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NFL Pro Football 2014 AFC South Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC South

Rick Gagliano | July 18, 2014

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Expected Finish: 12-4

In the two years since drafting Andrew Luck with their #1 pick in the 2012 draft, the Colts have rebounded from a 2-14 mark to post back-to-back 11-5 seasons.

What's even better is that Luck and the Colts managed to win their first playoff game, a 45-44 thriller over Kansas City in last year's Wild Card round. The following week wasn't as special, losing at New England, 43-22.

Making the playoffs for the third straight season doesn't appear to be that difficult of a task for the youthful Colts. The AFC South is arguably the weakest division in the league. The record of the three teams that trailed the Colts in 2013 - Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston - was a combined 13-35, and none of those squads appear ready to challenge Indianapolis for the division title.

Luck has a variety of offensive weapons at his disposal, including running backs Trent Richardson, Vic Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, the latter two returning this season from major injuries.

In the passing game, T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a game-breaking threat and the Colts picked up Giants' cast-off Hakeem Nicks via free agency to team with Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen and TE Colby Fleener.

The offensive line was saddled with 32 sacks last season, though some of those were due to Luck scrambling for more time. The Colts finished tied for 14th in points (24.4) and were 15th in yards per game, at an acceptable 341.8. They were also +13 in turnovers, ranking third in that category.

With so much emphasis on the offense, the defense didn't have to be that good, but they were and may be even better this year, led by Robert Mathis, who led the league in sacks with 19.5. The defense was ninth in points allowed (21.0), but 20th in yards per game (357.1), due primarily to an inability to stop the run (ranked 26th, 125.1 per game).

An easy schedule and a weak division makes the Colts a near lock for the playoffs again. The question is whether they can advance past the divisional round and beyond.

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Tennessee Titans

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Expected Finish: 9-7

It's been five years since the Titans last appeared in the post-season, and, after two straight seasons under .500 (6-10 in 2012; 7-9 in 2013), Tennessee made off-season coaching moves designed to put their team back in the playoff picture, acquiring head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Jason Michael from San Diego.

The team also added Ray Horton as defensive coordinator to shore up a stopping unit that ranked 16th in the league in points allowed (23.8) and 14th in yards per game (337.9), so it's logical to think that the Titans will improve in 2014 and at least be in the playoff hunt as the season grows into December.

While the coaching staff was significantly turned over, the roster remains largely the same, with Jake Locker at QB and a smorgasbord of running backs led by rookie Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene. Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter are leading receivers, along with TE Delanie Walker. The Titans won't overwhelm opponents offensively, though they may be near the top of the league in time of possession.

Picking up LBs Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips will help a defense that was unheralded and lacking in star players, but, similar to the offense, Tennessee defenders are lunch-bucket, hard-hat types who quietly go about their business. With the offense keeping them fresh, the Titan defense could prove to be the key element to success. Last year, no team scored more than 21 points in any of their seven wins.

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Houston Texans

2013 Record: 2-14

2014 Expected Finish: 6-10

Houston won its first two games in 2013, then proceeded to self-destruct, losing the remaining 14 straight during the regular season.

Not too many teams implode as violently as the Texans did last year, going from a 12-4 mark in 2012 to their dismal 2-14 record in the short course of 12 months time, but the team hopes to put that season in the rear view mirror and drive toward a better finish in 2014.

Due to their unprecedented losing streak, head coach Gary Kubiak was ousted in deference to Bill O'Brien, brought over from New England. Arian Foster is still the featured back, and Andre Johnson will still be out on the edges as a vital receiver, but the quarterback position remains a question mark. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum will be vying for the position in the preseason, though neither have the look of a long-term solution.

Statistically, the Texans were awful in 2013, last in the league in turnover margin (-20), which led to an offense that was ranked 31st in points (17.3 per game) and tied for 24th in points allowed, at 26.8 per outing. Playing in the horrible AFC South could result in four wins for Houston - two each over Jacksonville and Tennessee - and maybe a few victories over some of the lesser teams on their very easy schedule which includes Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Dallas.

The defensive front should be better with LB Jadeveon Clowney added to the mix via the draft, though he's unproven and often unruly. DE J.J. Watts is an all-world type talent, but he's unfortunately stuck on a third world team.

Six wins might be the upside limit for the Texans this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Expected Finish: 5-11

The Jaguars improved last season, if going from 2-14 in 2012 to a 4-12 mark a year later can be called improvement, but there are still too many missing parts to indicate that this year's version will be much better.

The Jags ranked at or near the bottom in many key categories, n both sides of the ball. Their scoring, yardage and yards per play differentials were the worst in the league, they averaged an NFL-worst 15.4 points per game, scored 10 or fewer points in five of their 12 losses and allowed 28 or more points in eight games, seven of them losses.

RB Toby Gerhart may end up leading the league in rushing, though only because the Jaguars have what amounts to a shorthand version of the West Coast offense which was 30th in the league in passing yards per attempt, at 5.81.

The defense wasn't much better in 2013, 28th in points allowed (28.1) and tied for 27th in yards allowed per game (379.4) and the team did little in the off-season to acquire free agents and the draft yielded little.

The Jaguars will end 2014 still looking up at .500.

Copyright 2014, 2014, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.



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