After starting the season 0-3, Houston looked poised for a serious slide out of relevance, but after back to back overtime wins against playoff teams (Colts and Cowboys) in weeks four and five, the Texans pushed through a string of must-win games against mediocre competition to right the ship and finish with an 11-5 season. It was good enough to win the AFC South in a year that saw the Jaguars fall apart and the Colts start slow. Despite all that, there were a few notable problems with this unit, most strikingly Deshaun Watson’s sack total, which led the league by a wide margin. Add that to a sub-par secondary and Jadaveon Clowney’s holdout…is it time to panic in Houston? Maybe.
The Texans will trade Jadaveon Clowney. The all-pro OLB has refused to sign his franchise tender, hoping to force the team into a multi-year deal. Sure, he could play under the tag and then walk in free agency after the season, but the Texans probably see the opportunity to get something in return for a star that was more sizzle than steak in 2018. He posted his lowest sack total (9) and tackle total (47) since 2015, when he only played thirteen games. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in a different uniform at some point soon.
The Colts were straight-up weird last season, losing five of their first six contests, before going on a rampage to finish with a hot streak and a wildcard slot. They’d eventually wallop the Texans 21-7 before bowing out in the divisional round to the Chiefs. Darius Leonard was a revelation on defense that completely turned the team around and has fans excited about the prospects for 2019. Here’s the bad news for Colts fans. Andrew Luck is sitting out then next few days of camp with lingering calf issues. While it’s too early to panic, yet, I really dislike where this thing seems to be headed.
Having learned something from the Kevin Durant catastrophe, the Colts will shut Luck DOWN, and I mean DOWN, until he’s 100%. That might mean that he misses the entire preseason, or even the first few games of the season. But here’s the rub: If Luck is healthy this year, the Colts win the AFC South.
Last year was an unmitigated disaster for the Jaguars, if an entirely predictable one. After going to the AFC Championship game on the back of a nearly perfect defense and a preposterous overperformance by Blake Bortles in 2017, the Jags rolled the dice on the same formula last year. It didn’t pan out. The Jags went 5-11 despite their still-tremendous defense, which allowed the fifth-fewest points (316) and YPG in the league (311.4).
Sure, Blake Bortles coming back to earth didn’t surprise anyone, but he won’t be under center this season. That job now belongs to Nick Foles, who rescued and resuscitated the Eagles for two consecutive seasons after injuries to Carson Wentz. But here’s the thing. I don’t think that Foles will bring that magic with him to Jacksonville. I think he thrives in the backup role, and the weight of expectation as a starter will drag him back down to earth, as well. Foles has never started sixteen games in a season in his entire career, and with the exception of 2013, he’s never thrown more than thirteen touchdowns in a season. Foles will not be the electric slinger and playoff menace that Jaguars fans are expecting. In short, it will be a bust. The Jags will need a monster season from Leonard Fournette to break even this year.
Last year wasn’t bad for the Titans. It was their third-straight 9-7 season, ho-hum. But they needed to win four out of their last five to get there. Marcus Mariota had a down year, posting the lowest passing total of his career, at only 180.6 yards per game. Add in a meager eleven touchdowns to eight interceptions, and you get the picture.
It’s rebuild time. Nothing says time for upheaval like a string of mediocrity and sliding quarterback play…unless you’re the Cowboys. The Titans are in limbo, having picked up a fifth-year option on Mariota, instead of giving him the expected extension. Also, Mike Vrabel and the Titans brass brought in Ryan Tannehill from Miami, and quite honestly, he’s kinda the same guy, statistically speaking. If the team sputters early in the season, I expect that Tannehill will get a serious look.