Part I: Our neighbors
I’ll start with our closest friends in the AFC South Division. In the past few seasons, I’ve always thought the NFC East Division with the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, and Redskins were the toughest and hardest division to predict. But in the past offseason, that title has been shifted to the AFC South Division.
The Houston Texans won the division last season but fell to a red-hot Indianapolis Colts team in the playoffs. Tennessee also added to the division’s reputation by giving out a playoff push before falling to the Colts in Week 17. After Jacksonville fell off the map following a remarkable 2017 season, they upgraded their quarterback play by signing former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who ended the Houston Texans’ chance at a first-round bye while in Philadelphia.
So right now, we’re looking at four teams vying for one or two playoff spots this season. The competition has gotten tougher and intense that there’s a chance that one of these teams will finish with a 10-win season.
So here are the division games with the teams.
Week 2: Jacksonville @ Houston – Sept. 15 – Noon (CBS)
Week 7: Houston @ Indianapolis – Oct. 20 – Noon (CBS)
Week 9: Houston @ Jacksonville (IN LONDON, ENGLAND) – Nov. 3 – 8:30 AM (NFL Network)
Week 12: Indianapolis @ Houston – Nov. 21 – 7:20 PM (FOX)
Week 15: Houston @ Tennessee – Dec. 15 – Noon (CBS)
Week 17: Tennessee @ Houston – Dec. 29 – Noon (CBS)
Yes, the Houston Texans are playing in London, England. So y’all might have to pull an all-nighter or skip church that Sunday to watch the game.
AFC South Thoughts
Judging by the division schedule, it would seem to be the Houston Texans will be in a situation in which they would need to put together some wins near the end of the season in order to have a chance at playoff contention.
Indianapolis will probably be the favorites to win the AFC South Division and for good reason. They caught fire last year and Andrew Luck torched the Houston Texans in the last two games in Houston after struggling from an injury.
With Luck back in the saddle, he’ll look to possess the Colts’ fortunes and retake the AFC South title. I reflect on the AFC Wild Card game and while we can say Watson was a slow-starter before catching fire, he gets a break in my mind because it was his first playoff start.
Watson can and should respond to the Colts’ high-powered offense with Luck throwing to T.Y Hilton. It’s up to the Houston Texans’ defense to contain them and put Houston in a position to win. The Houston Texans were fortunate to escape Indy with an overtime win last season.
But can they put together two wins against the Colts? This will be a factor on the Houston Texans winning the AFC South Division again. However, just for a safe bet, I’ll say Houston splits with Indianapolis. They’ll win their home game while the Colts benefit from their home crowd.
Houston starts their division play against Jacksonville six days after opening their season opens on Monday Night Football. But the game will be at home and Houston would love nothing more than to give their fans a big home victory to start things going.
The biggest question for Jacksonville is can Nick Foles do the same thing he did in Philadelphia. He does bring leadership and experience to a Jacksonville team that finished 5-11 last season, but with Blake Bortles at the helm. But the past two seasons saw Foles come off the bench to rescue the Eagles’ seasons.
Now, he’ll be attempting to be the starting quarterback for a full season, which he hasn’t be able to do in a few seasons. As much as Nick Foles will be a major factor for the Houston Texans’ defense to contain along with the running game of Leonard Fournette, I think they’re short of a few pieces to get over the hump.
So my best guess is the Houston Texans will sweep the series, but not by blowouts. This will keep Houston above .500 as they encounter their toughest stretch of games in the start of the second half of the season.
Then, there’s Tennessee. The Houston Texans should’ve won both games last season, but settled for a split. Chances are had the Titans defeated the Colts in Week 17, then the Houston Texans might’ve had an easy route to the AFC Divisional round. But then again, Tennessee won four straight contests after losing to Houston to be at 9-6 before losing to the Colts.
Tennessee made a big trade during the NFL Draft when they acquired quarterback Ryan Tannehill to help push their starter Marcus Mariota while they recently promoted their tight ends coach to the offensive coordinator following the departure of Matt LaFleur to be the head coach for Green Bay.
Tennessee’s schedule has them facing both the Colts and Jaguars in consecutive weeks on two different occasions. Once they get by those two, that just leaves Houston in the way. With how our schedule looks, the chances are that the Houston Texans will have to put up late wins to be in the playoff conversation and division wins against Tennessee can do that.
Ultimately, I think Tennessee will be the most likely AFC South team not to make the playoffs this year. Houston will probably secure two wins over the Titans and keeps their playoff hopes alive.
It’s a bold prediction to say that Houston will be tied with Indianapolis with a 5-1 division record. But the Colts will win the AFC South because they have experience and their strength of schedule is tied for seventh along with Atlanta. Still, the AFC South is the biggest question mark because the competition is tight and the Jaguars and Titans are in the mix to make this division not a race between the Colts and Houston Texans.
If Houston wants to become a champion, they will have to endure a tough test from their own division. But then again, the rest of their AFC schedule puts them in the bind.