You throw the rule book out of the window when the New York Jets face the New England Patriots.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
First-Round Pick: Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson
Best Pick: Deshaun Watson
Each of the last two years has seen the Houston Texans with the AFC South, and their productivity at the 2017 National Football League Draft could make them the team to beat in this division for years to come. In a bold move the Texans moved up 13 spots in the first round in order to select Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Texans made a trade with the Cleveland Browns in order to move up to select Watson and it could be well worth it. Watson’s record as a starter in college was 32-3 which included leading Clemson to the national championship last year. And that ability to win games caught the eye of the Texans who may have found their franchise quarterback.
In the second round the Texans got a steal when they drafted Vanderbilt Commodores outside linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham had the potential to be a mid first-round selection, but surprisingly he fell to the second round and he is going into a great situation. At Vanderbilt, Cunningham tackled everything that moved as he led the team in tackles last year with 125. Now Cunningham will join an already strong linebacking core where he can learn from the likes of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and inside linebacker Brian Cushing.
Last year the Texans were eighth in the National Football League in rushing and that trend should continue after drafting Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman in the third round. Foreman was a workhorse for the Longhorns as he carried the football 323 times last year for 2,208 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns to earn the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. The Texans already had plenty of talent in their backfield which features Lamar Miller, but now the addition of Foreman will allow head coach Bill O’Brien to keep fresh tailbacks throughout the season.
The Texans would then beef up in the trenches as they pegged Bucknell Bison offensive tackle Julien Davenport and Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins in the fourth round, while nabbing Baylor Bears center Kyle Fuller in the seventh.
Of the coaches who have worked under New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, O’Brien probably possesses the best pedigree of knowing how to put a quality team together as this draft illustrated that.
First-Round Pick: Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan, Adoree’ Jackson-Cornerback-USC
Best Pick: Adoree’ Jackson
The Tennessee Titans had a solid showing at the 2017 National Football League Draft, but things could have been much better for them. Last year the Titans traded the first overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams with part of their compensation seeing them receive an additional first round pick this year. The Titans entered this year’s draft with the fifth as well 18th overall selections, and instead of hitting home runs, they reached with their choices.
First, the Titans would select Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis who was a lock to go in the first round, but if Tennessee was that focused on him, they could’ve traded down a little bit and still gotten him. Davis does fill a hole for the Titans who need a presence at the wide receiver position to off-set their power running game, but the pressure will be on him to live up to the expectations as far as where he was drafted.
Later on in the first round the Titans would peg USC Trojans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. And like Davis, Jackson can come in and have an impact for the Titans; it’s just that it was a reach to select him where they did. Jackson’s initial impact with the Titans could come on special teams where they need a play maker, and don’t be surprised to see Titans head coach Mike Mularkey implement some plays for him on offense.
After the first round the Titans would add seven more players in the draft. But with none of those players showing the ability to stand out, Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to load up on impact players in the draft.
First-Round Pick: Malik Hooker-Safety-Ohio State
Best Pick: Malik Hooker
After quarterback Andrew Luck helped the Indianapolis Colts reach the AFC Championship Game during the 2014 National Football League season, he has taken a football beating. In each of the last two years the Colts have gone 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs. A big reason for the Colts struggles is that the team has failed to put talent around Luck which begins with their inability at the draft. The Colts have a new general manager in Chris Ballard, but his first draft with the Colts wasn’t be a memorable one.
The Colts entered the 2017 National Football League Draft with multiple needs on both sides of the football. In the first round the Colts selected Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker whom they are hopeful can solve some of their coverage issues. The second round would see the Colts select Florida Gators cornerback Quincy Wilson, but I am not sure if either he or Hooker will be able to come in an have an immediate impact in Indianapolis.
In Luck’s last 22 games he has been sacked 56 times, but the Colts only used one draft pick on an offensive lineman in the fourth round when they selected USC Trojans offensive tackle Zach Banner. The Colts were 23rd last year in rushing which saw them use another fourth-round selection on South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack, but with their issues on the offensive line who is going to block for him?
The Colts also needed to improve the wide receiver position, but in failing to do so this could be a very long season in Indianapolis for Luck and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.
First-Round Pick: Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU
Best Pick: Round Two-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama
It’s been ten years since the Jacksonville Jaguars had a winning record or made the playoffs which can be traced back to their inability to find and develop talent in the first round of the National Football League Draft. But with former Jaguars and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin now as the executive vice president of football operations in Jacksonville, there may finally be some law and order there.
The Jags have let it be known that they are committed to Blake Bortles as their franchise quarterback. And since that is the case it means that Jacksonville must put more talent around Bortles.
Coughlin attended Syracuse University as a running back which saw him in the same backfield with Hall of Fame running backs Larry Csonka and Floyd Little. Coughlin’s dedication to the run followed him throughout his head coaching career in the National Football League and he has brought that same game plan with him to the Jaguars front office.
The first round of the draft saw the Jags select LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette. At 6’1″, 235 lbs., Fournette can be like a runaway freight train with the football in his possession and he will have every opportunity to have an impact in Jacksonville. And if you want to run the football while also protecting Bortles, why not select a proven offensive tackle early which is what the Jaguars did.
With the second pick of the second round Jacksonville selected Alabama Crimson Tide offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson has the potential to be a solid player for the Jaguars and the fact that he slipped to the second round could mean that he’ll be extra motivated when he puts the pads on.
The fourth round saw the Jags select Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook who despite the baggage that he brings due to his off-the-field issues while in college, he could add to an already talented receiving unit in Jacksonville. Westbrook could be a very valuable slot receiver; especially on third down which will be important for a Jaguars team that is seeking to not get lost in the shuffle in the AFC South.
We’ve heard this before, but things appear to be finally turning around in Jacksonville.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.