of starters in the preseason, so they shouldn’t be rusty at least.
Fourth-and-long: QB Deshaun Watson is difficult to fairly trade because teams are wary of his pending lawsuit, but he wants out. So instead of forcing him to play, the Texans let him sit around practice as a healthy scratch and join the scout-team defense to inflict embarrassment. The Texans don’t have much to show for parting with stars such as DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in recent years. Culley, 65, is a well-respected longtime assistant who finally is a head coach, but he feels like a lame duck in a job no one else wanted.
Dunleavy’s Decision: 2-15. Who’s the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft? Will Culley be given a second chance to coach him?