The AFC South is wide open in 2020
The balance of power shifted in the AFC South during the NFL playoffs a few months ago, but that could be fleeting, because there are at least three contenders to win the division next season.
The Tennessee Titans upset the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens to make it to the AFC Championship Game, a surprising underdog run that capped off a season of fluctuations in the division, which began with the sudden retirement of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
With Luck, the Colts were seen as a team that could make noise in the AFC, following a strong 2018 season and playoff berth. Instead, it was the Titans — with a mid-season change at quarterback to help turn their fortunes around — who emerged from the division and got within one win of a Super Bowl berth.
The AFC South has to be considered the NFL’s most wide-open division at this point in the offseason.
Odds to win the AFC South
Titans look to carry playoff success into new season
The Titans shook things up midway through last season.
They parked former second-overall pick Marcus Mariota on the bench and turned over the starting quarterback duties to Ryan Tannehill, a six-year NFL veteran but in his first year with the Titans.
It was a bold move, and it paid off.
Tannehill had success in the regular season, primarily behind the bruising running style of Derrick Henry, before Tennessee dispatched New England and Baltimore in the playoffs to set up an AFC Championship showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Titans lost that game, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, but external expectations don’t seem particularly high for the Titans in 2020.
But Tennessee's success next season hinges on a number of questions.
Can Henry continue to dominate like he has the previous two seasons, or will the wear and tear catch up to him?
Will Tannehill maintain or improve upon the success he had last season, especially for a player who took over in the middle of the campaign? He finished the regular season with a 7-3 record, 22 touchdowns, and only six interceptions — a 2.1% interception rate.
What impact will Philip Rivers have on the Colts?
The Colts watched their playoff hopes fade without Luck to lead their offense.
A 1-4 stretch and a rash of injuries to key players eventually pushed them out of contention, and that has ushered in a new era at quarterback in Indianapolis. It may turn out to only be a transitional period, but it should make the Colts more competitive.
The Colts signed former Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will turn 39 in December and struggled during his final year in Los Angeles.
The Colts’ Super Bowl odds improved significantly following the Rivers signing. Those odds are +2400 at BetAmerica — the lowest odds to win the Super Bowl of any AFC South team.
Indianapolis did well during the NFL Draft to select players who could bolster its offense. The Colts took receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor in the second round. They also have a development project with the selection of Washington quarterback Jacob Eason in the fourth round.
The biggest addition, however, was Rivers. His familiarity with the offense of head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni should be beneficial.
Texans primed to regress next season
Deshaun Watson is a dynamic quarterback, but have the Texans done all they can to provide him with the best offense possible?
The Texans are a prime candidate to regress next season, after they achieved a 10-6 regular-season record in 2019 and played in two playoff games. Houston raised eyebrows when it traded DeAndre Hopkins, the best receiver on its roster, to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson.
That trade was mocked relentlessly on social media.
Houston’s receivers now include the oft-injured Brandin Cooks, veteran Randall Cobb, the injury-prone Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee.
On the surface, it’s not a bad group. There are some playmakers, especially Cooks and Fuller. But both Cooks and Fuller are also susceptible to injury, and there should be major concern about whether they can play a full season.
It is also worth noting that Houston’s defense struggled at times last season, particularly without its leader, J.J. Watt.
The Texans’ regular-season win total has been set at 7.5 at BetAmerica. The potential rise of the Titans and Colts could push the Texans down the board.