The Gridiron Grind: AFC South

By Ron Johnson

A few days ago, we stated that we were going to handle what many believe are the two worst and non-competitive divisions in the NFL. After last season, can you really blame them for saying this? We took our look at the NFC South which could become more competitive then, so now we dive into the AFC South, which can fall either way depending on who you are rooting for.

Houston Texans

After several years of controversy, the Houston Texans were trying to move on from the debacle known as Deshaun Watson (at least in their eyes). We can forget the stupidity of the front office, the ignorance of their owner and the 15 seconds of fame from the many “victims” of the scandal. The biggest scandal came from the fact that they tied the hands of the last set of head coaches, including last year’s model Lovie Smith, and ended the year not only with a 3-13-1 record but also losing out on the first overall draft pick. 

There may have been some redemption for the Texans as they drafted CJ Stroud followed by Edge Rusher Will Anderson, Jr. So in theory, the Texans are going in the right direction, but will these picks, these changes and even management be able to return Houston to relevancy under first year head coach DeMeco Ryans?

We find out right out of the gate as the Texans head to Baltimore to take on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens before returning home briefly to battle Anthony Richardson and the Colts. Their home and away schedule continues as they go to Jacksonville to face division foe and division champ Jacksonville before returning home to face the Steelers and going to Georgia to take on Atlanta, then returning home to face the Saints, then on the road for the Panthers…told you it was a home and away kind of schedule.

To prove this, they return home to face the Buccaneers before hitting the road to face the Bengals, then FINALLY have a trifecta of home games as they welcome the Cardinals, Jags and Broncos before hitting the road once more to face the Jets and Titans. Then one smoggy Christmas Eve, they welcome Deshaun Watson back to Houston as the Cleveland Browns spend their holiday in Texas. On New Year’s Eve, they watch the ball drop with Derrick Henry and the Titans before rounding out the season with a trip to Indy to lock up with the Colts. 

2023 Season Outlook: 5-12 (Misses Playoffs)

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were the most dysfunctional team in the NFL last season. But it was not because of their players. These guys had an opportunity at an experience coach to replace Frank Reich, but instead they chose…Hall of Fame Center Jeff Saturday. While it may have been a feel good story, the team suffered another deletion as they ended the season with a 4-12-1 record, including a monumental collapse against the Vikings. Matt Ryan is still under center for them, but do not be surprised if you see Anthony Richardson make his appearance several times this upcoming season.

In a divisional showdown, they open the 2023-24 campaign at home against the division champion Jaguars, followed by trips to Houston for the Texans and Baltimore to face the Ravens. Their next home game welcomes the Rams and the Titans before a brief trip to Florida to face the Jaguars before returning home to face the Browns and Saints. The road trip resumes as the Colts go to Charlotte to face the Panthers, Boston for the Patriots, then back home to face the Bucs for Thanksgiving.

After stuffing their faces, they hit the road once more to face the Titans, then to Cincinnati to battle the Bengals in an pro-style SEC Showdown between Richardson and Burrow, then back home to face the Steelers and on the road one more time against the Falcons. Their season concludes at home as they welcome in Jimmy G and his Garoppolo Grinders aka Vegas Raiders and finish off with hosting the Texans.

2023 Season Outlook: 7-10 (Misses Playoffs)

Tennessee Titans

Someone is going to have to tell me how can you have quite arguably the GOAT of running backs (aka the ground game posterizer) and still not have a Super Bowl by now? The Titans have to wonder how far will loyalty last with Derrick Henry. The only true bright spot for them last season was Henry, and because of Ryan Tannehill’s inconsistent play, the Titans finished 7-10, while missing the playoffs for the first time in four years. 

They are hoping for consistency at the quarterback position which is why Will Levis was selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to back up Tannehill and last year’s pick Malik Willis. Now Mike Vrabel has to figure out how to get this team working on all cylinders and hope that a sequel to last year’s season collapse is not in their future. 

In order for that to become reality, they will start their season with a little home and away combo of their own. They open their season visiting The Big Easy against Derek Carr and the Saints before a brief staycation hosting Justin Herbert and the Chargers. They then do a little home and home with the Ohio teams as they visit Deshaun Watson and the Browns before hosting Burrow & Chase and the Bengals.

After quick divisional trip to Indy, they have a pair of home games, first against Lamar and the Ravens then against Desmond Ridder and the Falcons. Following a trifecta of road games (Steelers, Bucs and Jags), they return home for Thanksgiving to host Bryce and the Panthers then Richardson and the Colts to open December.

After taking their talents to South Beach for a matchup with the Dolphins, they return home for a pair of home games (Texans, Seahawks) before finishing off their regular season at Houston and at home against the Jaguars in what could be for the lowly division crown.

We should see a lot more Derrick Henry out of the Titans this season because it is clear to say that Henry will be looking for a Super Bowl championship before he retires. So if the Titans cannot deliver, expect this to be one of the last seasons that Henry is in a Titans uniform.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8 (On the Bubble)

Jacksonville Jaguars

One of the main things that Jacksonville did before the start of last season is bring in a coach with the stones to fight to the bitter end. While there were several moments that the Chef Anonymous Bags were about to come out in AEW Country, the Jaguars chose to Be The Elite, superkick their way into the playoffs and eliminate the Chargers with a One Winged Angel of their own.

Pretty sure that should be enough Tony Khan (son of Shad Khan) references for this piece…for now. The Jaguars finished the season 9-8 and won their division with a season finale victory over the Titans. This momentum came to a stop after a little Anarchy in the Arena in Arrowhead with a 27-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

This year, Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence return for an encore performance as they open their defense on the road against the Colts (Lawrence vs. Richardson) before having a AFC Divisional Playoff Rematch, this time in front of their home crowd, with those Chiefs followed by a divisional matchup with Houston (Lawrence vs. Stroud) and one more home game against Atlanta before hitting the road to face Josh Allen and the Bills.

After a brief stop at home for a matchup with the Colts, they head to The Big Easy to face Derek Carr and the Saints, then Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers. They return home for a pair of games (49ers and Titans) before visiting the Texans for Thanksgiving, welcoming the Bengals to start their last minute Christmas Shopping and practice Christmas Carols with Deshaun and the Browns. 

After entertaining the Ravens at the annual AFC Christmas party, the Jags take a bus trip to the “House that Brady Built” as they spend exchange gifts with the Buccaneers in Tampa. The Jags renew an old expansion rivalry as Trevor Lawrence and Bryce Young meet up outside of a College Football Playoff format when the Jaguars collide with the Panthers and finally finish off with a showdown, possibly for the division crown again, against the Titans in Nashville.

2023 Season Outlook: 10-7

The Jaguars surpassed the odds last season and came together as a team at the perfect time. Their comeback in the Wild Card Round against the Chargers was indeed the stuff of legends as Doug Pederson continued to add to his legendary status as well as to the aura of Trevor Lawrence. As stated earlier, this is a make or break season for the Titans. If Tannehill is going to take opportunities off the table for Tennessee, expect Derrick Henry to force Vrabel’s hand after the season.

I got a good feeling about the Colts and the Texans, but it will take time for them both to be true contenders for the AFC South. But it all starts with the coaching. The revolving door in Houston is aggravating the fans to the point where you might see more Houston Roughnecks jerseys than Houston Texans ones. As for the Colts, they need to DELETE that memory of the Twin Cities Choking out of their minds, and if that means giving Matt Ryan his walking papers, so be it.

But I’d wait on those papers until they know at least that Richardson is ready for the big time. This division will still be a two-team race between the Jaguars and Titans, and I still see the Jags building on last season’s success. With a good variety of quarterbacks they will battle this season, I expect Jacksonville to compete for the division and finally have a legit shot at joining their expansion adversaries the Panthers as teams who have at least been to a Super Bowl. 

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