Tag Archives: Blake Bortles

2017 AFC South Projections

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X-Houston Texans 10-6

Four of the last six years have seen the Houston Texans make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to get past the second round. And the two biggest reasons why the Texans have been unable to advance are the New England Patriots who have eliminated them in two of those years as well as their issues at the most important position on the football field. Each of the last four years has seen the Texans have a different starting quarterback on opening day and this year will mark five consecutive seasons in which that is the case.

The Brock Osweiler experiment is over for the Texans after just one season as Houston has decided to move on from him. Tom Savage will enter the new season with the most experience at quarterback for the Texans, but he only started two games for Houston last year. The Texans used a first-round pick this year on quarterback Deshaun Watson as he is looked at as the future of the franchise, but he could also be the present.

After Watson lost his first start for the Clemson Tigers in 2014, he would only lose twice more for his collegiate career. Watson led Clemson to consecutive 14-1 seasons and this past January saw the Tigers claim their first national championship since 1981. Watson might not be familiar with taking snaps under center, but he is a winner which is something that the Texans need at the position.

Bill O’Brien

For Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, he has a solid commitment to running the football which is a lost art in today’s game. Last year the Texans were eighth in the National Football League in rushing and you can expect another healthy dose of the rushing attack this season. Lamar Miller will once again be the feature ball carrier for the Titans, and he once again has the potential to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. But Houston has depth behind him in the form of Alfred Blue as well as D’Onta Foreman as this rushing attack will be important to a young quarterback in Watson who I expect to get his feet wet sooner rather than later.

It has not taken wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that long to morph into one of the better pass catchers in the National Football League, and he has been able to accomplish this in spite of not having consistency at the quarterback position. Like Watson, Hopkins is a Clemson alum, and if these two former Tigers are able to get on the same page, Houston’s offense should be a force.

J.J. Watt

Defensive end J.J. Watt has been at the forefront of the relief efforts in the Houston area following the devastation that was caused by Hurricane Harvey, and the icing on that cake is that he is a darn good football player. Watt is a three-time National Football League Defensive Player of the Year, but he is attempting to bounce back after an injury plagued 2016. Last season Watt was limited to just three games as he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Watt is a physical specimen, but it’ll be interesting to see how is body will be able to respond to the wear and tear that comes with paying in the NFL.

However Watt’s return along with the emergence of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney as well as the consistency of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Brian Cushing will once again make Houston’s defense tough. And whereas that the Texans will be unable to replace the experience of nose tackle Vince Wilfork who retired after 13 years in the National Football League, the return of Watt will be able to remedy some of that.

The Texans will face their old nemesis in the Patriots in Week 3, however with the competition in the AFC South expected to once again be light, Houston should once again be the team to beat in that division.

Tennessee Titans 9-7

The 2016 National Football League season saw the Tennessee Titans possibly barreling to their first playoff appearance since 2008. However things would change in Week 16 when quarterback Marcus Mariota would suffer a fractured right fibula. The Titans would go on to lose that game to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they would rebound to defeat the Houston Texans to end the regular season. The Titans would finish 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011, while they tied the Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. However the Titans would lose the tiebreaker with Houston due to the fact that Tennessee was only able to go 2-4 within the division, while the Texans were 5-1. But now as a new season is set to begin, are the young Titans poised to take that next step in 2017 in order to become a playoff team?

Marcus Mariota

After the Titans made Mariota the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft, he is rapidly developing into a franchise player as well as a leader in Nashville. The biggest knock on Mariota coming out of college was whether or not that he would be able to make the transition to the pro game which meant adjusting to a pro-style system as opposed to the spread offense that he played in during his collegiate days.

Mariota has been able to make the transition which has included him completing more than 62% of his passes in the National Football League. Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has done a solid job of putting Mariota in situations where he can succeed which means an emphasis on featuring his running ability.

The Titans were third in the National Football League season in rushing as this is a team that is a throwback to a different era of football. Running back DeMarco Murray enjoyed his first season in Nashville as his 1,287 yards were third in the NFL. Murray did carry the football 293 times last season, but Tennessee won’t have an issue in regards to keeping him fresh due to his understudy.

In 2015, running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy en route to helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win the national title. Henry was used sparingly last year as a rookie; mainly to give Murray a breather. However I see Mularkey and Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie using Henry more this season. Henry checks in at 6’3″, while he weighs 247 lbs., and he has solid speed on that frame which means that he runs like an 18-wheeler that is barreling down the interstate. And aside from being a good runner at the goal line, Henry could team with Murray and Mariota to give the Titans a running game reminiscent of that of the Miami Dolphins from the early 1970s which featured running backs Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka, and Mercury Morris.

Mike Mularkey

Once upon a time Mularkey was a tight end in the National Football League and he’s bringing that physical mentality to his team. The Titans have a pair of bookend studs in left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Jack Conklin who help to give Tennessee one of the best offensive lines in the NFL which will be important with Mariota returning from the injury.

But as much as the Titans can run the football, they are going to need some production through the air. The Titans used a first-round pick on wide receiver Corey Davis, while they also signed free agent wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker has proven throughout his career that he can be a solid slot receiver in the right offense. And as effective as the Titans can run the football, Decker should be able to benefit from consistent play-action passing.

For Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, he operates a 3-4 defensive scheme where the strength of the unit comes from the linebackers. However the Titans were 20th in the National Football League in total defense last season, while they lack a disruptive force on the defensive line as well as at linebacker who can consistently get to the quarterback. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was able to tally 10.5 sacks in 2016 which led the team, but as he is 31, while also having several severe injuries during career, can he be counted on to have another productive season?

The Titans do have several weapons on special teams who could be game changers. The Titans entered the National Football League last spring owners of a pair of first-round picks with one of those being used on cornerback Adoree Jackson. The Titans not only drafted Jackson for his coverage skills on defense, but also for his ability to return kicks and punts, while he could also be used in special packages on offense. And then there is kicker Ryan Succop who made 11 field goals from beyond 40 yards last year as his leg will be important in 2017 if Tennessee wants to end their playoff drought.

The mental strength of the Titans will be tested during the early stages of their schedule as four of their first five games will be against playoff teams from last season. But if the Titans want to take the next step, these are the games that they must find a way to win.

Indianapolis Colts 6-10

The names have changed for the Indianapolis Colts, but the results are still the same as this is an organization that has too much reliance solely on their quarterback. The Colts made quarterback Andrew Luck the first overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft, but they have failed to put a quality team around which was also the case of his predecessor in Peyton Manning. Grant it that Luck has worked under a different general manager than Manning did, but during Ryan Grigson’s time as Colts GM, he never did right by Luck which led to his termination last season. Now former Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard has begun his tenure as Colts general manager by picking up right where Grigson left off from which included having a lackluster draft class come to Indianapolis. However for Ballard, his dilemma is a little bit bigger than initially thought.

Andrew Luck

The Colts inability to put a quality team around Luck which includes having a lackluster offensive line has led to injuries for him. Over the last two years Luck has missed a combined 10 games. And as the injuries are catching up to Luck, he underwent shoulder surgery during off-season which prevented him from participating in the team’s training camp. Now the Colts must deal with the reality that Luck will not be ready for start of the upcoming season. And even when Luck returns to action, how effective will he be coming off of the mend?

In order to offset Luck’s absence, the Colts acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett from the New England Patriots this summer. Brissett was a third-round pick of the Patriots last year, and in two starts with the team he was able to complete nearly 62% of his passes. However now that Brissett won’t have the luxury of having the talent around him on offense like he was accustomed to with the Patriots, how productive will he be in Indy?

Chuck Pagano

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, his offense was tenth in the National Football League in total offense in 2016. But with Luck on the shelf and a veteran running back in Frank Gore, how productive will the Colts offense be this year? Gore is coming off of a productive first year with the Colts as he was able to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth time in his National Football League career. Gore is 935 yards shy of becoming only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 14,000 career yards, but he is a 34-years of age, and at some point the other show has to drop.

The Colts passing offense which was fifth in the National Football League will more than likely take a hit without the services of Luck for all 16 games which means that wide receiver T.Y. Hilton won’t be as productive. Hilton has become one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL which included him leading the league in receiving yards last year with 1,448. And in spite of the fact that Hilton was able to lead the NFL in receiving last year, he is not a player who is considered as a typical top receiver which goes back to my point about Indianapolis failing to put talent around Luck.

Prior to Pagano becoming a head coach, his specialty was defensive football, however that has not transferred over to his time with the Colts. Last year Indianapolis was 30th in the National Football League in total defense And like the Colts offense, this organization has failed to find play makers on the defensive side of the football which has greatly inhibited their ability to stop opponents. Last season Colts opponents were able to convert on 41.5% of their third down conversions which was 25th in the National Football League and I expect that trend to continue here in 2017.

Only one of the Colts first eight opponents made the playoffs last year. But even an easy schedule to begin the season won’t prevent Indianapolis from struggling this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

The names on the back of the jerseys as well as that on the offices of the head coach and general manager may change, but the losing has continued for the Jacksonville Jaguars. You have to go back to the 2007 National Football League season to find the last time that the Jaguars had a winning season, while they’ve won no more than five games in a campaign since 2011. What has hurt the Jaguars the most is the ineptitude in their front office which has seen the organization consistently miss on their first-round picks as this is never a recipe for success.

After leading Jacksonville to a playoff appearance in four of the team’s first five years of existence as their head coach, Tom Coughlin has returned to the organization. This past January, Coughlin was named as the Jaguars executive vice president of football operations and he hopes to return the team to prominence, while brining with him some of the winning formula that helped him attain a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the New York Giants. Coughlin is a staunch disciplinarian who pays attention to detail. And if the young Jaguars won’t buy into what Coughlin is selling, he won’t have a problem helping them pack their bags to get out of town.

After replacing Gus Bradley who was fired as the Jags head coach with two games remaining in 2016, Doug Marrone was retained to be the Jaguars head coach. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Marrone was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014, and he appeared to be on the track to success until he opted out of his deal due to issues within the front office. But only time will tell if things will work out differently for Marrone in Jacksonville.

Blake Bortles

For the past three years Blake Bortles has been the Jaguars starting quarterback and it has not gone well for him. In three years as the Jags starting quarterback, Bortles has led the National Football League in sacks twice and interceptions once. In total Bortles has been sacked 140 times, while also throwing 51 interceptions. And most importantly Bortles’ record as a starting quarterback with Jacksonville is only 11-34. Bortles does have solid wide receivers to get the football to in Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Marquise Lee, but he appears to be lacking the “it” factor. Bortles has heard his fair share of criticism in Northern Florida, and as the Jaguars have talent around him on offense, 2017 will be a make or break year for him.

During Coughlin’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars and Giants respectively, his teams always had a commitment to running the football which goes back to his days as a collegiate running back for the Syracuse Orangemen. And Coughlin’s first pick upon returning to the Jaguars organization was used on running back Leonard Fournette.

Leonard Fournette

Fournette comes into the National Football League with plenty of hype as he was the first running back that was selected from a very deep class of running backs this year. At 6’0″, 228 lbs., Fournette is a bruising runner who combines size with speed and he now gets an opportunity to shine on the big stage as he is an immediate upgrade to a Jaguars running attack that did not have one ball carrier tally at least 500 yards in 2016.

Jacksonville must get more competitive defensively and it begins with some of their recent early round draft picks stepping up. In 2015, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was the third overall pick of the National Football League Draft. However Fowler would suffer a torn ACL in his first practice with the Jaguars and he has yet to become the impact player that he was expected to be. Last year Jacksonville would use a second-round pick on middle linebacker Myles Jack who entered the NFL with knee issues. And any turnaround that Jacksonville wants to have defensively in 2017 begins with Fowler and Jack being able to live up the hype which was bestowed upon team heading into the NFL.

For Coughlin and Marrone, they are attempting to change the culture in the Jaguars locker room which isn’t a quick fix. There is a deep culture in regards to losing in Jacksonville, and until it is fixed which also includes making better draft decisions, this team will continue to finish near the bottom of the AFC South.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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No End In Sight

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The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the National Football League in 1995 as an expansion franchise. At first life was for the Jaguars was good as from 1996-1999, they made four consecutive playoff appearances including two trips to the AFC Championship Game. However since 2000, things haven’t been as easy for the Jaguars as they only made two playoff appearances with the last one coming in 2007. Gus Bradley is in his fourth season as the Jaguars head coach and things have not gotten better for the team on his watch. Under Bradley, the Jags have lost at least 11 games in each season, and after their 2-5 start here in 2016, they appear to be headed down that path once again. This past Thursday night Jacksonville suffered a 36-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The final score didn’t captivate how the Jaguars were dominated which led some people to question whether or not that it was time to move on from Bradley. However Jaguars owner Shad Khan is sticking by Bradley, but I doubt that this will be the case that much longer.

Gus Bradley

Under Bradley, the Jaguars have one of the youngest teams in the National Football League, but they have been unable to establish themselves.

In 2013, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel became the first player selected by Bradley as Jaguars head coach. Joeckel was taken second overall in the National Football League Draft by Jacksonville and he was expected anchor their offensive line. But the injury bug has bitten Joeckel as he has only made all 16 starts in a season once while he is heading down the road of being a draft bust. The following year saw the Jags select quarterback Blake Bortles in the first round. Bortles became a starter in his rookie season, and although that he set a single-season record with 4,468 passing yards last season for the franchise, he has yet to take that next step as a quarterback. Last year Bortles led the NFL in interceptions with 18, and in nearly three seasons he has been sacked 123 times. In 2015, the Jags used the third overall pick of the draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But on Fowler’s first day of practice with Jacksonville, he suffered a torn ACL which forced him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season. Fowler has returned to action this season as he has 13 tackles and 2 sacks. And like Fowler, the jury is still out on the Jaguars first-round pick from 2016 in defensive back Jalen Ramsey who has 24 tackles while he has yet to tally an interception.

Blake Bortles

When Bortles threw for 4,468 yards last season, wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson each tallied more than 1,000 yards receiving which led to higher expectations for the Jags heading into the 2016 National Football League season. But the young team hasn’t been able to answer the bell. And as the AFC South is arguably the worst division in the NFL this year, some signs of life could potentially develop some optimism for them in regards to making the postseason; however that hasn’t been the case.

Shad Khan

Of Jacksonville’s five losses this year, three have come at home. And after Khan has done his due diligence to revive the team’s fan base in North Florida which includes more amenities at EverBank Field, a fancy pool and a huge video board aren’t going to cover up the fact that the Jaguars are struggling to win football games.

Under Bradley, the Jags have yet to figure out how to consistently win in the National Football League and that is what indeed separates that haves from the have nots. But whereas Khan may not be open to making a coaching change right now, I don’t see any way that Bradley will still be the Jaguars head coach in 2017 without some drastic improvement on the field in their final nine games this year.

The Jaguars have never hired a head coach that was previously a head coach in the National Football League and I expect that trend to continue should they decide part with Bradley. And if that is the case, it could mark the end of Bortles’ time with the Jags as well.

After this year Bortles has one year left on his rookie deal, and a new head coach will more than likely want “his guy” at quarterback. The Jaguars have to make a decision on Bortles during the off-season as to whether or not they want to give him an extension, and if he keeps on the path that he is currently going, I doubt that this will happen. This past Saturday, the Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson who has now become the scapegoat for the team’s issues, while also putting Bortles on notice as following their loss to Tennessee, they were 21st in the National Football League in total offense.

In the AFC South, the Titans, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts all find themselves floating around .500, and it is only Jacksonville that has been unable to show signs of life and get into the divisional race. The Jags still have four divisional games remaining this year, while they have seven contests against teams that currently have winning records. For a very long time the Jaguars have been two years away from being two years away, and as another coaching change does appear to be in the cards for them, there is no end in sight as far as the losing goes in Northern Florida.

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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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Time To Take The Next Step

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With organized team activities underway around the National Football League, there are several teams that will be under the microscope. One of those teams will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. 2007 was the last time that the Jaguars finished with a winning record, and it was also the last time that they made the postseason. Since then it has been a steady decline for the Jaguars with them posting a record of 14-50 over the last four years. The struggles of Jacksonville has seen them pick very early on in the NFL Draft. But what has hurt the Jags more than anything have been their misses with those selections such as wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Blaine Gabbert as neither player is still with the team. In spite of going 12-36 in three years as the head coach of the Jaguars, Gus Bradley has been given a fourth year by team owner Shahid Khan to get things turned around. And as the AFC South could be the worst division in football for the second consecutive year, the time is now for the Jaguars to take that next step and contend for a postseason spot.

Gus Bradley

One reason why Bradley was able to get another year to turn things around is that he is building a team in the mode of his former employer. Prior to becoming the Jaguars head coach, Bradley was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. And in recent years the Seahawks have developed the blueprint as far as having depth on a roster which Bradley is now attempting to do in Jacksonville.

 

After being the third overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, quarterback Blake Bortles has begun to provide some stability for a team that needs it. Prior to drafting Bortles, the Jags had seven different starting quarterbacks in the previous six years. In two years in Jacksonville, Bortles has made 29 starts, while he set a single-season franchise record for passing yards last season with 4,428 yards. Bradley and the Jags took some heat for taking Bortles that early in the draft, but he is continuing to develop and they are hopeful that he is their franchise guy. And as the the Jaguars want Bortles to be “the guy”, they are putting the play makers around him.

In 2013, Bradley made offensive tackle Luke Joeckel the first player that he selected as Jaguars head coach. And after only appearing in five games as a rookie, Joeckel has made 30 starts for the Jags over the last two years as the team sees him as the anchor of their offensive line for some time.

Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns

Aside from the offensive line, the Jags are also giving Bortles quality wide receivers to get the football to. Last year saw wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson become the first Jaguars duo to each gain 1,000 yards receiving in the same season since 2001 as the duo combined for 2,431 yards. This off-season saw the Jaguars give Hurns an extension that will be worth $40 million over the next four years and he is developing into a go-to-guy for Bortles.

The last two years has seen the Jags spend early picks in the National Football League Draft on potential impact players on defense; however they have yet to get any bang for their buck. Last year the Jaguars used the third overall pick of the draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But in Fowler’s first practice with the Jags, he suffered a torn ACL which forced him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season. Fowler has been rehabbing and he is back on the field as Jacksonville is hopeful that he can be an impact player for them in their front seven. This past April, the Jaguars used the fifth overall pick on cornerback Jalen Ramsey. And unfortunately for the Jags, Ramsey has been sidelined so far after undergoing knee surgery. The Jaguars second-round selection was used on linebacker Myles Jack who himself missed the majority of his final collegiate season at UCLA after undergoing knee surgery. But like Fowler and Ramsey, the Jaguars are optimistic that Jack will be healthy and ready to go when the season starts.

However the biggest issue that Bradley faces is getting his young Jaguars to take the field each Sunday expecting to win. 2013 saw Jacksonville lose their first eight games, while they began 2014 with a record of 1-10. Through 13 games last year the Jaguars had a record of 5-8 as they were still alive in the AFC South. But unfortunately for Jacksonville, they would lose their final three games of the season.

So now the biggest hurdle that the Jaguars face is winning in the National Football League as they have proven that they can compete, but they need to that next step which includes extending drives on offense, getting turnovers on defense to give the football to the offense which needs to take advantage by putting points on the board, and learning how to play with a lead. Too often over the past few years we’ve seen the Jaguars fall behind early by multiple scores which can completely change the game plan of a head coach and an offensive coordinator. But there is no time like the present and it is time for the young Jags to take off the training wheels which starts with Bortles who must continue to improve his pocket presence as he has been sacked 106 times in two seasons.

Shahid Khan

Since becoming the Jaguars owner in 2011, Shahid Khan has dedicated himself to the Jags and the City of Jacksonville. And a part of that dedication has been patience with his football team. Khan knew that fixing the Jaguars wouldn’t be an easy process which is why he has stayed with Bradley as the team’s head coach. Typically when a National Football League franchise is constantly making changes at the head coach position, their win-loss column isn’t that impressive. The Jaguars are young, and just like a collegiate head football coach that needs time to develop his recruits, the same can be said in the NFL.

Although that the start of the 2016 National Football is still nearly three months away, there isn’t a clear cut favorite to win the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts need to make sure that their starting quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy, while the Houston Texans still have questions at quarterback even after signing Brock Osweiler this off-season. And as the Jaguars have recently been one of the worst teams in the National Football League, they’ve had competion from within their division in the form of the Tennessee Titans who are also bottom feeders that are looking to turn things around.

The groundwork is in place for the Jaguars; now it is just a matter of them seizing the opportunity that is in front of them.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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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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