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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Lucas Oil Stadium May No Longer Be Peyton’s Place

Peyton Manning pictured before Super Bowl XLIV

Welcome to the NFL’s newest melodrama?? Hopefully it will be a softer landing for Peyton Manning than it was for Brett Favre before him, Joe Montana before that, and Johnny Unitas before that. The end of a tenure for a future Hall of Fame quarterback being messy is more the norm than we care to admit. Who could forget the dreadful images of Joe Namath wearing Los Angeles Rams blue. Warren Moon as a Seattle Seahawk. This will end badly for Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts fans as he will depart and wear another team’s colors next year.

Fans of Peyton Manning want to see him retire rather than play for another but the fact of the matter is he still wants to play. A competitor’s fire doesn’t go out just because a team’s fanbase doesn’t want to lose him. We saw this with the harsh divorce between Brett Favre and Green Bay before he moved on to the New York Jets. The same thing when Joe Montana was healed from the multi-wounds meted out from Leonard Marshall in the 1990 NFC Championship, before leaving San Francisco some two years later.

However each of those situations had soon to be NFL MVP heir apparents in Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers already in tow. In this instance, the only thing we know for sure is that a massive rebuilding process is sure to begin with the drafting of QBAndrew Luck of Stanford. The tell tale signs were there with the surprising firing of  Bill Polian, who drafted Manning in ’98 and shaped a team around him to maximize his abilities. Peyton’s staple was everywhere within the framework of the Colts offense. Receivers and running backs that were heady and steady performers became the norm with the Colts constantly drafting low. Joseph Addai playing out fakes with Manning were as important as his ability to run and catch. Same with finding quick, smart receivers like Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon’ as Marvin Harrison retired and Reggie Wayne aged. The players had to be able to match and adjust to Peyton’s audibles.

Peyton Manning was his own de-facto Offensive Co-ordinator,as Bill Polian shaped the personnel to fit the Colts offensive schemes..

With the telling shot of releasing Polian, the veil of protection and autonomy surrounding Peyton has vanished in an instant. Unprotected by management, we hear two out of character outbursts from what has been the preeminent franchise in terms of off field incidents. Think about it a second…. Can you remember any incidents since Manning and Tony Dungy were called out by former kicker Mike Vanderjagt?? How many years ago was that?? First Peyton voices his opinion of how  difficult it’s been to see many colleagues let go in the front office. Than to hear an opinion back from none other than Colts owner Robert Irsay toward Manning. Are you kidding?? Through the media??

This has been the Colt’s and the league’s golden child. Now we hear Manning take the high road explaining they have to ‘handle things in-house in a professional fashion’. The act of this coming through the media illustrates a loss in status and respect toward Manning.

As for Peyton Manning the man… His missing the whole season may have eroded his stance with Colts management. He’s sought multiple opinions to get himself back on the field to no avail in 2011. Yet his ego will take a serious blow this Sunday, when he sits in a stadium he built, and watch his little brother Eli take on his AFC arch nemesis Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI. The competitor within will be seething although he will deflect any questions that come his way. Inside we’re sure he will be thinking “Why can’t the Super Bowl be anywhere else?”

For those that thought he would retire, Peyton would have pulled the plug before the Polian firing. He knows / knew what was coming and that is why he’s standing there watching the front office carnage up close, wondering if he will meet a similar demise. Yet anyone in business will tell you…. You don’t keep a pillar of a former regime in place when trying to establish a new management system or style in senior management. Just ask former Oakland Raider coach Hue Jackson. Peyton Manning as that last standing pillar will fall next month when he’s due a $28 million dollar roster bonus. Right now, quarterback starved teams like the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and such have to be salivating at having a shot at a future Hall of Famer. Even for a few years. The only question will be will they need to orchestrate a trade to beat the competition, or wait for the imminent release and free agency scramble for him.

Remember how you felt when you saw that Sports Illustrated article with Joe Montana and Marcus Allen first pictured in Kansas City red for the first time?? We’ll see something like that with Manning if he’s cleared to play… bank on it

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