AFC South 2017 Week 1 Preview & Predictions

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @kongfu4u  AFC South Week 1

HOUSTON TEXANS (0-0) & JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (0-0)

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

Sunday’s matchup should be interesting.  Both teams have mediocre quarterbacks, were weak against the run in 2016, but are expecting a strong ground game behind their respective backfields.  The Texans have veteran Lamar Miller, who had 1073 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns in 2016, while the Jaguars will start much-hyped rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

Leonard Fournette

Both the Jaguars and the Texans are looking at some uncertainty with their quarterback position.  After a disappointing performance during the preseason, it was rumored that Jacksonville “franchise” quarterback, Blake Bortles, would lose his starting role.  He didn’t, of course, but his ability as a starter is certainly in question.  In 2016, Bortles led the Jaguars to a disappointing 3-13 season, finishing 4th in the AFC South.  Bortles was considered to be the greatest thing since slice bread for the Jaguars.  After working with quarterback coaches Adam Dedeaux and Tom House (both of whom worked with Matt Ryan and Tom Brady) during the offseason to work on his “throwing mechanics”, Bortles declined anyway showing significant regression.

For the Texans, Tom Savage will start on Sunday’s game, mainly due to the inconsistency of first round draft pick, Deshaun Watson, during the preseason.  Of course, Savage is barely a better option and will likely be on a very short leash.  In 2016, Savage took over for Brock Osweilier (currently back with the Denver Broncos after a short stint with the Cleveland Browns) playing 3 games, totaling 461 total passing yards, no touchdowns and one fumble.

The Texans, known for their defensive strength, allowed the fewest yards last season, 2nd in defending the pass (201.6 yards per game) and 12th in defending the run (allowing 99.7 yards per game).  This season, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilius are all healthy and together on the field for the first time, forming the holy trinity of defensive lines.

JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney

Unfortunately for the Jacksonville offense, it’s doubtful that their front line will be good enough to face off against Watt, Clowney and Mercilus.  Bortles will certainly face some heavy pressure on Sunday, and probably take a few tough hits.

Although the Jaguars have struggled on offense, they allowed the 6th fewest yards last season, 5th in defending the pass (215.3 yards per game) and 19th in defending the run (106.4 yards per game).  Their pass defense should only get better, spending the last couple of years trying to build up their defensive secondary with the addition of Jalen Ramsey (CB), Tashaun Gipson (FS), A.J. Bouye (CB) and Barry Church (SS).

The run game will be a key factor on Sunday’s game for both teams, and it’s likely the team with the best run defense will win.

The Houston Texans win.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-0)

Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams offense was terrible last year.  The Rams had the fewest offensive yards in the league (262.7 yards per game), scored the fewest points per game in the league (14) and running back Todd Gurley was unable to dominate the backfield with just 885 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns.  All of this led to finishing 4-12 in 2016, 3rd in the NFC West ahead of the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers.

In 2017, Jared Goff will be the Rams starting quarterback.  In 2016, Goff played in 7 games, had a 54.6 completion percentage, 1,089 passing yards, 5 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of just 18.9.  It’s reasonable to expect improvement from Goff, but improvement in his confidence, pocket presence and the ability to read the field will be important to his success in the upcoming season.

Todd Gurley

Potential good news for the Rams offense, including Goff and running back Todd Gurley, is that the Indianapolis defense allowed the 3rd most yards in 2016 (382.9 yards per game) allowed the 6th most pass yards (262.5 yards per game) and 8th most rushing yards (120.4 yards per game).  And little was done to improve the Indianapolis defense coming into the this season.  During the draft, the Colts drafted seven defensive players, but none will have a starting role.  During the offseason, the addition of linebackers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard should help with the run defense, but neither players are stellar in the role.  Defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, former New York Giant, was picked up by the Colts, hoping for big production.

And even luckier for the Rams is that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will be out for week 1.  What does this mean?  The Colts will be starting Scott Tolzien.  Tolzien played in 3 games in 2016, passed for 216 yards, has a touchdown, 2 interceptions and a fumble resulting in a quarterback rating of just 23.8.  Perhaps that sounds better than Goff, but Tolzien is entering his 7th year in the NFL and is not likely to improve.

This all bodes well for the Rams defense.  In 2016, the Rams defense allowed the 9th fewest yards, 337 per game.  They ranked 10th against the pass game, 233.3 yards per game, and 16th against the run, 103.8 yards per game.  However, the Rams did allow the 10th most points in 2016, 24.6 points per game.

T.Y. Hilton – Getty Images

This will be a difficult game for the Colts to win, but not impossible.  Tolzien has had some solid passes downfield, and if he’s able to connect with Jack Doyle, T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, there is potential.  And, proper utilization of Frank Gore will be a necessity for the Colts to see victory playing at Los Angeles.

The Indianapolis Colts Win.

TENNESSEE TITANS (0-0)

Oakland Raiders @ Tennessee Titans

See AFC WEST Preview and Prediction – Week 1.

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