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2023 Best-Case/Worst-Case: AFC South


After a strong rookie season, Dameon Pierce will be looking to step up his game next to #2 pick C.J. Stroud.

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Houston Texans


Arrivals

  • HC DeMeco Ryans

  • WR Robert Woods

  • S Jimmie Ward

  • DT Sheldon Rankins

  • TE Dalton Schultz

Departures

  • DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

  • CB Tremon Smith

Notable

  • Texans trade #12 and #33 picks and a first- and third-round pick in 2024 to the Arizona Cardinals for the #3 and #105 picks (used to select DE Will Anderson Jr. and DE Dylan Horton)

  • Texans trade #179 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in return for Mason and #230 pick

Impact Draft Picks

  • QB C.J. Stroud – Rd. 1 (#2)

  • DE Will Anderson Jr. – Rd. 1 (#3)

  • WR Tank Dell – Rd. 3 (#69)


Best-Case: 9 - 8, 2nd in the AFC South


The NFL is a worst-to-first league, so why couldn't the Houston Texans shock the world and win the AFC South? Okay, that might be a tad optimistic, but in a division that lacks a true, heavyweight contender, don't be shocked if a team like the Texans makes a surprise run at a wildcard spot.


Former team legend DeMeco Ryans was brought in to be the new head coach and breathe some life into a stagnating roster. Already armed with the #2 pick, the Texans took a risk and traded up to acquire the #3 pick as well, using this top-notch draft capital to select quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr., giving them two new faces for each side of the ball. No team needed a total makeover more than the Texans – and they got it.


Most importantly though, this is not a fearsome division. The Jacksonville Jaguars might be the prohibitive favorites, but that's more due to the other three teams being uninspiring than the Jaguars being some juggernaut. If Stroud can lift the offense out of the gutter and Ryans and Anderson can team up to create an above-average defense, the Texans could be in position to steal a few games. A playoff appearance is probably too much to ask this year, but the Texans look primed to be a problem down the road.



Worst-Case: 3 - 14, 4th in the AFC South


If you take away the rose-tinted glasses, there's just not a lot to get excited about with this Texans team. The talent level on this roster is… lacking.


Stroud could turn into an excellent QB down the road, but his top three targets this year are Nico Collins, Robert Woods and Noah Brown. They combined for 1,563 yards and seven touchdowns last year. That's a nice season if you're Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase – but the top three targets on a team? That's a little problematic, especially with a rookie QB.


The defense lacks proven playmakers. The offensive line lacks proven protectors. The coaching staff is unproven. Everywhere you look, there's a question mark. The Texans might be on track toward competitiveness, but that doesn't mean 2023 will be a season to remember.

How long will Jonthan Taylor's holdout last, and could it sink the Colts' season?

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Indianapolis Colts


Arrivals

  • HC Shane Steichen

  • DE Samson Ebukam

  • WR Isaiah McKenzie

  • K Matt Gay

Departures

  • HC Frank Reich

  • DE Yannick Ngakoue

  • LB Bobby Okereke

  • CB Stephon Gilmore

  • WR Parris Campbell

Notable

  • Traded Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys in return for #176 pick (Colts selected RB Evan Hull)

  • RB Jonathan Taylor is currently holding out in the hopes of securing a new, long-term contract

Impact Draft Picks

  • QB Anthony Richardson – Rd. 1 (#4)

  • WR Josh Downs – Rd. 3 (#79)


Best-Case: 10 - 7, 1st in AFC South


People are sleeping on the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, last season was the proverbial season from hell – and you can make a compelling argument that the vibes in Indy are already off this year with Jonathan Taylor away from the team – but hear me out: the Colts could win the AFC South.


New head coach Shane Steichen takes over a roster that, at this point last year, some thought was a sleeper pick to reach the AFC Championship Game. This group has certainly lost some luster after a miserable 2022 season, but there's still a lot of talent to go around. Taylor (supposing his contract situation gets resolved) remains one of the premier running backs in the game, and linebacker Shaq Leonard and defensive tackle DeForrest Buckner are tone-setters on defense. The offensive line that was supposed to be the strength of this team last year regressed significantly, but if they can elevate their play to 2021-levels, the Colts will be much more dangerous through the air and the ground.


Most importantly, though, will be the play of the Colts new quarterback Anthony Richardson. Richardson has video-game-like attributes, with his 6'4'', 232 lbs. frame, his 4.43 40-yard-dash speed, and his freakish arm strength. Being paired with Steichen was possibly the best outcome for Richardson coming out of the draft, as Steichen just helped Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts nearly win the MVP by utilizing Hurts' unique rushing and passing ability. If Steichen can get the most out of Richardson in year one, and the rest of the Colts' underachieving roster can elevate their performance, the Colts could be one of the biggest surprises of the season.



Worst-Case: 4 - 13, 4th in AFC South


This Jonathan Taylor situation just won't go away – and it might have lasting ramifications for a Colts team that needs all the help it can get for its raw rookie QB. After trading barbs throughout the offseason, it appears that the Colts and Taylor are just too far apart in their contract talks. Taylor remains inactive and will be for the foreseeable future.


While the running back position has taken quite a beating this offseason for its declining value across the league, Taylor is one of the exceptions. He's productive, explosive, and – by all accounts – one of the real leaders on the Colts. Losing him doesn't just damage how the Colts can attack defenses, it's also taking a toll on their team comradery and morale.


The Colts are also counting on several position groups returning to their previous level of play – their expensive offensive line, in particular. Last year, the collapse of a previously heralded Colts O-line was one of the biggest stories of the season. If the Colts cannot regain that previous form, Richardson will struggle to make positive plays without a star running back or proven, reliable receivers. With so many moving parts and unknowns, it just takes one kink in the gears to cause the whole machine to falter. Unfortunately for the Colts, they might be in that precarious of a position – and could end up with another top five pick as a result.


Believe it or not, Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are prohibitive favorites in the AFC South.

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Jacksonville Jaguars


Arrivals

  • K Brandon McManus

  • RB D’Ernest Johnson

Departures

  • RT Jawaan Taylor

  • OLB Arden Key

  • TE Chris Manhertz

  • WR Marvin Jones

Notable

  • LT Cam Robinson is suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy

  • WR Calvin Ridley reinstated after being suspended for all of the 2022 season

Impact Draft Picks

  • RT Anton Harrison – Rd. 1 (#27)

  • RB Tank Bigsby – Rd. 3 (#88)


Best-Case: 13 - 4, 1st in the AFC South


It feels a little crazy to say this, but it's true: the Jacksonville Jaguars are runaway favorites to win the AFC South.


With a young, star quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, a former Super-Bowl-winning head coach in Doug Pederson, and an improving roster, the formula is there for the Jags to repeat as division winners for just the second time in franchise history. Calvin Ridley returns from a year-long suspension and will take over as Lawrence's top target. Ridley, dynamic slot receiver Christian Kirk, and 1,100-yard rusher Travis Etienne make for one of the league's more underrated "Big 3" skill-position players, while Pederson's creative play-calling tends to keep the Jags offense in manageable situations.


The offense is complimented by a fast and youthful defense. With an athletic specimen like last year's #2 pick Travon Walker rushing the passer alongside fellow edge defender Josh Allen, and ball hawking second-year linebacker Devin Lloyd patrolling the middle of the field next to run-stopping aficionado Foyesade Oluokun, the Jaguars' front seven is equipped to make life difficult for opposing offenses. Throw in a secondary filled with opportunistic playmakers, and the Jaguars have the pieces on offense and defense to not only run away with the AFC South but make a run at the AFC's #1 seed.



Worst-Case: 7 - 10, 3rd in the AFC South


For all of the positivity coming out of Duvall County for once, it's hard to ignore that the Jaguars had a lot more talent leaving Jacksonville this offseason than came into town. Yes, Calvin Ridley will finally make his Jags debut, but the loss of Jawaan Taylor is a significant blow to an offensive line that already had issues. Rookie Anton Harrison was drafted in the first round as a replacement, but rookie tackles usually have their struggles. Left tackle Cam Robinson was also suspended for the first four games of the season, further compromising a unit that will be key to the Jaguars' offensive success.


And speaking of "key" players, pass rusher Arden Key also left in free agency, leaving the Jags without their #3 sack-producer from 2022. The natural inclination will be that Walker in his second year will be poised to take the next step, but what if he's still not ready? He was already considered a very raw prospect coming out of Georgia, and now that he's being asked to take on a larger role, it shouldn't surprise anyone if he isn't beating NFL tackles with regularity.


The Jaguars are too competent at head coach and QB to completely fall off a cliff, but this franchise has not been a model of consistency. Ridley had one great year with the Falcons before missing most of the next two years. He's now being asked to step in right where he left off – a very dubious proposition. Penciling the Jaguars in as back-to-back division champs is also a dubious proposition. The Jags appear to be moving in the right direction, but in the worst-case scenario, they could easily slip below .500 in 2023.

Jefferey Simmons and the Titans are fired up to return to their winning ways.

Photo Credit: Tennessee Titans, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Tennessee Titans


Arrivals

  • LT Andre Dillard

  • WR DeAndre Hopkins

  • OLB Arden Key

  • RG Daniel Brunskill

  • ILB Azeez Al-Shaair

Departures

  • OT Taylor Lewan

  • OG Nate Davis

  • DE DeMarcus Walker

  • WR Robert Woods

  • ILB David Long

  • OLB Bud Dupree

Notable

  • DT Jeffrey Simmons signs four-year extension

  • Ran Carthon named general manager

Impact Draft Picks

  • LG Peter Skoronski – Rd. 1 (#11)

  • QB Will Levis – Rd. 2 (#33)


Best-Case: 11 - 6, 1st in the AFC South


The bones of a competitive team are here. The Tennesse Titans feature an elite coach in Mike Vrabel, an elite running back in Derrick Henry, and a potentially elite pass rush. That could be more than enough for the Titans to reclaim the AFC South crown from the Jaguars.


Of course, quarterback Ryan Tannehill turned in an injury-plagued and ineffective 2022 season, and much of the Titans' success in 2023 will hinge on the 35-year-old turning back the clock. The addition of multi-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins could be huge for the passing game, especially if second-year receiver Treylon Burks improves from his rookie season. Second-year tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo is a player to watch, as the former Maryland Terrapin finished second on the team in receiving yards – after only making eight starts!


If Tannehill can return to his 2021 form, the Titans could easily be the class of the South. A leaky offensive line could create issues from time to time, but Vrabel and his staff are competent enough to keep it from sabotaging their season, particularly if #11 pick Peter Skoronski performs well at left guard. With a ferocious defense that returns 2021 team sack leader Harold Landry III from injury and an offense designed to grind opponents into powder, the Titans are just a few good bounces from having a nice bounce-back season.



Worst-Case: 3 - 14, 4th in the AFC South


This could be a “wheels-come-off” kind of year for the Titans. Tannehill looked more than a little washed up in 2022, and 2023 could be even worse, especially if an offensive line that's deteriorated over the last few years hasn't been adequately addressed. Even in his best yeas, Tannehill was never sniffing that upper echelon of NFL QBs. Now, heading into year number eleven, even the Titans are starting to kick the tires on new options.


Will Levis was selected in the second round to be the heir apparent, but if he sees the field in 2023 (which might be likely) then something has gone terribly wrong. Levis was decidedly average in his final season at Kentucky and expecting him to be an improvement over Tannehill is foolish. The signing of Hopkins did generate a lot of hype, but his play hasn't matched his reputation since 2020. Henry has also taken a ton of punishment as he heads into his eighth season, and the options behind him aren't special either. This entire offense feels old and ready to fall apart.


The defense has usually been the savior of the Titans in the past, but attrition has caught up with this once-vaunted unit. The loss of DeMarcus Walker saps the pass rush, and while Landry's return is a boost, it's yet to be seen how effective he will be coming off an ACL tear. David Long's departure leaves a gaping hole at linebacker, and the cornerback room is filled with question marks. With issues all over the roster – and at the most important position – the Titans could be a sleeper to end up with the #1 pick in next year's draft.

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