2018 Division By Division Predictions: AFC Edition

Thursday, we kicked things off with the NFC edition of our two-part division by division predictions. Today, we finish things up with part 2: the AFC.

The AFC is certainly not as strong as the NFC in terms of powerhouse teams. I hinted in Thursday’s NFC edition that I believe the best team in the AFC, the New England Patriots, would be the fifth best team if in the NFC. I’ve had a night to sleep on it, and I stand by that statement. While not as top heavy as its counterpart, the AFC is still home to some very good football teams that we shouldn’t sleep on. Without further ado, let’s get into the divisions.

AFC WEST

State of the division: The AFC West was a mediocre division in 2017. The Kansas City Chiefs won the division at 10-6, and were the definition of streaky. After winning the first five games, they would lose six of the next seven, before winning their final four of the regular season. The Chiefs would be one and done in the playoffs after losing to the Tennessee Titans 22-21 in the wildcard round. They blew a 21-3 lead, allowing 19 unanswered second half points. It was their fifth straight home playoff loss.

Heading in to this season, gone is veteran signal caller Alex Smith, as second year QB Patrick Mahomes will be taking the reins. He has a great group of weapons around him, perhaps the fastest group of playmakers in the league. Their offense might resemble a track meet. RB Kareem Hunt took the league by storm last season in the season opener, running all over the New England Patriots. On the outside, Tyreek Hill will be joined by Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver the team signed away from the Rams in the offseason. These guys are flat out fast. At tight end, Travis Kelce might be close to taking the title of best tight end in the league. He’s just such a reliable pass catcher that always finds his way open, especially in clutch situations.

The Kansas City defense did not live up to typical Chiefs standards. The team finished ranked 28th overall in defense. The return of three-time First-Team All Pro Eric Berry will be a welcome sight for fans after he missed all but one game last season after tearing his Achilles tendon in week one. What fans did not want to see was the departure of CB Marcus Peters, who was well on his way to becoming a top corner in the NFL. His 21 interceptions since coming into the league in 2015 leads league, seven more than the next closest player. What makes it worse is that Kansas City was only able to get a 2018 fourth round pick and a 2019 second round pick as compensation. He was apparently traded because he was hot-headed. The Rams don’t care and thank you for your stupidity, KC.

The most complete team in the division, to me anyways, is the Los Angeles Chargers. They are my favorite to win the division. Philip Rivers probably only has a couple years left, and with a great roster around him, I expect these last couple years to be some of his best. He has one of the best wide receivers in the league in Keenan Allen, and the team used a top 10 first round selection on Mike Williams in last year’s draft. He did not get on the field much at all last year, finishing his rookie season with 11 catches for 95 yards. If he plays up to his draft position, with that size and ability, he and Allen could make one of the best wide receiver duos in the league. TE Hunter Henry is promising, but he is too boom or bust right now. He literally disappears in games and he’s too talented for that to happen. Melvin Gordon is proving to be a great dual threat back, as he rushed for 1105 yards and caught 58 balls for 476 yards with 12 total touchdowns in 2017.

Offensive tackles know they have a busy day ahead of themselves when facing the Chargers. I love the combination of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. They each had double digit sacks last year, combining for 23. The pressure they applied to quarterbacks helped an average secondary rank third in the league in passing yards allowed per game. That average secondary got a big boost in the draft this year with my favorite defensive prospect, Derwin James. He’ll be all over the field right away, allowing defensive coordinator Gus Bradley the kind of flexibility he didn’t have at his disposal before this pick.

I may be in the minority here, but I think Denver is a dark horse candidate to win this division. Whether or not that comes to fruition really depends on the play of new quarterback Case Keenum. He played great with the Vikings last year, taking them all the way to the NFC championship. He comes to an offense that isn’t short of weapons in the passing game. The Broncos doubled down at wide receiver in the second and fourth rounds of Aprils draft, adding Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton to a group that already features Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Talk about a talented group. They also spent their third round pick on RB Royce Freeman after C.J. Anderson departed for Carolina this offseason. He’ll compete with Devontae Booker for the starting job, but they should see an almost equal timeshare.

Denver was able to use all of this draft capital on offensive playmakers because they are in such good shape on the defensive side of things. They used their first round pick to take the best defensive player in the draft, pass rusher Bradley Chubb. He will pair with Von Miller to form a more formidable pass rush than the one I mentioned the Chargers having. Denver traded away CB Aqib Talib, but they still have a very good secondary. Chris Harris Jr. is a shutdown type guy that makes plays too. Don’t be surprised if this team is right in the thick of things come December.

The NFL, well it can be a crazy league. The Oakland Raiders looked like the class of the division just two short years ago. Now, I have them finishing in last place. Sure, Derek Carr is still a very good quarterback, but he wasn’t good last year and a lot of that had to do with him not being fully healthy all year. Maybe he bounces back with a full offseason to heal up properly. WR Amari Cooper will be without his mentor Michael Crabtree, who was released and is now with the Ravens. He didn’t play close to as well as he’s capable of playing in 2017. It was kind of weird to me. I didn’t expect that, and I kept telling myself that it would get better as the season went on, but it really didn’t. He’ll be joined by Aaron Rodgers ex- favorite target, Jordy Nelson. Which brings me Tony next point: did new head coach Jon Gruden come in after being hired and say “I want to get a lot older offensively”? They brought in veteran RB Doug Martin from Tampa Bay to join Marshawn Lynch in what will surely be one of the oldest and least productive rushing attacks in the league. I have no clue what to expect out of this offense, but I don’t expect much. And like I said, I didn’t see it heading in this direction two short years ago.

Their defensive unit doesn’t impress me either. I’m sorry, Khalil Mack is way too physically gifted to only have 10.5 sacks in 16 football games. I expect his floor to be 15 a year. Also, they have got to get better at the third level, and I don’t just mean at preventing completions. The Raiders had a whopping five interceptions last season. Now, I am a fan of S Karl Joseph, but that’s about it and they did next to nothing to help him this offseason, unless you consider CB Rashaan Melvin help.

Record predictions:

LA Chargers______10-6

Denver___________8-8

Kansas City_______8-8

Oakland__________5-11

Division Awards:

MVP- QB Phillip Rivers, LA Chargers: This team has a golden opportunity this year to take the division and get into the playoffs for the first time in seemingly forever. Rivers knows this, and I think he has a career year. They’ve caught a lot of bad breaks throughout the last couple years, and I think Rivers wants to play well enough that even if that continues, it won’t matter.

Offense Player of the Year- RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs: I was back and forth between him and Chargers WR Keenan Allen, but I ultimately went with the guy that will get more touches on a fast, up tempo, big play offense. He looked like the best back in football at times last season. He’s very adept in the passing game, too. A new quarterback like Mahomes will likely dump it off to him early and often this season to help him gain confidence.

Defensive Player of the Year- LB Von Miller, Denver Broncos: We’ve seen that Miller is capable of being the best pass rusher in the NFL when he has help opposite him that’s also capable of getting to the quarterback, as evidenced by his years playing alongside DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos got lucky and had Bradley Chubb fall right into their arms. Von Miller is the big winner here.

Offensive Rookie of the Year- WR Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos: He’s not exactly in a position to put up big numbers per se, but there isn’t a better candidate in the division, as most of the early round picks were defensive players. He should still catch around 30 balls for 500 yards as the number 3 receiver, and with his size he could be a nice red zone target for Keenum. I could see him grabbing somewhere around 6 touchdowns as a rookie.

Defensive Rookie of the Year- DB Derwin James, LA Chargers: I was gonna go Bradley Chubb here, but I just can’t get past all the ways Gus Bradley is gonna use James. He’ll have every opportunity to make plays in many different ways, and many different places. With his athletic prowess, he’ll make them more often than not.

Favorite Draft Pick- DE Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos: I thought he was the best overall player in the draft, and the Broncos got lucky that he was passed up by Cleveland. He should make an immediate impact. With Von Miller on the other side, he should have a real shot at around 8 sacks.

Best Newcomer- QB Case Keenum, Denver Broncos: Keenum resurrected his career in Minnesota last season and should do well in Denver, where he has plenty of receivers to target. He’ll be out to prove that last years success wasn’t a fluke, but more so the norm moving forward.

AFC NORTH

State of the division: The huge rift between the Browns and the rest of the division became considerably smaller after a great offseason in Cleveland. After four picks in the top 35 of the draft and an injection of good vets via trade, they might have even surpassed Cincy. Not everyone is as big a fan as I am of Baker Mayfield, the Heisman winning quarterback that the Browns made the first overall draft pick in April. Nonetheless, he doesn’t have to play right away thanks to the trade that netted the team QB Tyrod Taylor. He should at least start the first half of the season, barring injury. And I think that’s great for a team that had so many turnovers last season, as Taylor protects the football. They also traded for WR Jarvis Landry, the best slot guy in the league. He should compliment Josh Gordon perfectly. Antonio Callaway is a first round talent that the team was able to nab in round four due to a poor attitude and his propensity for marijuana. I don’t know how much he will contribute this year, but at least he can learn from talking with Gordon about what he could lose if he continues to use marijuana (I always imagine this conversation happening over a blunt). Cleveland revamped their rushing attack by signing bruiser RB Carlos Hyde in free agency and adding OL Austen Corbett and RB Nick Chubb with the 33rd and 35th picks in the draft, respectively. That should pay dividends. I’m a believer in both Hyde and Chubb, and they should split work this year and be a productive tandem. Duke Johnson will contribute as well, but more so as a receiver out of the backfield.

Don’t let the 0-16 record fool you; The Cleveland defense was good last year. But they didn’t force enough takeaways. I like the addition of CB Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, but the secondary is still a bit thin. Many believe that they should have used the pick on edge rusher Bradley Chubb instead and paired him with 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett, and it’s hard to argue that logic.

The Bengals are at risk of relieving the Browns of cellar dweller duty despite a solid offseason. This is more a compliment to the talent the Browns have been able to stockpile (still sounds weird to me) than it is a knock on the Bengals. They are a good team. Just not great in any one are, and they don’t have as much talent as Cleveland. I don’t think QB Andy Dalton deserves all the slack he gets, especially from Bengals fans, but I do understand. In a league with so many young star quarterbacks coming in every year, fans want a talent with big time upside at the position. You have to wonder how they would look with a quarterback like Carson Wentz or Jared Goff. AJ Green will again be the main focus offensively, and the Bengals are betting on John Ross to make an actual impact this year after being a top 10 draft pick that became a healthy scratch for much of his rookie year. The additions of C Billy Price and RB Mark Walton should add pop to a running game that features second year back Joe Mixon, who showed some flashes but played behind a line that was often overpowered.

LB Vontaze Burfict, who was posterized by Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster last season on a viciously thrown block, will miss the first four games due to suspension. (What else is new?) Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson did a decent job of getting after opposing quarterbacks, but only had a combined 16 sacks and very little help from teammates. The Bengals need more playmakers on defense, specifically in the secondary. Darquese Dennard led the team with a measly two picks. They spent three of their 12 draft picks in the draft to address the issue, taking CBs Devontae Harris and Darius Phillips, and most notably, S Jessie Bates III. When you have a suspect offense, you typically want more takeaways out of your defense to give the offense a short field and more opportunity. DT Geno Atkins is still their best player, but he couldn’t carry this run defense that ranked 30th in the league. Third round selections DE Sam Hubbard and LB Malik Jefferson should help out there and will be a welcome addition to what was a stale defense.

in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh will again go into the year with Super Bowl aspirations after earning a first round bye in last years postseason before being out-dueled by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round, losing 42-45. Their defense overachieved throughout the regular season, finishing the season ranked 5th. But their lack of run stopping ability showed up in the loss to the Jags, as Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three scores. The offense did their part, yet Ben Roethlisbergers 469 passing yards and 5 touchdowns weren’t enough thanks to this suspect defensive unit.

The Steelers free agency moves, or lack there of should I say, was par for this team. They believe in building through the draft, but the problem with that comes about when you reach for a safety in round one that, while talented, was pegged as a third to fourth round guy. When that happens with your first pick in what is your only method for advancing your roster, you fail to improve your team from last season. And that’s kind of how I feel about this Steelers team headed into the year; it’s the same one we saw last season, minus S Mike Mitchell, which is addition by subtraction if I’m being honest. Although, when last seasons team featured the foursome of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Le’Veon Bell, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

We’ve talked at great length about our Ravens offseason in many different articles by written by our talented staff here at the Purple Reign Show, so I’m not gonna get that deep into our team. I’ll just say that this offseason was attacked with one thing in mind: bringing in offensive paymakers. Because of that, and four other reasons, I see the Ravens back in the playoffs this season. If you want to learn more about the Ravens offseason, clicking here will direct you to our home page, where you’ll find everything and anything that you wanna know pertaining to the Ravens.

Record Predictions:

Pittsburgh____11-5

Baltimore_____10-6

Cincinnati_____7-9

Cleveland_____3-13

Division Awards:

MVP- QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: I can see the majority of you reading this, laughing and calling me an idiot right now, and I get it. But Joe Flacco is elite. Ok, so I’m just kidding. It will be Ben Roethlisberger. While I do think Flacco will have one of his better seasons, there’s no scenario, barring injury, where I see him being more valuable than Big Ben will be to the Steelers this year. With the weapons he has surrounding him, he’s gonna want to kill it this year as if to send a message to Steelers GM Kevin Colbert.

Offensive Player of the Year- WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers: Brown is good for 100 catches, 1500 yards and double digit TDs every year. With Smith-Schuster opposite of him and taking some of the attention away, there’s no reason to doubt he will have another huge season. He is the best receiver in the world after all.

Defensive Player of the Year- CB Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens: Its asking a lot for Smith to finish a season with 16 starts, but if he does it this year, he’ll finally prove that he’s a top 5 corner in the NFL. He was well on his way to doing that, and finally starting to get that recognition last season until injury struck, like always.

Offensive Rookie of the Year-RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns: As much as I wanted to go with Baker Mayfield here, I just don’t know how much he will play this year. So I went with his teammate instead, the big, dynamic back from Georgia. Both he and Sony Michel were so impressive and entertaining to watch in college. I think he’ll be getting the bulk of the carries by midseason, with Hyde spelling him.

Defensive Rookie of the Year- CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns: I was a fan of the pick, although I admit I would have went with Bradley Chubb. He should come in right away and be the most talented corner on the team, and see plenty balls thrown his way. Opportunity knocks.

Favorite Draft Pick- QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens: I’m a Ravens fan, so this was an easy choice. It’s hard not to be excited for the future with this kind of rare talent in place to lead an offense that has been blah. And early reports have been positive out of Baltimore thus far.

Best Newcomer- WR Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns: Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield will combine to target this guy like 150 times this year, easy. He should excel in Cleveland with a big talent like Josh Gordon to take away attention.

AFC EAST

State of the division: This is far and away the worst and most boring division in football. It’s the New England Patriots and three bums every year. Yes, Buffalo did make the playoffs last season, but they didn’t even control their own destiny headed into the playoffs in what was a thin AFC, and needed Cincinnati’s help. I think even they understand that they aren’t ready to compete, as evidenced by trading away Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland in favor of two young options that need some development. AJ McCarron was brought in to be this years starter, via trade with the Bengals They also drafted Josh Allen in round 1 of the draft. I’d imagine he will get a shot to start this year unless McCarron plays out of his mind so they can get a look at both. But make no mistake about it; they want the big armed Allen to be the guy. Shady McCoy is still one of my favorite backs in the league at age 30. How does he change direction on a dime the way he does and still keep moving without losing any momentum? It’s a rare talent that few backs can pull off. All said, this team needs to get more receiver help and many more defensive playmakers before they are truly ready to compete with the Patriots, the annual AFC champs lately.

Are the New England Patriots still the best team in the conference? Maybe, but you could make a compelling argument for a couple other teams. Point being, they don’t look very imposing headed into the season as they have in recent years past. They suffered some big losses in free agency, including LT Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Danny Amendola, and CB Malcolm Butler. Ouch. That’s a lot. If you know me, you know that I am (or I guess was now that he’s a Patriot) a huge Sony Michel fan, so that was a great addition. I think he’ll be better than Lewis was, and I mean right away He was epic in last years college playoffs. Even still, it’s basically just a slightly above average offense, just with possibly the greatest quarterback in league history throwing the ball. That goes a long way, and so does the comfort and trust that Tom Brady has built with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

They will have to play like it this season, not only because time is ticking on Brady’s career, but because of how hard this defense was to watch for the majority of last season. I don’t think they were ready for the trouncing they received at the hand of the Kansas City Chiefs in the nationally televised season opener last year. I feel it hurt their confidence and they never fully recovered. But at the same time, this is a makeshift defense as far as personnel is concerned. They were ranked 29th, but somehow managed to keep teams from scoring, ranking 5th in points allowed. Former Falcons edge rusher Adrian Clayborn should help boost pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as the team leader in sacks only had 6.5. In perhaps a slightly desparate move, they reached on CB Duke Dawson in round 2 to try and negate the loss of Butler. Many had him projected as a late third/ early fourth round talent. But with little in the way of competition, the Pats should still be able to cruise to a division title this season.

Is it just me or is Mike Tennanbaum the worse general manager in the league? I can’t be the only one who thinks so. He destroyed the Jets before heading to Miami, where he’s already off to a hot start, and by hot I mean burning the organization to the ground hot. He basically just said “let’s get rid of our good players for pennies on the dollar, and just get OLD”. That’s the only conclusion I can reach when you trade Jarvis Landry for a fourth and seventh round pick, and then sign guys that are as ancient as Frank Gore and Danny Amendola are. They may still have a little left in the tank, but what’s the point for a team that isn’t good at all? Might as well let the young guys get the snaps. Anyways, I am very happy about the return of QB Ryan Tannehill, not because I’m a fan, but because I’m a fan of not watching Jay Cutler play football.

On the defensive side of things, it’s not quite as gloomy. Tannenbaum brought in edge rusher Robert Quinn, and he should make a nice pairing with Cameron Wake. They did lose Ndamukong Suh, so there’s that. Many of you may think he was passed his prime anyways, and maybe so, but his impact doesn’t always show on the stat sheet and he’s still a guy that offensive coordinators try and game plan around. The loss will hurt, but how much remains to be seen. I did like the decision to take S Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round, and he, along with young CB Xavier Howard, form a nice young core in the secondary.

That brings us to the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! Let’s face it: While they certainly overachieved last season, they are still very much in rebuild mode. I do like the direction they are taking in doing so. They know that they have to have a franchise quarterback to reach their ultimate goal, so they traded up twice in the draft to make sure they had a shot at landing the future of the organization. That turned out to be Sam Darnold with the third overall pick. They already had some good young receivers in place in Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson, who really flashed some big play ability at times last season. They will be joined by 2017 free agent failure Terrelle Pryor. He has the talent to bounce back, but there’s more to it than talent as we all know. They brought in Thomas Rawls to join Bilal Powell in the backfield. I’m not big on this move. I don’t see much success out of this rushing attack.

I love the defense on paper. The Jets gave a great young nucleus with Darron Lee, Jamal Adams , Leonard Williams, Morris Caiborne, etc. I think these guys will make a big jump this season and he closer to the top half of the league than the 25th place ranking of last season. I think just getting more opportunistic situations to fall their way will help them get there, as they didn’t force many turnovers in 2017. Demario Davis was everywhere last season with 135 tackles and 5 sacks, but left for New Orleans.

Record Predictions:

New England____10-6

Buffalo__________7-9

NY Jets__________4-12

Miami___________3-13

Division Awards:

MVP- QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots: I tried folks. I really did try to go in a different direction here, but in this division, I found it literally impossible to find any other player who warranted this spot. Brady will run away with this one.

Offensive Player of the Year- RB LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: Ever since he came into the league, McCoy has been juking linebackers out of their cleats. He makes cuts that defy logic. And he can still do it heading into his age 30 season. But it’s also his contribution in the passing game that makes him truly great. He should have 50 percent of the Bills yards this season, and I can’t tell if I’m joking or not.

Defensive Player of the Year- S Jamal Adams, NY Jets: Adams lived up to his reputation in his rookie season last year. He is a natural born leader, and it showed on and off the field. He will not hesitate to pop you either. The kid should take the next step, and for him, the next step is dominating the league.

Offensive Rookie of the Year- RB Sony Michel, New England Patriots: What a great landing spot for Michel. With Dion Lewis now in Tennessee, Michel is easily the most talented player on New England. He should see a lot of touches this year. He’s a good fantasy football sleeper pick in say round 4-5.

Defensive Rookie of the Year- DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins: AKA the guy Nick Saban referred to as “the best player I have ever coached”. That’s one hell of a compliment. But at the same time, it’s easy to see why he feels that way. He can play any position in the secondary, and then come up and play as a coverage linebacker on a tight end. He offers so much flexibility, and wherever you line him up he’s gonna do his job.

Favorite Draft Pick- RB Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins brought in 35 year old Frank Gore this offseason. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of his. But he can’t have much left in the tank. He’ll start the season splitting work with Kenyan Drake, but I just don’t see him holding up well as the season wears on. Enter Ballage, who is a pick that’s more about potential than production. He once scored 8 TDs in one game vs. Texas Tech. At 6-2, 228 pounds and possessing 4.4 speed, he could be the future of the position in Miami.

Best Newcomer- G Josh Sitton, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins has a gaping hole at guard and filled it quite admirably with Josh Sitton, who was PFF’s fifth ranked guard in the NFL last season while with the Chicago Bears.

AFC SOUTH

State of the division: The AFC South is probably the best division in the conference. Three teams should duke it out until the bitter end for the division title. And the other team, the Indianapolis Colts, may surprise with the return of QB Andrew Luck. I won’t bank on that as a certainty, though it would be nice to see. It won’t matter much though, as this is the least talented roster in the NFL. His main targets will be TE Eric Ebron and WR TY Hilton. And to take two guards with their first three picks when they have zero talent on defense made no sense. S Malik Hooker, CB Vontaze Davis, LB John Simon and DE Jabaal Sheard are the only decent players they have defensively. They are a long ways away from competing in this division.

Jacksonville has to be the favorite after their impressive showing last season. They won the division at 10-6, and really beat up on some good teams along the way. They are following the Ravens old model of dominant defense, dominant trench play, and a dominant run game. I foresee a big season for RB Leonard Fournette. He’s just so big, but still possesses underrated speed and acceleration. He wears defenses out as the game wears on, and he’s patient enough to understand that the fourth quarter is his time to shine, knowing his defense will keep his skill set relevant towards the back end of games. They were the number one rushing attack last season, and I expect more of the same this season. Blake Bortles was re-signed, much to the chagrin of Jags fans. And again, this is the same as the Andy Dalton situation. Maybe it’s been a bit unfair, the criticism he’s gotten from fans. But you can also understand that with an elite quarterback, this team would be the best in the AFC. With a defense like they have, they still might be despite that not being the case.

The Jaguars defense was top 3 in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, sacks, first downs allowed, interceptions, takeaways, and time of possession. Every level of this defense is peppered with playmakers. Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue dominate up front, with all four posting 8 or more sacks (Campbell had a team-leading 14.5). They added DT Taven Bryan with their first pick. That’s just nasty. Telvin Smith and Myles Jack patrol the second level of the defense, and on the backend they have an outstanding pair of cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. It’s easy to see why they made a lot of good offenses bend to their will last season.

Houston is a team that’s very interesting to me this year. Health is what kept them from being good last year, and if they can get healthy over this offseason, they are an AFC South dark horse. That’s mainly thanks to their electric dual threat quarterback Deshaun Watson. In games he started last season, the team was the number one scoring offense in the league. He unfortunately tore his ACL in a non-contact injury in practice on November 2, ending his season. It’s hard to predict if he will replicate that magic in his sophomore season because ACL tears do not mix well with dual threat quarterbacks. But we will see, he had the time to heal because the injury didn’t occur late in the season. DeAndre Hopkins is so damn good. He’s my favorite wideout in the game and probably only second to Antonio Brown as far as the best receiver in the game is concerned. Will Fuller compliments him well with his home run hitting ability. Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman will form a committee at running back.

If JJ Watt can come back and be 80% the payer he was before losing the majority of the past two seasons to injury, it will make this defense good enough to allow the team to compete for a division title. He and Jadeveon Clowney haven’t been on the field together nearly as much as they would have liked to this point. Bringing in Honey Badger was a nice move, and he seems motivated to have a great season.

I think Jacksonvilles biggest threat isnt the Texans, but Tennessee. I’m not real impressed with anything they have going on offensively, but that’s not to say they can’t be middle of the pack. Marcus Mariota took a step way back last year. Derrick Henry is the one piece that I did like, and I like pairing him with free agent signing Dion Lewis. Their different styles really compliment one another, as one is more your traditional bruiser, and the other is a home run hitting scat back. I was high on WR Corey Davis leading up to the draft last year, and they selected him 5th overall (way too high). He wasn’t anything to write home about in his rookie year, but he is certainly very talented and could take a big step in year two. I also wanna give credit where credit is due, and it’s due to TE Delanie Walker. This dude is just a model of consistency at a position where we haven’t seen a lot of it.

The Titans strength lies in their defense, and it just got better this offseason in free agency and the draft. Most notably would be acquiring former Patriot Malcolm Butler. They now have 3 potential number one corners, the other two being Logan Ryan and Adoree’Jackson. Add to that All Pro S Kevin Byard and Johnathan Cyprien and they have one impressive secondary. LB Wesley Woodward was awesome last year, finishing with 124 tackles and 5 sacks. Edge rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo were adequate enough, combining for 14.5 sacks. With all of these playmakers already in place, the Titans brass decided to swing for the fences a couple times in the draft by trading up, rather than play small ball and trying to hit a bunch of singles. They came away with two elite linebacker talents, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. Looking back at the make up of this defense, I realize for the first time what an impressive group they are. This team should compete for the division.

Record Predictions:

Jacksonville____10-6

Tennessee______10-6

Houston________8-8

Indianapolis___2-14

Division Awards:

MVP- QB Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans: If he stays healthy all season, he’s gonna put up some pretty impressive fantasy numbers. I see a scenario where he plays well enough to lead the team into the playoffs, but a lot of this hinges on health. And I don’t mean whether or not he can stay healthy, but rather will his knee injury be an issue for him this year to the point that it shows in his play?

Offensive Player of the Year- RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars: As I mentioned above, I think Fournette is in for a big season. The Jags should be a mirror image of themselves from last year as far as game plans are concerned. He broke 1000 rushing yards in 13 starts and 268 carries. I’m expecting him to carry the ball around 100 more times than that this season. Yeah.

Defensive Player of the Year- FS Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans: So many talented defensive players in the South: Watt, Clowney, Ramsey, Campbell, etc. But I’m going with Byard here, who in just his first year as a starter, led the league in picks and had 16 pass breakups on top of 87 tackles. The kid does it all, and, well… he’s just a kid! He’s only gonna get better.

Offensive Rookie of the Year- WR DJ Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars: This is kind of the same situation as the AFC West, where I don’t know that he’ll actually put up big numbers as the number 3 receiver in a Jacksonville offense, but there’s not much competition for the spot either. What I do know is that 6-3 with 4.34 speed is bonkers. Doesn’t always translate, but if it does, it’s trouble.

Defensive Rookie of the Year- ILB Rashaan Evans, Tennessee Titans: Alabama breeds perfect NFL linebackers. Evans is just another example. He’s ready to come in and immediately dominate at the next level. He has sideline to sideline speed and has a good pass rush up the middle in passing situations.

Favorite Draft Pick- DT Taven Bryan, Jacksonville Jaguars: You might be wondering why a team as stacked defensively as the Jags are would go with a d-lineman with their first pick, especially with all the talent up front. The answer is two parts. One, they only ranked 21st against the run last season. A big part of that was because teams didn’t wanna throw on them, but they still weren’t able to shut it down. This pick helps change that. And two, a great defense just got a lot better and harder to attack. Good move, Jags.

Best Newcomer- RB Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans: Man I love the fit here. Lewis adds a new dimension to both the ground attack and the air attack for the Titans, which should help Mariota immensely. He’s the perfect compliment to Derrick Henry.

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