2020 AFC South Preview: Bound For a Championship Game Appearance

Well…well… well… it looks like we’re going to have an NFL season after all. So we’re here to rub the crystal ball and see what we think will happen this 2020 season. Amid the backdrop of empty stadiums the NFL plans on kicking off the 101st season amid the Covid pandemic.

With two teams that fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the playoffs, it’s not far fetched to assume a team from the AFC South will appear in this year’s AFC Championship Game. The Houston Texans melted after having a 24-0 lead in the divisional round before losing. Then the clock struck midnight on the cinderella Titans in the AFC Championshp after holding a 17-7 lead. Each come into the new season wondering what might have been. 

2020 AFC South Predictions

  1. Indianapolis Colts 11-5
  2. Tennessee Titans 9-7**
  3. Houston Texans 7-9
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

The mantle of best offensive line shifts from the “Great Wall of Dallas II” to the Indianapolis front line. This group led a game managing Jacoby Brissett to a manageable 18TDs & 6 picks and serviceable Marlon Mack to 1,091 yards and 8 TDs.

This line led by All Pro G Quenton Nelson and LT Anthony Costanzo powered the NFL’s #3 rushing attack. Now they add 226lb north south runner Jonathan Taylor out of Wisonsin. He had multiple 2,000 yard seasons in the Big Ten and translates well in tandem with Mack. This is before speaking of the upgrade to Phillip Rivers who already knows Head Coach Frank Reich’s offense from their time together with the Chargers a few years back.

Rivers has signed a 1 year $25 million dollar deal and is playing for his legacy. Fellow 2004 draftees Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger each have 2 Super Bowl wins and Rivers has yet to appear in one. The Colts have a proven leader in this 16 year veteran who should be able to push the ball downfield better than the aforementioned Mr Brissett.

Down in Tennessee they hope to strike lightening twice with a good season out of Ryan Tannehill. Hard to coax from a retread quarterback the division now has film on. Keep in mind bruising defensive teams that rely on a bellcow running back like league leading rusher Derrick Henry rarely repeat close to the vest playoff runs. Last year the Titans were 3-1 in games decided by 3 points or less. The ball won’t bounce that way a 2nd straight year.

Rashaan Evans will become one of the NFL’s best linebackers this season.

Gone is 5 time pro bowl DT Jurrell Casey, former Patriot change of pace back Dion Lewis, TE Delanie Walker and LB Wesley Woodyard. This is a tremendous loss of veteran leadership and with Casey, playmaking ability.

Houston resigned Deshaun Watson to a megadeal and then traded his #1 weapon in DeAndre Hopkins. They traded him for underachieving RB David Johnson from the Cardinals. Johnson was on the bench and fallen completely out of favor with the Cardinals Coach. What Bill O’Brien saw in this move has yet to be understood by The Chancellor of Football. Or any other pundit for that matter.

Watson will be holding the ball more next year now the team doesn’t have a #1 receiver. He will regress from the 333 of 495 for 3,852 yards 26TDs and 12ints he tossed in 2019.

This will be Bill O’Brien’s last season as the Houston Texans head coach. However this division will have the Colts make the AFC Championship Game. 

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2018 AFC Predictions

It seems that we have been predicting the demise of the New England Patriots unsuccessfully for the last 7 years. This season the Patriots will miss this player or this player. Yet here we are again with the 2 time defending AFC Champions ready to battle off conference contenders who appeared to have closed the gap.

3d illustration of an NFL logo behind a transparent silver American football on top of a green football field

Yet here we are with a great number of marquee players returning from serious injury. How quickly can DeShaun Watson, Andrew Luck, and JJ Watt return to form?? Can the Steelers offense find a rhythm once they get LeVeon Bell to report to the team??

There is this team out in Los Angeles no one wants. Not only do they return with the NFL’s 4th ranked offense featuring Melvin Gordon (1,105 yds 8 TDs rushing / 58 rec. 476 yds 4 TDs) & Phillip Rivers (4,515 yds 28 TDs and only 10 ints) on a team that went 9-3 to finish the season.  It took the Chargers 4 weeks to get used to Coach Anthony Lynn’s staff and a new home as they started 0-4.

2018 AFC Predictions:

AFC Wast Champs: LA Chargers 12-4*

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 11-5

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Wild Card: New York Jets 10-6

Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

AFC Champions: LA Chargers

Yes the city of Los Angeles will have a team in Super Bowl LIII but not the team that everyone is anointing.

The Chargers best pass rush since the mid 80’s.

Keep in mind the Chargers defense was middle of the road ranked 15th and should improve as Joey Bosa returns from a foot injury. However a closer look shows this team gave up 319 yards per game in the last 8 games. Good enough to make the top ten. Fellow DE Melvin Engram III came on with 10.5 sacks to combine with Bosa’s 12.5 which anchored the NFL’s 3rd ranked defense against the pass. This team is ready to make a move.

A lot of pundits want to anoint Andrew Luck as back however The Chancellor sees nothing but rust, rust, rust. He hasn’t played football in over 600 days and Colts fans will wince everytime he hits the ground. Keep in mind he has 4 games against Sacksonville (55 sacks) and Tennessee (43 sacks) which finished in the top 5 in QB take downs. Oh…and 3 time NFL Defensive Player of the year JJ Watt also returns. Sorry Calvin Ladd the Colts will be losing a lot of games. Did you just see that Redzone interception??

Can Forunette stay healthy this season? Has a tendency to get nicked up.

The AFC South will have 3 even teams beating up on each other as no one will take command until the final week. The Titans and Jaguars play several close to the vest affairs. One bounce of the ball one way or the other spells win or loss in at least 6 of their games. Its going to come down to which QB can make plays beyond the X’s and O’s and DeShaun Watson edges Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles in that regard.

The Steelers and Patriots rule the AFC North and East respectively largely on Hall of Fame QBs. The underappreciated Ben Roethlisberger (4,251 yds 28TDs 14 ints) will have to keep the offense going in Bell’s absence. Pittsburgh is still the class of their division although this could be the last year on that perch. This situation with LeVeon Bell will linger all season. The back and forth between Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey could prove disruptive to team chemistry once Bell joins the team.

This is how The Chancellor of Football’s crystal ball shapes up for 2018. It will be the L.A. Chargers traveling to Atlanta to play for this trophy:

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2017 AFC Predictions

Well we’re off and another NFL season is under way where we have to place predictions and previews into what Taylor Blitz Times crystal ball offers. For the most part the 2017 season has shaped up based upon watching players grow into their roles and there are a few draft picks that will make an impact.

As the season concluded last February, the world was treated to the 1st overtime in Super Bowl history. However it placed salve over an open wound as the Raiders had to enter the playoffs without Derek Carr, and the Titans losing their last 3 without Marcus Mariota. It gave a feeling of inevitability to the Steelers and Patriots meeting for the right to go to Super Bowl LI.

2017 AFC Predictions:

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 12-4**

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 12-4

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Widcards: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens

AFC Champions: The Oakland Raiders

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One of the biggest acquisitions this year was the signing of Marshawn Lynch to ignite the offense and bring toughness to the team. His punishing running style and spirit will merge with reigning TBT Offensive Player of the Year David Carr to carry the Raiders through the west and beyond. Last year the Raiders were 6-1 on the road with David Carr with 4th quarter comebacks in 4 of those games. Had Carr been healthy for the playoffs they could have won in New England.

 

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2017 AFC South Previews & Predictions

The 2017 season has to have the most parody of each NFL division in the NFL. Each team have strengths and weaknesses that are glaring as the season nears. There are some camp battles that won’t be settled for several weeks but we have to get a tentative look at what we expect in the upcoming season. However each team have huge questions that need to be answered.

Murrray is 1/2 of a potent backfield.

With Andrew Luck entering his 6th season and the prime of his career… Is he the great quarterback some pundits tried to label him as or has he regressed?? Does he have enough talent around him??

Will the Houston Texans produce enough offense to offset their #1 defense?? At what point will the team turn to rookie QB DeShaun Watson when Tom Savage under performs?? Yes when…not if…

Only one team comes in on a high note coming into 2017 and no we’re not talking last year’s division winner in Houston.

2017 AFC South Predictions

  1. Tennessee Titans 10-6 *
  2. Houston Texans 8-8
  3.  Jakcsonville Jaguars 6-10
  4. Indianapolis Colts 5-11

One of the Chancellor of Football’s measures going into a new season is how a team finishes the season before. Tennessee finished winners in 4 of their last 5 games in 2016 including a 24-17 over Houston in the finale. Keep in mind QB Marcus Mariota had already been injured and missed that game.

A closer look and the Titans finished triumphant in 5 of their final 7 games highlighted by a 45-27 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers. DeMarco Murray finished as the 3rd leading rusher with 1,287 yards and if he stumbles, former Heisman winner Derrick Henry (490 yds/5 TDs) can pick up the slack. By the time we look at Mariota running when passing plays breakdown, Coach Mularkey’s team was 3rd in football with 2,187 yards. With a 4.6 yard average and returning 2 Pro Bowl Tackles (Jack Conklin & Taylor Lewan) the running game should be there to keep defenses honest.

In Indy, the Colts have a lot on Coach Pagano and Andrew Luck in what could be the head coach’s last season. This team was 1-6 against playoff teams last year and suffered a huge loss with the retirement of DE/LB Robert Mathis. Not only was he a team leader he finished with 2nd on the team with 5 sacks behind Eric Walden (11). The Colts drafted 7 defenders last April yet will that be enough to elevate last year’s 30th ranked defense??

With defenses gearing to stop TY Hilton (91 rec. 1,448 yds 5 TDs), Phillip Dorsett (33 rec. 528 yds 2 TDs) could emerge as a 2nd 1,000 yard receiver. Luck will have to push the football this season and won’t be able to play it safe. His interception totals may go up as pressure mounts to save Pagano’s job.

However rebuilding a defense one year after rebuilding an Offensive Line, the Colts are a year away from improving on the field.

Watson has to finish camp as the starter.

If DeShaun Watson can begin the season as the starter, Houston can make the playoffs. Odds are he wont but circle the calendar on October 8th, a week 5 affair vs Kansas City. A 1-3 start is possible as they host Jacksonville, at Cincinnati, at New England, then return home against the Titans. Coach O’Brien will lean on his defense and hope he has time to develop the prized rookie. Savage will struggle and with the recent success of rookie QBs including Dak Prescott up the road in Dallas, he will be thrust into the action.

The other date to circle is Sept 24 week 3 v. Seattle.  The Titans will look at this early season inter-conference game against the NFL’s elite and with a win comes newfound confidence. A win in week 4 v Houston and the Titans will put everyone in the AFC South on notice that they’re the heavyweight in the division. Mariota improved in yardage (3,426 v 2,818), touchdowns (26 v 18) and threw 1 less interceptions although he attempted 80 more passes. The only improvement to match Mariota’s in the last two years is Oakland’s Derek Carr.

The team he gets a shot at in week 1. This could be the 1st of 2 meetings in 2017. The Tennessee Titans will win the AFC South.

How did Taylor Blitz Times fare with predictions in 2016??

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2016 AFC Predictions

As the 2016 NFL season is about to kickoff we need to gaze into the crystal ball and see who will make it to Super Bowl LI. The very first impulse is to look in on the defending champions. However when you’re replacing a retired legend at quarterback there has to be a void in the leadership and make-up of the Denver Broncos. Its one of the reasons Taylor Blitz picked the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC West.

For the 1st time in more than a decade true optimism has hit the AFC East with Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension. Will he come back rested or rusty as he can’t practice with the team either?? The league will get a brief view of what life will be like without Brady as Jimmy Garoppolo heads under center. He has a Sunday Night opening date on the road in Arizona, then 3 home games as Belichick will dial back the game plan to keep his reads manageable.

Brady should return to guide the Patriots to an AFC East championship with a 10-6 record. The last division title for the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady era.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh SteelersAFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5**

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 10-6

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 10-6

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 10-6

Wildcards – Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars

The team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston Texas?? The Pittsburgh Steelers

Head Coach Mike Tomlin has the most explosive player at WR in Antonio Brown and RB with LeVeon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger will make his 4th trip to the Super Bowl this February and his grit will see Pittsburgh through the first 3 games while Bell serves a suspension.

One of the hallmarks of the Steelers will have to return to make the trip to Houston, and that’s defense. They don’t have to be Blitzburgh or The Steel Curtain II. If they can rise from the NFL’s 22nd ranked unit to a top 15 defense that can come up with timely stops, they will be in Houston.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

Who do you have in the AFC??

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2013 Houston Texans Preview – The Time Is Now

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

When you think of the 2012 NFL season, most football fans thought the Houston Texans were an imposter when asked if they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Although they had rushed out to an 11-1 record, they failed to capture the imagination of fans or pundits outside Houston.

Sure they had defeated the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens 43-17 in week 7. However mind numbing losses to Green Bay (42-24), and a Monday night massacre in New England (42-14) late in the season, cast doubt on their Super Bowl legitimacy as the playoffs neared. They did finish 12-4 winning a Wild Card game before losing in the AFC Divisional round to the Patriots. Yet the question remains… Who are the Texans?? Are they a team moving up to elite status or are they beneficiary of the AFC as a conference becoming weaker??

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Quarterback: Caught in that same identity vortex is quarterback Matt Schaub. Twice in the last four years he has been a Pro Bowl performer yet he leaves you wondering. Coming into last year the team and it’s fans were buoyed with optimism after backup TJ Yates led the team to a Wild Card win the year before. The overall feeling was if they could make it this far without Schaub, they should be able to compete for a title with him being healthy for the playoffs. The fact that they didn’t advance any further raises doubt if they can win it at all with Schaub at quarterback.

Make no mistake this team is better with Schaub at the helm but this may be his make or break year with the Colts coming on strong. In 2012 he completed 350 of 544 passes (64.3%) for 4,008 yards 22 TDs with only 12 interceptions. The perception was he didn’t perform when he faced the league’s elite. To that there is some truth but early in the season he carved up the Denver Broncos with 4 TD passes in a 31-25 victory on the road. He had his chance to show the nation when they lost to New England on that December Monday Night 42-14. In that game he looked disengaged, not the leader you’d want at quarterback, and couldn’t make a play to turn the momentum.

For most, he sits in that abyss of good quarterbacks that aren’t thought of as championship signal callers. Right where Joe Flacco was last year and where Matt Ryan sits this year. This is Schaub’s make or break year. This will be his 7th season as quarterback of the Texans and 11th overall after coming over from Atlanta. Its ironic that he and Ryan are both in the same position. Had Schaub not signed with Houston, he would have taken over the Falcons after Michael Vick’s dog fighting conviction. Yet he’s still a good quarterback that has to prove he can be a championship one. The nucleus of this team is aging and at 32 when the season starts, Schaub will be right there with them. Houston is playoff calibur at quarterback until proven otherwise.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Offensive Backfield: Going into his 5th season, the Texans couldn’t be more solid at running back with Arian Foster leading the charge. Next to Adrian Peterson, no back in football has been more productive than Foster’s 4,264 yards and 39 TDs over the last three years. He isn’t the flashy runner breaking the huge play like CJ2K or Peterson, but he’s a steady performer that churns out important first down after first down as the Texans closer. This is a running back in the prime of his career and has a solid back in Ben Tate (4.3 yards per carry in 2012) to back him up. The offense runs through the one cut and go running game Foster brings to the table. In 3 of the Texans 4 losses last year, Foster failed to rush for 50 yards. Part of it was Coach Kubiak abandoning the run once they fell behind. The Texans are Super Bowl quality at running back and should get a 1,300 yards from Foster this season.

Receivers: A fascinating study is Andre Johnson. When you’re watching him on game film, he doesn’t look as quick as he did a few years back. He seems to only be explosive in spurts now and really gets by on guile.You do realize he’ll also be 32 years of age when the season kicks off. He was the prime target in this offense gathering 112 passes for 1,598 yards, yet only caught 4 touchdowns. What’s missing now is the big play element from the offense with Johnson and TE Owen Daniels (62 rec. 716 yds 6TDs) as the intermediate threats.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson's numbers are approaching all time great status.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson’s numbers are approaching all time great status.

It looks as though the Texans realize this and released WR Kevin Walter who was the intermediate receiver across from Johnson. What they need is exactly what they let go in 2011, a Jacoby Jones. Right now this offense is missing a home run hitter that can take the Safeties deep. Houston anointed 2nd year wideout Keshawn Martin to the starting line-up to be the X receiver but he’s unproven. Look for the Texans to add this element in the draft or a free agent signing to compete with Martin. If they can address this they can upgrade their ranking. As it stands they are playoff quality because teams know they can’t get deep and clog the routes 20 yards or under.

Offensive Line: In today’s NFL, the offensive line is measured by how well they can protect the passer by most pundits. However here we grade beyond that. This group allowed only 28 sacks last year which was good enough for 7th best in the NFL. Left Tackle Duane Brown was an All Pro while making the Pro Bowl with Center Chris Myers and Guard Wade Smith. However Smith and Myers will each be 32 by the time the season kicks off. They’re young at the tackles but older on the line’s interior.

One aspect of the game they could use some improvement is run blocking. How can we say that about a group that had 3 Pro Bowl members and a 1,000 yard rusher?? Very simple. Foster isn’t a back that dances. He takes the ball on “Belly” and “Stretch” plays, makes a cut and then goes up-field. However they are 30th in negative rush plays to the strong side with 20 and 31st to the weak side with 28.  Further evidence is when it’s 3rd or 4th and goal or less than 2 yards, this group only converted 57% of the time to the strong side which was 20th in the league. This team could only run up the middle where they did convert 75% of the time in obvious power situations. So it’s obvious they struggle with younger more athletic defenders. This will only get worse over time and lowers their ranking to average. 

Defensive Line: This group begins and ends with JJ Watt who is the premier defensive lineman in the game. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had a career season with 81 tackles, 20 1/2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 16 defensed passes. Sixteen?? That is an obscene number. One thing they should do is move him around more so he can’t be game planned out of being effective. That is what New England did and he wasn’t a factor in the playoff game or the 42-14 loss.

In Houston’s 3-4 the interior linemen are primarily space eaters to clog the line and allow the linebackers to make the tackles. The Texans were 7th in defense overall and 7th against the run. Earl Mitchell held down the point at Nose Tackle and weakside Defensive End Anthony Smith did move crash the pocket for 7 sacks. In this 3-4 he’s limited from a lot of outside moves because Defensive Co-ordinator Wade Phillips likes to send linebackers like he did with the departed Conner Barwin. Because of Watt’s presence this is definitely a Super Bowl caliber group. Twenty seven and a half sacks from a 3 man line?? Come on now…

If Cushing can have a bounce back year....watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

If Cushing can have a bounce back year….watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

Linebackers: We just mentioned the loss of Connor Barwin who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. This team can hopefully get a healthy year out of Brian Cushing who could be moved back outside. In fact last year’s infirmary list included Cushing, Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins, and Barrett Ruud missing a combined 27 games last year. This was the Achille’s Heel of the defense but that is understandable when you’re playing second string all year.

Bradie James was the leading tackler on this team with 76 stops and had 1/2 a sack. With so many players injured it’s almost impossible to gauge how effective this group will be. They do have pieces in place and we’ll have to see if they are going to draft an outside linebacker or what we believe… Brian Cushing will go back outside. If they can get their linebackers on the field we think they can be good. However since we haven’t seen them hit the field yet we have to grade them as below average.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

Secondary: With a stout pass rush that produced 44 sacks and 11 forced fumbles, this group should have had more than 15 interceptions. CB Kareem Jackson was the leader in that department with 4, and Jonathon Joseph went to the Pro Bowl with 2 picks. The Texans needed to desperately improve their secondary that ranked 20th against the pass. They needed a spark… Enter Ed Reed.  We’ll see if Reed will make a huge difference. Had this been 2008, we’d immediately say yes. With him going into his 12th year, we’re taking a wait and see approach

Last year’s Free Safety Glover Quinn was second on the team in tackles with 85 yet intercepted just 2 passes. Now you know why the Texans went after Ed Reed. SS Danieal Manning will come up and make a hit but these guys are limited cover guys. This group is playoff caliber if Reed plays like he did in Baltimore. The Chancellor would like to see more out of this group when it comes to coverage. Could see another draft pick used on corner and safety as well. They need some insurance to keep coverage on slot receivers. With the addition of Reed this is now a playoff caliber group.

Overview: This team is on the verge of having to retool on the offensive side of the ball. They are at a collective age where a crash could happen at any time. Schaub, Johnson, and the center of the offensive line all being over 32 years of age?? Tight End Owen Daniel will turn 31 in November. You better believe the time is now for this group. They couldn’t pull past the Colts while Manning was there and now they have to put up with a completely new Colts regime. One that gained confidence beating the Texans in the finale last year 28-16.

In reality this has been the AFC South’s best team since 2010 yet they couldn’t get that landmark win to push themselves to the top of the conference. The Chancellor’s crystal ball sees more of the same as they won’t make it past the divisional round of the playoffs and may actually be a wildcard entrant. Look at the relative age of this team. Just remember the NFL is a long season for all these thirty somethings. This will be their last year as a playoff team as well…

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!