Tag Archives: Bill O’Brien

2016 AFC South Projections

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X-Indianapolis Colts 8-8

The struggles of the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 reminded folks of the previous regime that was running the show for the team. When former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 National Football League season following neck surgery, Indianapolis went from being a Super Bowl contender to being the worst team in the league. The Colts would then have the first overall pick at the 2012 NFL Draft which they used on quarterback Andrew Luck. In Luck’s first three years with the Colts, he led the club to an 11-5 record in each year with a trip to the postseason. But things unraveled for the Colts last year as Luck was injured while Indianapolis simply lacked cohesion. Pep Hamilton would be fired as the Colts offensive coordinator, while Chuck Pagano held on by a thread to remain as the team’s head coach. And now in 2016, the Colts are hopeful that they will be able to once claim the title of being the team to beat in the AFC South.

Andrew Luck

First and foremost Luck is healthy and looking to put 2015 behind him. Last year Luck was never right as he threw 12 interceptions in just seven games while his record was 2-5. Luck must get back to feeling comfortable in the pocket, but it also comes down to the team that is around him.

The Colts have been unable to provide Luck with a quality running game around him as you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time that Indianapolis had a running back gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The Colts were 29th in rushing last year in the National Football League and they can’t rely on the legs of running back Frank Gore who is an 11-year NFL vet to hold up under the riggers of the 16-game regular season.

 

 

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is a burner at wide receiver, but the Colts receiving corps behind him are very weak as team general manager Ryan Grigson has not done a good job as far as putting play makers around Luck.

The same can be said about the Colts offensive line where there isn’t any star power which could make for a long season in Indianapolis in spite of the fact that Luck is returning to the team.

Chuck Pagano

Defensive football is Pagano’s specialty, but the Colts were 26th in total defense last season, and it could once again be a struggle for this team.

The ability of Luck can keep the Colts afloat, but this is an organization that has not learned from how they assembled a team during the latter years of Manning’s time with the team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee Titans 7-9

The Tennessee Titans franchise find themselves in the midst of a long dry spell. 2011 was the last year that the Titans were able to finish a National Football League season with a winning record, while 2008 was the last time that they made the postseason. And if you want to take it a step further, you have to go back to January 2004 to find the last time that the Titans were victorious in the postseason.

After taking over for Ken Whisenhunt during the 2015 National Football League season after he was fired, Mike Mularkey is looking to do things his way with the Titans. Mularkey went 2-7 in relief of Whisenhunt last year, but the Titans front office feels that he is the man that can turn things around for this franchise.

In 2015, the Titans used the second overall pick of the National Football League Draft to select quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota was coming off of winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Oregon, and there was an adjustment period for him as he spent 2015 getting accustomed to a pro-style offense with the Titans. Mariota took his lumps as a rookie as he went 3-9 as a starter. But Mariota was able to throw 19 touchdown passes which included him a having a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his first career game and he should be ready to assume a leadership role in Nashville.

Marcus Mariota

Mariota and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham were expected to be building blocks in the Titans offense for years to come. But Titans general manager Jon Robinson grew tired of Green-Beckham’s inconsistency in his route running and pass catching which led to him being recently traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. This will leave a void in the Titans passing game as Green-Beckham was expected to develop into a play maker. But Tennessee will now lean on veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson, along with a pair of youngsters at wide receiver in Justin Hunter and Kendall Hunter to step up and become consistent pass catching options for Mariota.

A young quarterback’s best friend is the running game, and after the Titans were 25th in the National Football League last season in rushing, they should be ready to improve here in 2016. Earlier in the off-season the Titans acquired running back DeMarco Murray from the Eagles. 2015 was a year to forget for Murray as he struggled in an offense that wasn’t suited for his running style. But now with Titans, Murray could once again regain some of the form that he had in 2014 when he led the National Football League in rushing as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Aside from Murray, the Titans used a second-round pick on running back Derrick Henry. Henry won the Heisman Trophy last year as he helped the Alabama Crimson Tide win the national championship, and his physical running style should allow Tennessee to keep drives going.

The past four years have seen the Titans use three, first-round picks on offensive linemen. Guard Chance Warmack is entering his fourth year with the Titans, while offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is entering his third year. And offensive tackle Jack Conklin is looking to give Tennessee a pair of young bookends on their offensive line as this is going to be the unit that is going to generate flow for the Titans offense.

Dick LeBeau is entering his second year as the Titans defensive coordinator, but he brings with him a plethora of experience. LeBeau played 14 years with the Detroit Lions as a defensive back and his 62 career interceptions are the tenth most in National Football League history. LeBeau has also coached in the NFL since 1973 which includes winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an assistant coach.

In 2015, the Titans were 12th in the National Football League in total defense in spite of the fact that LeBeau didn’t have the typical play makers needed to operate his blitz happy 3-4 defensive scheme. The Titans still don’t have those play makers, but they will still be a thorn in the sides of their opponents.

The AFC South is not expected to be overly strong this year, and the Titans could find themselves in the divisional title hunt until the very end.

Jacksonville Jaguars 7-9

It is no secret that the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the midst of a rough patch. The Jaguars have not had a winning season since 2007 which was also their last trip to the playoffs. Since then the Jags have had six seasons in which they’ve lost at least 10 games including each of the last five. And with the Jaguars struggles, it was a bit surprising that team owner Shahid Khan decided to retain the services of head coach Gus Bradley for a fourth year. But Khan and Bradley are hopeful that the Jags young nucleus will be able to gel here in 2016.

Blake Bortles

The Jags feel that they have their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles who is coming off of setting a single-season franchise record in passing yardage (4,428), and passing touchdowns (35). As Bortles continues to progress as a quarterback, he must work on developing his pocket awareness as he has been sacked 106 times in two years, while also throwing 18 interceptions last season which was tops in the National Football League.

In front of Bortles, the Jaguars have a young offensive line that is anchored by left tackle Luke Joeckel as it is time for the training wheels to be taken off of this group if Jacksonville expects to contend for a playoff berth.

If the Jags offensive line is able to give Bortles enough protection, they have play makers at the wide receiver position in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. Last year Hurns and Robinson became the Jaguars first duo of wide receivers since Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith in 2001 to each gain at least 1,000 yards receiving as they should once again ready to cause problems for the secondaries of the AFC South.

But if Jacksonville’s offense is going to become consistent in 2016, the running game must improve. Last year the Jags were 27th in the National Football League in rushing with running back T.J. Yeldon being the team’s leading ground gainer at 740 yards. This off-season has seen the Jaguars sign veteran running back Chris Ivory who gained a career-high 1,070 last year as a member of the New York Jets. The Jags must be more committed to the ground game as it will take some pressure off of Bortles, while also cutting down on his sacks.

This year’s Jags defense could be all about “high risk, high reward”. In 2015, Jacksonville used the third overall pick of the National Football League Draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But in Fowler’s first practice with the Jaguars, he suffered a torn ACL that ended his season before it started. This year the Jaguars used a second-round pick on outside linebacker Myles Jack who missed the majority of his final year at UCLA with a knee injury. Both Jack and Fowler are healthy now and if they are able to live to the hype, they could become pleasant surprises in Northern Florida.

In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts used a first-round pick on defensive end Bjorn Werner. Collegiately at Florida State, Werner was the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, along with being an All-American. But when the Colts drafted Werner, they insisted on making him an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive system and he was never able to adjust. The Colts cut ties with Werner this off-season and as the Jaguars picked him up off of the scrap heap, a return to Northern Florida, along with going back to his original position as a 4-3 defensive end could be just what the doctor ordered for him.

Werner’s collegiate teammate in cornerback Jalen Ramsey was Jacksonville’s first-round choice this past spring, and the combination of him and former New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara should be help to solidify the Jaguars secondary.

The Jaguars are very close to breaking through and becoming a playoff team, but they have to start winning the games that they are expected to win, along with defeating the good teams.

Houston Texans 6-10

Bill O’Brien

In each of Bill O’Brien’s two years as the head coach of the Houston Texans, he has led his team to a record of 9-7. But unlike 2014, O’Brien was able to get the Texans to the postseason in 2015. The Texans won the AFC South last year for the first time since 2012 and although that their season didn’t end in the fashion that they wanted to as they were blown out 30-0 at home by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Game, Houston is looking to build off of last year’s trip to the postseason in a very weak AFC South.

But the Texans will begin the 2016 National Football League season with a huge disadvantage as they’ll more than likely be without the services of defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and in five seasons with the Texans, he has registered 74.5 sacks. Watt underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in July, and although that he could be ready to go in Week 1, it’s difficult to expect him to be the same player immediately. Aside from what Watt can do, his presence on the field makes his defensive teammates better due to the matchup nightmares that he can cause for opposing offenses.

Aside from Watt, the Texans have a very active defensive front seven that includes nose tackle Vince Wilfork, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, and inside linebacker Brian Cushing. But if Watt isn’t going to be 100%, it’s time for outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney to begin living up to the hype. Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft by the Texans, and after being a two-time All-American in college, he has been unable to become the dominant edge rusher that most people expected him to be. And if there was ever a time for Clowney to figure it out, that time is now.

However the Texans biggest issues have recently come on offense which is what has held this team back. Last year Houston was 19th in the National Football League in total offense as they went through four different starting quarterbacks. In the off-season the Texans would sign quarterback Brock Osweiler to a four-year deal that is worth $72 million. Osweiler spent the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos and he was expected to be the heir apparent there to Peyton Manning. But unlike the Texans, the Broncos were unwilling to pay Osweiler $18 million per season. In four year with the Broncos, Osweiler only started seven games and he is still very raw as a quarterback as it very tough to gauge what he can do.

DeAndre Hopkins

The Texans possess one of the best wide receivers in football in DeAndre Hopkins who’s numbers have increased in each of his three seasons in the National Football League. The Texans were 15th in the NFL last season in rushing, but they still need to be more effective as for the second time in the last three years, they failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

The word of 2016 for the Texans will be continuity as they must find some of it if they expect to be in contention to win the AFC South.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 AFC South Grades

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Houston Texans

Grade: C

First Round Pick: Will Fuller-Wide Receiver-Notre Dame

Best Pick: Will Fuller

Although that the Houston Texans will enter the 2016 National Football League season as the defending champions of the AFC South, they need to improve on several flaws. The Texans went 9-7 last year and they have issues on the offensive side of the football which they have begun to address.

The Texans feel like they’ve found their franchise quarterback as they signed former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweilier to a four-year, $72 million deal at the start of free agency. And during the National Football League Draft last month, the Texans attempted to get Osweiler some help in the earlier rounds when they used their first-round selection on Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Will Fuller, which was followed by a third-round selection of Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Braxton Miller.

Will Fuller

Speed is the name of the game for both Fuller and Miller. At the National Football League Scouting Combine, Fuller was picking them up and putting them down as he ran a 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. Miller went to Ohio State as a quarterback, but he eventually converted to wide receiver, and upon drafting him, the Texans feel that he has untapped potential. And don’t think that gadget plays with Miller is something that hasn’t crossed the mind of Texans head coach Bill O’Brien who learned that from his time as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick.

But the Texans only had five picks in the draft, and they failed to upgrade their offensive line which needed to be upgraded. The Texans are rolling the dice on an unproven quarterback in Osweiler, and they need to sure up every position around him.

Indianapolis Colts

Grade: C

First Round Pick: Ryan Kelly-Center-Alabama

Best Pick: Round Four-Antonio Morrison-Inside Linebacker-Florida

Heading into the 2016 National Football League Draft, there weren’t questions surrounding the quarterback position for the Indianapolis Colts as Andrew Luck in entrenched as the guy there. But the team that is around Luck is where the issues begin as this is a Colts organization with a general manager in Ryan Grigson that must do a better job of putting play makers around their franchise quarterback on both sides of the football.

Luck took a beating last year as he played behind a porous offensive line. But Grigson began to fix this in the first round of the National Football League Draft when he selected Alabama Crimson Tide center Ryan Kelly. Kelly comes to the Colts as the Rimington Award winner as the nation’s top center. And the Colts are hopeful that Kelly will be able to anchor their offensive line in the mode the Jeff Saturday did at the position for so many years.

Antonio Morrison

Grigson and the Colts found themselves selecting several projects in this draft, but he might have found an impact player in the fourth round in Florida Gators inside linebacker Antonio Morrison. At 6’1″, 232 lbs., Morrison doesn’t have the physical intangibles that the National Football League is looking for at middle linebacker, but he is a football player that plays with determination and major instincts which is evident by his 294 career tackles at Florida. And for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, he might have a solid starter on his hands with Morrison.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade: B+

First Round Pick: Jalen Ramsey-Free Safety-Florida State

Best Pick: Jalen Ramsey

Jalen Ramsey

2007 was the last time that the Jacksonville Jaguars made the playoffs in the National Football League, but the team is beginning to assemble play makers that could end that drought. The Jaguars hit it big in the early stages of the 2016 NFL Draft when they used the fifth overall pick on Florida State Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey. In each of my mock drafts I had the Jags selecting Ramsey as the match between the player and organization appeared to be a perfect fit. For the longest time Jacksonville has needed impact players in their secondary, and what Ramsey provides them with is tremendous range.

In the second round the Jaguars selected UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack. Jack suffered a knee injury last year in college that prevented him from being a top-10 pick in the draft, but he fell to the Jags who see him has another first-round pick. And once you factor in that Jacksonville is counting on the return of outside linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., from a knee injury, this team could be ready to roll out three rookies in the starting lineup come September.

Tennessee Titans

Grade: B

First Round Pick: Jack Conklin-Offensive Tackle-Michigan State

Best Pick: Derrick Henry-Running Back-Alabama

Trading back and still getting value was a theme for the Tennessee Titans at the 2016 National Football League Draft. The Titans came into the draft with the first overall pick. But with teams such as the Los Angeles Rams very desperate to move up in order to select a quarterback, Tennessee moved down and they received compensation in the form of additional picks in the process. And after striking a deal with the Cleveland Browns, the Titans used the eighth overall pick on Michigan State Spartans offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

Jack Conklin

Conklin was the safest pick for the Titans at the time due to the fact that teams were passing on Mississippi Rebels offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil due to a questionable photo of him popped up on Twitter. At 6’6″, 308 lbs., Conklin has prototypical size to play left tackle in the National Football League, while Tennessee is hopeful that he can protect the blind side of quarterback Marcus Mariota who is clearly their franchise quarterback.

The Titans had three selections in the second round with the first one being used on Clemson Tigers defensive end Kevin Dodd. In Dodd’s last year at Clemson, he recorded 12 sacks in helping the Tigers reach the national title game. And at 6’5″, 277 lbs., the Titans are hopeful that he provide pressure off of the edge. Later in the second round, Tennessee selected Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry. Last year Henry won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top player, and at 6’3″, 247 ls., he was a runaway freight train with the football. Henry’s presence in Tennessee will give the Titans a solid inside-out combination at the running back position with veteran running back DeMarco Murray who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this off-season. The arrival of Henry will be a welcome sight to the folks of Tennessee as they saw enough of him torching their beloved Tennessee Volunteers, and now they are hopeful that he can light up the scoreboard in their favor.

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Mallett’s Golden Opportunity

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The Houston Texans became a National Football League franchise in 2002 and they’ve had a revolving door at quarterback. Since joining the NFL, the Texans have used 11 different starting quarterbacks which is a good reason why they’ve only had four winning seasons in franchise history. And the next player that is having his chance to take snaps for the Texans at quarterback is Ryan Mallett and his story is an interesting as far as his journey to the NFL.

Mallett was a Texas high-school phenom that had his choice of the top college football programs in the nation to attend. In 2007, Mallett would choose to attend the University of Michigan where he looked to continue the school’s trend of sending quarterbacks to the National Football League. But after one year at Michigan, there was a coaching change which forced Mallett to depart; however he was able to land on his feet at the University of Arkansas which was a school that had recruited him in high school. In two years as the starting quarterback at Arkansas, Mallett was a two-time, All-SEC, second team performer and in 2010, he helped the school make its first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since 1979. Mallett’s professional career would get started with the New England Patriots in 2011 as the franchise selected him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

After three years as the backup to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Mallett was traded to the Houston Texans in 2014. And it appeared to be a match made in heaven for Mallett in Houston as Bill O’Brien was hired to be the Texans new head coach. O’Brien traded for Mallett due to their familiarity with one another from their time together with the Patriots in 2011 when O’Brien was the offensive coordinator there. O’Brien went to Mallett last year to replace an ineffective Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. And Mallett was showing signs of life until a torn labrum ended his season.

This year Mallett engaged in a training camp battle with Brian Hoyer to see who would be the Texans starting quarterback. Hoyer opened the season as the Texans starting quarterback, but after one game, O’Brien decided to pull him in favor of Mallett. Mallett got the start this past Sunday for the Texans and he had his struggles against the Carolina Panthers. Mallett was 27-of-58 passing for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception. And by the looks of things Mallett should be the Texans starting quarterback when they take the field this Sunday at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But a quarterback’s best friend is the running game, but the Texans are missing running back Arian Foster who is out with a groin injury. And aside from not having Foster who is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, Houston released wide receiver Andre Johnson during the off-season and he is the team’s all-time leading receiver as he always bailed out his quarterbacks.

At 6’6″, 245 lbs., Mallett has great size for a quarterback and he has a solid throwing arm, but he just needs to be more decisive in the pocket as far as his decision making and this is a Texans squad that is screaming for a solid signal caller which is why that he has a tremendous opportunity in front of him with Houston. The Texans have one of the best defenses in the National Football League which is led by defensive end J.J. Watt as they’ll keep Houston in games, and because of that, O’Brien would not have a problem with Mallett simply being a game manager for him.

Mallett was Brady’s understudy for three years and he should have learned a valuable lesson from him which is to simply “do your job” as that is one of the most famous quotes of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. When Brady became the Patriots starting quarterback in 2001, he simply didn’t try to do it all by himself as it was a total team effort which is something that Mallett should attempt to do right now in Houston as it could lead to victories which is something that would give the Texans some consistency at the quarterback position.

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2015 AFC South Projections

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X-Indianapolis Colts 12-4

The Indianapolis Colts have shown that they are good enough to contend in the AFC, but will they be able to take that next step in 2015 and win the Super Bowl? Each of the past three years has seen the Colts go 11-5 in the regular season as they were able to advance a round further in the postseason over the last three years. And if you follow that formula for the Colts, they could win the AFC in 2015.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck has been the Colts starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons and he has proven that he is more than capable to put the team on his back. At 6’3″, 235 lbs., Luck is big and strong, but his biggest muscle is his brain as he is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the National Football League. Luck doesn’t tend to get fazed by adversity and this could be the season where he is named as the NFL MVP.

But as good as Luck has been, his teammates with the Colts need to improve their game around for this team to win the Super Bowl. The Colts were able to make the AFC Championship Game last season and they are looking to build off of that.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has attempted to improve the team around Luck as in this off-season he signed wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson spent the first 12 years of his NFL career with the Houston Texans where he was one of the top wide receivers in the league as he totaled 1,012 receptions, 13,597 receiving yards, and 64 receiving  touchdowns. Johnson did this without the luxury of having a top-tier quarterback that was throwing him the football. But that now changes with Johnson being thrown the football by Luck. Along with Johnson, Luck will be throwing the football this season to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton who is one of the most explosive wide receivers in football.

The Colts struggled to run the football in 2014 as they were 22nd in the National Football League in the category. Running back Frank Gore spent the first decade of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers where he was one of the most underrated runners of this era. But even at the age of 32, the Colts are hopeful that Gore will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground for the ninth time in his career.

Chuck Pagano

Defensively, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t have a star player that can take over the game, but he relies on his system which means that all 11 players must do their job.

In their first five games of the upcoming NFL season, the Colts will not face a team that made the playoffs in 2014, and a fast start for Indianapolis in 2015 could be just what the doctor ordered as they’ll need to get home-field advantage in the AFC as they look to solidify their chances of making the Super Bowl this February.

Houston Texans 9-7

In 2014, the Houston Texans kept a recent theme going in the National Football League where the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in the league was able to show vast improvement in the following season. The Texans went 2-14 in 2013, but they were able to turn things around in 2014 as they went 9-7 and barely missed out on making the playoffs under head coach Bill O’Brien who was in his first year in Houston.

Bill O’Brien

O’Brien inherited a good defensive club that can also run the football. But the Texans biggest problem is at quarterback. The Texans used four different players at starting quarterback last season and the player that saw the most time there (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is now a member of the New York Jets. O’Brien and the Texans are hopeful that Ryan Mallett is ready to emerge and become the starting quarterback in Houston, but he has some fierce competition from former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Last year the Texans acquired Mallett from the New England Patriots due to his familiarity with O’Brien who was his offensive coordinator in 2011 with the Patriots. Mallett was 1-1 as a starter last season until a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Mallett is now healthy and O’Brien along with the Texans are hopeful that he ready to lead this team mentally as he has all of the physical tools to be a solid NFL quarterback.

However, Hoyer and Mallett were teammates with the Patriots as they each studied under O’Brien and the most determined player will win out.

Arian Foster

The Texans were fifth in the National Football League in rushing last season and you can expect more the same in 2015 as running back Arian Foster is one of the best in the business as far as carrying the rock. But the biggest problem for Foster in the NFL has been the ability for him to remain healthy as a groin injury will more than likely keep him sidelined to begin the season. Hands down Foster is the Texans all-time leader in rushing and if he can have another season in which he can gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground, it will be big for Houston and their potential postseason push.

The Texans decided to part with wide receiver Andre Johnson who is the best pass catcher in the franchise’s history, but they still have a depth at the position led by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is coming off of a season that saw him reel in 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. And if Hopkins and Mallett, or Hoyer are able to develop some chemistry, they could be a nightmare for secondaries in the NFL this season.

The Texans were 16th in total defense last season and they are in line to vastly improve this year. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, but a knee injury that he suffered in Week 1 last year due to the turf at NRG Stadium in Houston limited him to just four games last season. Clowney underwent micro fracture on his knee as he hopeful that he can finally display the talent that made him such a feared edge rusher in college. On the defensive line the Texans went searching for the beef and they found it when they signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Patriots where he developed a reputation as one of the best nose tackles in football. With the Patriots, Wilfork also was a tremendous leader on the defensive side of the football as he helped New England win a pair of Super Bowl Championships during his time there.

Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has some strong linebackers to work with aside from Clowney. The Texans need inside linebacker Brian Cushing and his bad knees to hold up for an entire season while outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is no slouch when it comes rushing the passer and he will look to feed off of the players around him. But the Texans defensive front seven will be led by the freak of nature that is defensive end J.J. Watt.

J.J. Watt

Watt has four seasons under his belt in the NFL and he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year which is the second time that the honor has been bestowed upon him while his 57.5 sacks have him on a pace to threaten Bruce Smith’s all-time sacks record of 200. Players with Watt’s freakish ability to rush the passer, cover the pass, and play the run don’t come along that often as he might be the toughest defensive matchup that the NFL has seen since the days of Lawrence Taylor. Watt’s presence makes the players around him better and if he is not double or triple-teamed, he will make opposing offenses pay.

Led by cornerback Johnathan Joseph who received a contract extension this off-season, the Texans have a very athletic secondary that can be good on its own, but once they are combined with the front seven that is in Houston, they are free to do more due to the ability of the players in front of them.

The Texans will once again contend for a playoff spot in the AFC, it is just a matter of whether or not that they will be able to dethrone the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11

The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2015 National Football League season looking to end the pain and suffering. For the first time in the history of the Jaguars franchise, they are coming off of their fourth consecutive season in which they lost 10 or more games. But in spite of the fact that Jacksonville was 3-13 last season, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a plan in place to turn things around as long as the front office there practices patience with him.

Blake Bortles

Bradley’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars will be defined by what he is able to accomplish with quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and he was able to display flashes of his potential last season as a rookie. Bortles record as a a starter was 3-10 as he passed for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns while being picked off 17 times and sacked 55 times. For this season Bortles has to develop better pocket awareness which will minimize his sacks and interceptions while it will also increase his passing yardage and touchdowns.

Bortles will need to develop chemistry with his young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Allen Robinson. And like Bortles, the Jags young trio of wide receivers has potential, but it is time for them to take their respective games to the next level if the Jaguars are going to have their first non-losing season since 2010. In the off-season the Jags signed former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, but he will find out real quick that it’s Bortles who is throwing him the football and not Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Jags are putting together a young offensive line that led by offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, has to step up and provide more protection for Bortles while opening holes for a rushing attack in Jacksonville that was 21st in the National Football League last season in rushing.

Defensively the Jaguars were looking to be a force, but things took a turn for the worst on the first day of rookie minicamp when defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., suffered a torn ACL. Fowler was the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and he was expected to be an impact player for the Jags.

Whereas the Jags have youth on offense, their defense is made up primarily of journeymen who are looking to hold on in the NFL as Bradley is hopeful to get the most out of them this season.

The Jags need to get some early victories this season in order to gain some confidence for their young team. Week 4 will be a big game for the Jaguars as they travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts who have won the AFC South in each of the last two seasons and are favored to do so once again in 2015. If Jacksonville gets off to another slow start, it won’t matter how many improvements that Jags owner Shad Khan has made to EverBank Field, as the boo birds will arrive and he might end up parting with Bradley.

Tennessee Titans 5-11

The 2-14 mark of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 was their worst regular season since 1994 when they were still the Houston Oilers. Last year was also the first season for Ken Whisenhunt as the Titans head coach and he spent his time in Nashville attempting to find players that would fit into his system.

Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt hopes that he took a step towards turning things around for the Titans when he used the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft on quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota comes to the Titans as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but things will a little bit different for him this fall. Mariota was able to flourish at the University of Oregon while operating in the spread offense, but now he must get adjusted to taking the majority of his snaps under center. The Titans are impressed with the physical tools that Mariota brings to the table such as his speed and strong arm; now he just has to adapt to a pro-style system. Mariota will now be operating in a Titans offense that was 29th in the NFL last season in total offense while scoring 14 points or less on seven occasions. And while Mariota was at Oregon, it was very common for his offense to score 14 points or more in a quarter.

Led by rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the Titans do have some potential in their passing game, but it just a matter of the Mariota and the wide receivers being able to get on the same page sooner rather than later. Last season running back Bishop Sankey was the Titans leading rusher at just 569 yards. And the Titans must improve their running game as they try to balance out the expected growing pains for Mariota as a rookie quarterback. In recent years the Titans have used early round picks to bolster their offensive line and now is the time for the likes of offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack to take their games to another level as Mariota will need to be protected.

Under Whisenhunt, the Titans have gone to a 3-4 defense, but they are missing that big nose tackle on the defensive line that can take on double and triple teams in the interior. The Titans did sign outside linebacker Brian Orakpo this off-season to be an edge rusher, but in the last three seasons he has only appeared in 24 games as injuries have limited him. And the Titans must fins a way to improve a defensive unit that was 27th in the National Football League last season in total defense.

Under the guidance of Whisenhunt, this is a young Titans team that will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC South.

X-Clinched Division

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2014 AFC South Projections

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X-Indianapolis Colts 10-6

With two seasons as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts under his belt, Andrew Luck has built a reputation as a prime time player in the National Football League. Luck has led the Colts to consecutive 11-5 regular seasons which has resulted in two AFC South Titles. Luck will continue to progress as a quarterback and as a leader for the Colts, but what about the supporting cast around him in Indianapolis?

Ryan Grigson

Last year the Colts were 20th in rushing offense in the NFL and you can expect to see a running back by committee in 2014. Last year Colts general manager Ryan Grigson gave up a first round pick in the 2014 National Football League Draft to obtain running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns. What Grigson and the Colts got from Richardson last season in 14 games was a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was limited to just three games last season as a result of injuries which makes it tough to be optimistic about the Colts running game for 2014.

Last season as a member of the New York Giants, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was an enigma. Nicks was in the final year of his contract with the Giants, but he was never able to answer the bell. Nicks signed with the Colts this off-season, but will he be the player that he was in 2011 when he nearly gained 1,200 receiving yards or the player that was only a shell of himself in 2013? With wide receiver Reggie Wayne returning from a knee injury, Luck will need another option on offense to offset wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the passing game. But will Nicks or Wayne be able to do it?

With veteran outside linebacker sitting out the first four games of the National Football League season as he serves a league mandated suspension for violating their drug policy, it is imperative for outside linebacker Bjorn Werner to show the ability that made him a first round pick in Indianapolis last year. Last season as a rookie, Werner was limited to 2.5 sacks and he will need to be up for the challenge early and often in 2014.

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagono his team must navigate through a tough schedule to begin the season. The Colts will be on the road this Sunday to take on the Denver Broncos who are the defending AFC Champions. The Colts will be at home in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles who won the NFC East last season before they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars who will a very formidable opponent. The Colts should win the AFC South for a second consecutive year, but it will not be easy.

Houston Texans 8-8

Bill O’Brien

The old saying is that everything is bigger in the state of Texas. Last season the Houston Texans started off with Super Bowl expectations. After winning their first two games of the season the Texans would lose their last 14 games of the season and wholesale changes were made. After eight seasons as the head coach of the Texans, Gary Kubiak was fired and replaced by former Penn State University head football coach Bill O’Brien. Like Kubiak, longtime Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub was shown the door as well as he was traded to the Oakland Raiders due to the fact that O’Brien is looking to start fresh.

The Texans began last season expecting to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but instead they got the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Texans selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with first overall pick and he joins a defense in Houston that could be extremely special in 2014. The Texans defense last year ranked 7th in the NFL in total defense and they may be better this year. Romeo Crennel is taking over as the Texans new defensive coordinator and he will run the same 3-4 defensive scheme as former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Along with Clowney you can expect Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to line up in multiple spots in the defensive front seven as they could be the scariest combination of edge rushers this season in the National Football League. Along with outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, it is not far-fetched to believe that the Texans could lead the league in the sacks for the upcoming season.

With running backs Arian Foster, Andre Brown, and Alfred Blue, “AAA”, the Texans will be a very physical team. For now O’Brien has entrusted Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the starting quarterback in Houston and this team can have some success with him leading the way this season as long as he decides not to play hero ball. But just prior to the end of training camp, the Texans were able to acquire quarterback Ryan Mallett from the New England Patriots. O’Brien was a former assistant coach with the Patriots and he is familiar with Mallett who should be ready to take over for Fitzpatrick at some point during the season.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson is entering his 12th season with the Texans where he as at times been frustrated. But if Johnson is willing to buy into O’Brien’s system he could have another Pro Bowl caliber season.

The Texans will not face a playoff team from last season until they meet the Colts in Week 6 and a fast start in Houston could put people on the O’Brien bandwagon as a quick turnaround could be on the horizon.

Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10

Gus Bradley

The downward spiral of the Jacksonville Jaguars began in 2008. The Jaguars have not had a winning record or playoff appearance since 2007 and thus their all-time record is now sub-.500. Last year was the first season for Jags head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville began the season with a record of 0-8, but they became tougher in the second part of the campaign to finish 4-12. Bradley is hopeful that the second half of the 2013 NFL season will carry over to the start of 2014.

The Jaguars are optimistic that they finally have their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles. The Jaguars used their first round pick on Bortles, but veteran quarterback Chad Henne is not in a rush to hand over the reigns. Bortles is still a bit raw and more than likely you can expect Henne to be the Jaguars starting quarterback at the start of the season.

The Jaguars parted ways with longtime running back Maurice Jones-Drew who is now a member of the Oakland Raiders. More than likely Bradley and the Jags will have a running back by committee this season with veteran backs Jordan Todman and Toby Gerhart along with rookie Storm Johnson, but it can be effective. The Jaguars also have young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Ace Sanders. But if one player is able to emerge from this trio as an impact player it will help Bradley in Jacksonville.

Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was injured for the majority of 2013, but if he is able to return healthy this season to join veteran guard Zane Beadles on the offensive line, the Jags could have something cooking.

The Jaguars defense is full of veterans who built their reputations in other NFL cities. But for players like defensive tackle Red Bryant who helped the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl last season it is a chance for them to show the football world that they still have what it takes.

More than likely the Jaguars will not be a playoff team this season, but they will make life miserable to each team that they will face.

Tennessee Titans 5-11

This year will be like no other for the Tennessee Titans franchise. The Titans will begin this season without former owner Bud Adams who passed away last October. Adams was the only owner that the Titans ever had dating back to their time as the Houston Oilers. Adams’ daughter Susie Smith is now running the Titans, but that is not the only change in Nashville. Ken Whisenhunt is the new Titans head coach and he is looking to get the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and in the process he is looking to mold this team in his own image.

Jake Locker

Titans quarterback Jake Locker has been an enigma. The Titans drafted Locker in the first round of the of the 2011 National Football League Draft. Locker has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but he has been unable to stay healthy. The Titans did not pick up the option on Locker’s contract which means that he will be playing for his job in 2014.

Longtime Titans running back Chris Johnson was let go this off-season and it will be a combo of veteran running back Shonn Greene and rookie running back Bishop Sankey in the backfield in Nashville.

Like Locker at quarterback, the Titans have talent a wide receiver, but it is just a matter of it all coming together. Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, and Kendall Wright could all do special things at wide receiver for the Titans this year, but it is just a matter of everyone being on the same page.

This season the Titans will have a good mix of youth and age on their offensive line with a pair of youngsters in offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack along with veteran offensive tackles Michael Roos and Michael Oher and they should be up for the challenge of keeping Locker healthy.

Whisenhunt’s arrival in Nashville means that they Titans will be running a 3-4 defense just like he employed when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This will be a difficult year for the Titans because they are transitioning their new defensive scheme, but veteran outside linebackers Kameron Wimbley and Shaun Phillips could cushion the blow.

Three of the Titans first four games in 2014 are against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. The Titans should struggle this year, but towards the end of the campaign Whisenhunt’s plan will take flight.

X-Clinched Division

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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