The AFC South isn’t a strong division. The Jags are coming off of a season in which they had the number one overall pick, and the Texans are an unmitigated dumpster fire, what with the uncertainty around Deshaun Watson, and really their entire team is just a huge question mark.
The only thing redeeming this division is that the Colts and Titans are both borderline contending teams. The debate has been widespread all off-season, and this piece is going to take it position by position and get into the nitty-gritty to figure out which team should be the favorite in the AFC South. Strap in!
Both teams are boasting some solid coaching staffs, headlined by Mike Vrabel for the Titans and Frank Reich for the Colts. I consider these two about even considering what they’ve accomplished in their careers to this point, so this is going to be decided by their coordinators. In Indy, Reich is the play-caller, but Marcus Brady is the OC by title, and Matt Eberflus is a well-regarded defensive mind, garnering rumors about interviewing for a handful of head coaching spots this past offseason.
In Tennessee, Todd Downing is taking over the reins as the OC for recently departed Arthur Smith, and Shane Bowen is officially the DC, while Jim Schwartz is on as a “senior advisor.” The advantage here is going to Indy, purely based on how good Eberflus is, but could change, depending on how hands-on Schwartz is with the Titans D.
The most important player on the field and the advantage here is going to Titans. Ryan Tannehill has been among the league leaders in efficiency metrics since taking over as the Titans starter, and while you might expect some regression with a new OC, Downing was the Titans red zone coordinator the past two seasons, so those efficiency numbers should still be very good.
Carson Wentz has made his way to a new home in Indy, and they’re hoping a change of scenery will be good for him. Personally, I’ve never been a fan dating back t his days at NDSU, and now he looks like a broken QB, not unlike former Titans starter Marcus Mariota, and I’m not sure he’ll get back to the QB he was 2-3 years ago.
This is where it starts to get complicated. The Titans go with more of the workhorse approach, while the Colts implement a committee in their running back room. The Titans are boasting back-to-back rushing champ Derrick Henry as well as unproven Darrynton Evans, which is a solid group, based purely on the elite play and dependability of Henry.
The Colts have a stable of capable backs to choose from, headlined by up and comer Johnathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack. The Colts are capable of being very versatile in the backfield, but when you’re breaking in a QB who’s been inconsistent in recent memory, the committee approach might not be the way to go to get him feeling comfortable.
While they don’t have the depth that the Colts do, the advantage here also goes to Tennessee, based on how dominant Henry has been the past 2.5 seasons.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
The groups of pass-catchers for these two teams feel very odd. The Colts are lead by the oft-injured TY Hilton, Michael Pittman, and the hopes of Parris Campbell out wide with Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox manning the TE spots.
The Titans have the star power here, with Julio Jones coming off of injury in 2020, budding star AJ Brow and steady Josh Reynolds out wide, with Anthony Frisker at TE. Neither group is overly deep, but the ceiling the Titans WR’s could have is too good not to give them the nod here.
These are two very good units. Indy has had one of the best OL’s in football since mauler Quenton Nelson was drafted and should see some solid left tackle play if newly added left tackle Eric Fisher can get right again post-injury.
The Titans are getting back Taylor Lewan after his torn ACL last season, but the unit was still solid after his absence. Both groups are solid, but I think Indy has fewer questions across the board upfront and gets the nod here.
Interior Defensive Line
There are some studs in these groups. The Colts have one of the top interior duos in football with Grover Stewart and absolute stud DeForrest Buckner, and it’s really hard to be that pairing.
The Titans guys are also solid, having both Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry starting on the interior. DeFo is the best individual player in the group for now, and he’s the reason Indy gets the nod here.
After back-to-back solid units for both teams, we get a position that’s questionable for both. Unless Indy brings back veteran Justin Houston, their starting edge defenders are rookie Kwity Paye and Al-Quadin Muhammad, according to ESPN, backed up by Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay. Underwhelming for sure.
The Titans group has some bigger names, but still nothing too substantial. Bud Dupree got paid big time by the Titans this off-season, and he’ll start across from the flashy Harold Landry, but beyond that, it’s rookie Rashad Weaver and veteran Wyatt Ray.
Health permitting, the Titans take it here, with Dupree and Landry being the two best edge players on either team.
This one is rather easy. Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are a fine duo, if not a bit underwhelming in Evans’ case. Darius Leonard is ELITE. He’s easily a top-five linebacker in all of football. Bobby Okereke next to him doesn’t get enough credit for what he is either, which is a solid young second-level guy. I think this group is a runaway win for the horseshoes.
This one is another difficult one to figure out. Both teams have one of the top players at their positions (Kevin Byard for TEN, Kenny Moore for IND), and beyond that, it’s a lot of fine players, but nothing special. Xavier Rhodes and Janoris Jenkins is a wash, Julian Blackmon was very well last season, but so was Amani Hooker.
I like Caleb Farley a good bit more than any CB on the Colts roster, but he’s unproven and coming off back problems during college. The Colts get the nod here for now, based on the unknown that is Farley, but that could easily change during the season.
Just as everyone has thought all off-season, it’s still tight between the two of them. The final count came down to Colts 5, Titans 4. So in theory, you should say the Colts are the favorite, but the Titans have the advantage at three of the four spots offensively. In a league catered more and more towards offense and putting up points, that’s hard to ignore.
So, to summarize, this is a hard division to decide. My money almost always goes to the team with the better quarterback, so I tend to lean towards the Titans, but Indianapolis pulling out the division wouldn’t be a shock to me if Carson Wentz is remotely the same QB he was three years ago.