By Lisa Johnson //@LJ1303
As we all prepare for the start of the 2020 NFL season, let’s take a look at the four teams of the AFC South. New quarterbacks, old quarterbacks with new teams, teams completely shaking it up, we have it all in the AFC South.
The Titans ended their 2019 campaign playing in the AFC Championship game. They came up short against the team that would turn out to be the Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. They were led by veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was picked up via trade with the Miami Dolphins, who had replaced long time QB Marcus Mariota.
The Titans are looking to rebound and make another serious run at the title. First, they locked up Tannehill, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Titans ended up rewarding Tannehill with a four-year, $118 million contract with $62 million guaranteed. All the while promising they were not going to ignore all-pro running back Derrick Henry. Henry signed his franchise tag while the Titans worked on an extension to keep him on the roster. He eventually signed that promised four-year, $50 million deal that includes $25.5 million guaranteed.
Locking these two up should give the Titans offense plenty to build off of last year. However, Vrable has yet to hire an official offensive coordinator and reportedly will not do so for the 2020 season.
On the defensive side of the ball, things are not as crystal clear. They are still unsure who will be calling the plays. Titans lost defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who retired at the end of the 2019 season. Titans brought in pass rusher Vic Beasley and inked him to a one-year deal worth up to $12 million. Needing to bulk up their pass rush after trading their all-pro defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to the Broncos. Titans will also rely on DL Jeffery Simmons.
Coach Vrable has had nothing but praise for Simmons during training camp. It’s Simmons’ maturity that has stood out most in 2020. Vrabel said, “That’s been something that’s really exciting for me to watch,” the Titans coach said. “His leadership with DaQuan (Jones) in that room as well as on our defense. That’s been really positive, and obviously, we’re excited about what he can bring as a player. But it’s all the other stuff, his studying, his understanding of our defense and our system, and I really think he’s been a great leader for that room and the effort in which he’s practiced with.”
Oh, the Houston Texans. Head coach Bill O’Brien started his 2020 campaign by sending one of his best players to the Arizona Cardinals. Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was sent to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson. Hopkins is one of the top receivers in the league, and QB Deshaun Watson’s go-to guy. Johnson, however, who had a breakout season in 2016 has yet come close to his 2016 performance. That left many to speculate that maybe O’Brian, who also acts as the team’s GM, may need to relinquish some power.
Moving on to the defense, anytime you still have a player named JJ Watt, defensive end, you can never count this defense out. Houston used their first two picks on TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and Florida Gators pass rusher Jonathan Greenard.
The bright spot is the returning secondary. This group rolls over from last year, cornerbacks Bradley Roby, Gareon Conley, Lonnie Johnson, Keion Crossen, Vernon Hargreaves, and Phillip Gaines along with safeties Justin Reid and A.J. Moore. So look for this defense to keep the Texans in the game.
QB Andrew Luck threw this Colts team a curveball right before the 2019 season, with his sudden retirement, and the Colts were left scrambling for a quarterback. QB Jacoby Brissett was named the starter and went the distance in 2019. The Colts spent the offseason searching for a veteran quarterback presence. Insert a one QB Philip Rivers. After 17 years with the Chargers, and history with head coach Frank Reich, this was a win-win for the Colts.
Knowing that Rivers will need some help, the Colts spent their first two rounds in this year’s draft by selecting wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr and running back Jonathan Taylor. They were able to hold on to veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Marlon Mack.
Defensively, the Colts added DE DeForest Buckner to go along with their All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and sack master Justin Houston. The secondary will have CB Xavier Rhodes and veteran CB, T. J Carrie. The Colts adding depth and veteran presence seems to be the formula for a win-now scenario.
I have no idea where to start here. What the Jaguars have done in the past couple of weeks is very consistent with a total rebuild. Apparently, GM Dave Caldwell wanted to change, and well, he got it, by changing the locker room culture and moving high salary players. The 2020 Jaguars purge has begun.
The latest major change came just two days ago when the Jaguars released their former first-round pick, running back Leonard Fournette. This came on the heels of trading disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Hard to think about the 2020 Jaguars and not think of the word “Tanking”, which seems to be a fan favorite word these days. Rumors are already beginning that head coach Doug Marron and general manager Dave Caldwell are on the hot seat. I don’t think they’ll be retained if Jacksonville doesn’t at least push for a playoff spot.
All is not lost though. The Jaguars are still looking towards their young quarterback Gardner Minshew and hope that he will be an influence on the upcoming season. It’s hard not to believe that Minshew won’t hear the chatter of what lies ahead should he struggle and the Jaguars secure the number one pick in 2021.
Fournette might be gone, but the Jaguars do have some talent at the wide receiver position. They have high hopes for wide receiver D. J Chark. And, fans are hoping Minshew might live up to his hype and become that franchise guy. What can’t the Jaguars afford? For Mishrew to be average and lead his team to an 8-8 record. That could prove more disastrous than securing the number one spot.
Here are my predictions for the AFC South. Let me know if you agree.
2020 AFC South Predictions:
Titans – Division Champions
Colts – Wild-Card
Texans – 8-8 Out of playoffs
Jaguars – secure the number one pick 2021 draft.
Let Lisa know if you agree with those standings on Twitter @LJ1303