2021 NFL: AFC South Division Preview

by Sean Murphy

Monday, Aug 30, 2021
We continue our series of NFL division previews with the AFC South. All four teams have questions entering the 2021 season. Here's a quick look at what to expect.

Odds to win (courtesy of BetOnline)

Tennessee Titans -120
Indianapolis Colts +160
Jacksonville Jaguars +600
Houston Texans +2800

Tennessee Titans

The Titans draw a bit of a tough hand, playing 12 consecutive weeks before reaching their bye in Week 13. Tennessee of course remains absolutely loaded on offense with QB Ryan Tannehill continuing his ascension and another big-time weapon to work with in WR Julio Jones. The future Hall-of-Famer is likely to play second fiddle to A.J. Brown and that should suit Jones just fine after he became used to blanket-coverage in Atlanta. Derrick Henry is in line for some regression off a 2,000 yard season but remains well-positioned to run wild behind an elite offensive line. I mentioned that every team in the division has questions to answer, and for the Titans it relates to their defense. They were involved in more shootouts than they would like a year ago but fortunately for them, they have the division's best offense by a longshot.

Indianapolis Colts

There's lots of potential in Indianapolis but the summer hasn't exactly gone as planned with Carson Wentz dealing with an injury, and now Covid protocols. Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger spent the month of August battling for the backup (and perhaps opening day) starting job. With Ehlinger going down to injury we're likely to see either Wentz (provided he can get out of Covid protocol) or Eason under center. Regardless, the focal point of the offense should be the ground attack led by sophomore starter Jonathan Taylor. With T.Y. Hilton going down to injury, the wide receiving corps is a big question mark. Can Michael Pittman Jr. rise to the occasion and enjoy a breakout campaign? Defensively, the Colts are set. They have the personnel in place to once again boast one of the league's most stout defenses. Indy won't hit the road until Week 3, when it faces Tennessee in a key division clash.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags finally have their quarterback in first overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence and the starting job is all his with Gardner Minshew being dealt to the Eagles in late August. While Lawrence didn't always impress in preseason action, he seemed to get better with each passing game and should have a wealth of weapons to work with in the Jags offense. That won't include rookie RB Travis Etienne as he suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. James Robinson proved his is more than capable of shouldering the load last season, however. The aerial attack is well-positioned for success with the likes of D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. building a rapport with Lawrence. Unfortunately the Jags defense is still a year or two away from holding up its end of the bargain, or that's the hope anyway. Outside of the Titans, it's hard to say whether the Jags other AFC South rivals can take full advantage of their defensive flaws.

Houston Texans

There's little reason for optimism in Houston. QB DeShaun Watson remains a big question mark as he waits for a trade while he deals with legal issues. Journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor is likely their best option under center. Oft-injured WR Will Fuller has moved on to Miami. RB David Johnson is a shell of his former self. The offensive cupboard is alarmingly bare. Meanwhile, the face of the defense for so many years, J.J. Watt, bolted for greener pastures in Arizona. This is a team that is desperately lacking an identity and most project it finishing dead last not only in the AFC South, but in the entire league. The Texans will alternate home and away games for the first six weeks of the season, beginning with a contest against the Jaguars in Week 1. Their lone primetime game comes in Week 3 at home against Carolina. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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