Thursday, September 10, 2015

2015 NFL Preview: AFC South

This is my 18th season projecting NFL regular season and playoff results.  As per my tradition, I select the two teams I expect to win each division and conference after I preview all teams.  Only two times (Super Bowl 34 and Super Bowl 38) was I unable to project at least one of the teams that end up in the Super Bowl.  But on the flip side, the last eleven straight seasons has had a team that has gone from Worst to First to make the playoffs in the NFL and I only projected 4 of those.  So my formula is flawed but oh well, no one is perfect.

Quick cheat sheet to my system

*“Projections” – My resulting win/loss record after going through the full team’s schedule.

*“Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential” – The “plus” is how many more wins they could get, minus being how many fewer wins they could get.  These are based on what I label as “swing” games that could go either way.

Here is my preview of the NFC South:

Houston Texans
2015 Projected Record: 10-6
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/13 vs Chiefs; 10/4 @ Falcons; 10/8 vs Colts; 11/16 @ Bengals; 11/29 vs Saints; 12/13 vs Patriots

Synopsis: If you have read any of my other divisional previews this week, you may notice I mention the Huston Texans often, specifically their defense. Already a good defense, they added a veteran presence in Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork to a unit already led by arguably the best Defensive player in the NFL, JJ Watt. Let us not forget about the talented starting Cornerback tandem of Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph. If Linebackers Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney both stay healthy all season, the rest of the league better watch out. This team has the potential to be one of the top five defenses in 2015.

On the offensive side of the ball is the home for the greatest concern for the Texans entering 2015. They will be without Pro Bowl Running Back Arian Foster for at least the first few weeks as he recovers from surgery. The pressure will be on new starting Quarterback Brian Hoyer to lead an offense mix of young playmakers (DeAndre Hopkins and C.J. Fiedorowicz) and underrated veterans (Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts).  If they can win early on this season, this 2015 team will gain confidence that can be the momentum that carries them into the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts
2015 Projected Record: 11-5
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Bills; 10/8 @ Texans; 10/18 vs Patriots; 11/8 vs Broncos; 11/22 @ Falcons; 12/6 @ Steelers

Synopsis: Since drafting their starting Quarterback Andrew Luck in 2012, the Indianapolis Colts have gotten better, advancing farther in the playoffs each year.  But 2015 will be the first year Andrew Luck will have major offensive additions around him.  During the offseason the Colts added former Pro Bowl veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, adding depth to an already solid offensive team.

The key for the Colts in 2015 will be their defense and how they play against high powered offenses such as the Patriots, Saints, Broncos, Falcons and Steelers. They also have several tough road games on their schedule, traveling to play at Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Miami. If Andrew Luck continues to play great football and the defense is able to step up to slow down opponents, the Colts will win another AFC South Divisional Title. This season, the Colts have the potential to make a run at going to the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2015 Projected Record: 5-11
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/20 vs Dolphins; 10/11 @ Buccaneers; 10/25 vs Bills; 11/8 @ Jets; 11/29 vs Chargers; 12/20 vs Falcons

Synopsis: The Jacksonville Jaguars spent the offseason solidifying the offense around second year starting Quarterback Blake Bortles. The additions of Offensive Lineman Zane Beadles and Tight End Julius Thomas will help in Bortles development as an NFL QB.  The odd part about the Jaguars roster is their defense. Head Coach Gus Bradley was a long time defensive coordinator and has a high football IQ; yet outside of Linebackers Paul  Posluszny and Telvin Smith along with Defensive End Andre Branch, the overall Jaguars roster on the defensive side is underwhelming at best.

This season the Jaguars have seven games versus high powered offenses (Dolphins, Patriots, Chargers, Falcons, Saints and Colts twice). How will their defense hold up in those matchups?  While the Jaguars have the offensive firepower to win a few shootouts this season, they will not be able to outscore everyone.

Tennessee Titans
2015 Projected Record: 5-11
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable:+2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Buccaneers; 10/11 vs Bills; 10/25 vs Falcons; 11/19 @ Jaguars; 12/27 vs Texans

Synopsis: The Tennessee Titans enter 2015 with another new starting Quarterback. This franchise has dealt with inconsistent play at that position for the last nine seasons.  The franchise is hoping that rookie Marcus Mariota will be able to translate his skills from the college game to the NFL.  In college Mariota won a Heisman Trophy and was known as one of the most accurate and poised QBs in all of college football.  His transition to the pro game will be the defining storyline of this season.

The Titans got no help from the NFL schedule makers as they start the season with two away games then their first four home games they play a top five Quarterback (Andrew Luck with Colts), potentially a top ten defense (Buffalo Bills) and then two high powered offenses (Dolphins and Falcons).  Historically a difficult schedule plus a rookie QB are not formula for a winning season in the NFL.

No comments: