|"If you look closely, you can see the stardust transfer"--Houston, prolly (Rod Chenoy/USA Today Sports)|
Previous Season Record: (9-7)
Key Acquisition(s): Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller
Key Loss(es): Nate Washington, Rahim Moore, Arian Foster, Brandon Brooks
They got the Super Bowl-winning QB, even if they weren’t the team that he won it with. Osweiler joins an offense that was clearly the slow link on a team with real talent. Their 30-0 drubbing in the first round of the playoffs was a perfect synopsis of the squad—talented enough to make the playoffs, with the Achilles heel of an offense tripping it up. They were a balanced team—meaning they were equally ineffective running and throwing the ball; they were 28th and 26th in yards per attempt, respectively. With Foster leaving, (and Andre Johnson long gone) it feel s like the guard has completely changed. In their stead, superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins and underrated running back Lamar Miller fill in the remaining of the new trifecta with Osweiler. Their first four draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball, including big-play threat WR Will Fuller.
The defense features one of the most dominant men in the sport, JJ Watt. Watt is struggling with a back injury and is in question to start the season, but coupling him with OLB Whitney Mercilus forms the most dangerous pass-rushing duo east of Denver. Run-stopper Vince Wilfork is as steady as he is big at the nose tackle position, and with JadeVeon Clowney finally able to get a healthy offseason under his belt, this front 7 could be truly frightening; they were ranked 5th in sacks per game, and could easily improve on their pass-rushing capabilities.
Prediction: the defense carried the team to the playoffs last season, and has only gotten better. I think the Texans will repeat as divisional winners.
Previous Season Record: (5-11)
Key Acquisition(s): Malik Jackson, Chris Ivory, Prince Amukamara,
Welcome to 2016, where the Jags might actually be good. The Jags improved on offense immensely from their 32nd ranking in points per game to 14th ranked in the category. Blake Bortles, the team’s first round pick in 2014, improved on his disappointing rookie campaign. He was a more efficient and effective passer, improving on his touchdowns, yards, and QB rating. The WR duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns has expedited Bortles’ advancement. Their running game was solid, averaging 4.2 yards per carry—good enough for 15th in the NFL. Between Ivory and TJ Yeldon, the backfield is talented and versatile.
|The Allen brothers are a driving force behind this suddenly potent offense (Reinhold matay/USA Today Sports)|
The defense didn’t undergo the same dramatic improvement that the offense did last year. The Jags offseason is attempting to rectify that. Jackson was a huge presence for the Super Bowl-winning champions. He was a stalwart nose tackle that created havoc on passing and running plays. Amukamara is a capable (albeit oft-injured) corner. The veteran presence will be appreciated as the Jags got Jalen Ramsay and Myles Jack with their first two picks to add versatility to the secondary and Linebacking units, respectively. This side of the ball is teeming with talent.
Prediction: I’m drinking the kool-aid, the Jags will compete for a wild card berth.
Previous Record Last season: (8-8)
Key Acquisition(s): Patrick Robinson, Robert Turbin
Key Loss(es): Jerrell Freeman, Coby Fleener, Dwight Lowery, Matt Hasslebeck
Last season was rough for the offense. Andrew Luck’s poor play, injury, and subsequent poorer play were crippling for a team built to outscore their opponent. They went from 6th in the NFL in points per game, to last season’s ranking of 24th. And a once high-powered aerial attack slumped to dead last in yards per attempt. Perhaps the silver lining of the season is that Luck sat back and watched Hasslebeck have success in the offense by getting the ball out quickly, something Luck could benefit from to help avoid future injury.
|If Colts' fans never see this again, it'll be too soon|
An already poor defense collapsed under the prospect of defending more plays and having less offensive support. They were equally bad against the pass and run, ranking in the bottom third of the league in yards allowed in both categories. Arguably their two best defenders (Robert Mathis and D’Qwell Jackson) are in their 30s. So it should come as no surprise that they will be looking for contributions from 2nd round pick, safety TJ Green. He adds to the team’s strongest defensive unit—the secondary. Vonate Davis and Robinson should improve the team’s pass-defending abilities, though they are still bereft of much of a pass rush.
Prediction: There’s something about the way this team is constructed that I don’t like. They can never run the ball and their talent on defense is pedestrian in lots of places. I think they’ll miss the playoffs again.
Previous Record Last Season: (3-13)
Key Acquisition(s): Rishard Matthews, Rashad Johnson, Demarco Murray
Key Loss(es): Zach Brown, Dorial Green-Beckham
Marcus Mariotta may have gotten all the headlines last season, but the story of the 2015 Tennessee Titans was written on the defensive side of the ball. They had a dramatic improvement in their ranking for points allowed per game. After being passed over for the head coaching job, defensive coordinator Ray Horton asked for his release. Dick LeBeau is a legend and was already on staff last season, so while the guy calling the plays is new, he is already familiar with the personnel. Any regression on this side of the ball and Titans fans will surely fill misled by management.
|Marcus Mariota good enough to win without much receiving help?|
The team added one Heisman trophy winner, to go along with the one they have calling plays. Derrick Henry joins Mariota in the backfield (along with Murray). It should help improve a run game that was largely lackluster. The term, “exotic smashmouth” has been the talk of Titans camp. So it sounds like the team will look to be provocative…while running the ball down their opponents’ throats. They’ll need to be adept running the ball, because with the Green-Beckham experiment officially done, there isn’t much explosive talent manning the WR corps (they were in the bottom third in passing yards and yards per attempt for a reason). As good as Mariota is, he’ll need more dynamic weapons through the air than just Delanie Walker before this team makes the next leap to contender.
Prediction: This might be the best bottom team in the league, in a division that I think will be the most talented and competitive in the League. That’s as much praise as I can bestow on a team that won’t seriously compete for a playoff spot.