AFC South Preview: Which Quarterback Will Rise To The Occasion?

Not many had the Jaguars on their radar as a playoff team heading into the 2017 NFL campaign, but Jacksonville quickly made doubters look pretty darn foolish.

Not only did the Jags claim the AFC South title last season, they earned two impressive postseason victories, including a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. Jacksonville nearly ripped off three straight playoff wins, too, but a second-half collapse in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots nixed the Jaguars’ chance of reaching Super Bowl LII.

Jacksonville, of course, heads into the 2018 season with a ton of momentum, but its quest to repeat as division champs will be made difficult by a trio of exciting quarterbacks.

DIVISION ODDS
Houston Texans +170
Jacksonville Jaguars +185
Tennessee Titans +333
Indianapolis Colts +550

DIVISION FAVORITE
Houston Texans — Yes, it seems foolish to pick against the Jaguars, especially since the Texans posted a lowly 4-12 record last season. But the 2017 Houston team quickly turned into a mere shell of itself, as Deshaun Watson’s and J.J. Watt’s season-ending injuries completely altered the Texans’ prospects. Let’s not forget just how good Watson was up until he tore his ACL: In seven games (six starts) the versatile QB threw for 1,699 yards with 19 (!) touchdowns while also rushing for 269 yards and two scores. Houston’s defense, when healthy, can be just as frightening as the Jaguars’, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the Texans’ case that they arguably have the easiest schedule in the league. If Houston can avoid series injuries and Watson returns to being a dynamo, the Texans could make their case as one of the best teams in the AFC.

DIVISION SLEEPER
Tennessee Titans — The Titans largely have been identified as a team that is poised to make “the jump” in the 2018 campaign. Tennessee showed some guts in its AFC Wild Card road win over the Kansas City Chiefs, but it simply was outclassed by the Patriots in the divisional round. The Titans will feature some new blood in the form of first-year head coach Mike Vrabel, who’s expected to make a big impact on the team’s defense, specifically. This also will be somewhat of a “prove it” season for Marcus Mariota, who still has yet to live up to the expectations that come with being a No. 2 overall pick. A motivated Mariota and recharged defense could prompt an exciting season in Nashville.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Titans CB Malcolm Butler — Butler will be eager to embark on his next chapter after being benched in Super Bowl LII. The 28-year-old still managed to cash in on a five-year contract with the Titans, who now boast a pretty impressive defensive backfield with Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard. A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Butler.

Texans S Tyrann Mathieu — As if the Texans needed another star on defense. The Honey Badger surprised most when he took just a one-year deal, which surely will motivate the veteran safety to play at Pro Bowl form to earn his next contract. Mathieu still is only 26, so you can expect him to be flying around all over the field for Houston.

Colts LG Quenton Nelson — The Notre Dame product was the first offensive lineman taken in the 2018 NFL Draft and is considered by many was one of the best OL prospects in some time. The 22-year-old will face a tall task in going up against the division’s bevy of talented pass rushers.

Jaguars LG Andrew Norwell — The casual fan might know who Norwell is. In case you’re unaware, the 2014 undrafted free agent became one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the league back in March. We have a feeling Jags quarterback Blake Bortles will be a happy camper with Norwell protecting him.

MAJOR STORYLINE
He’s baaaack.

Andrew Luck hasn’t played an NFL game since the 2016 regular-season finale, but the Colts quarterback is expected to be healthy and ready to go for the 2018 NFL campaign. It’s tough to imagine Indy being a playoff team this season regardless of how Luck performs, but the football world still is eagerly anticipating the return of the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Will Luck return to his past self, or will the lengthy recovery process from his shoulder injury cause lingering damage? We’ll have to wait and see.

Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

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