Home Sports AFC South preview and predictions: Philip Rivers puts Colts in charge

AFC South preview and predictions: Philip Rivers puts Colts in charge

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Mark Cannizzaro previews the AFC South as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

1. Indianapolis Colts

Coach: Frank Reich

2019 record: 7-9

O/U wins: 8 1/2

Key additions: QB Philip Rivers, DT DeForest Buckner, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB T.J. Carrie, WR Michael Pittman Jr., RB Jonathan Taylor, TE Trey Burton, DT Sheldon Day, CB-KR Isaiah Rodgers, S Tavon Wilson

Key losses: DE Jabaal Sheard, K Adam Vinatieri, TE Eric Ebron, S Clayton Geathers, WR Devin Funchess, OL Joe Haeg, WR Chester Rogers, WR Dontrelle Inman, C Josh Andrews

First-and-goal: The splashiest offseason move was signing Rivers, but maybe the best pick-up was Buckner, who instantly upgrades the run defense and interior pass rush. He’ll combine with DE Justin Houston and OLB Darius Leonard to give the Colts three Pro Bowl defenders. Rivers will be boosted by RBs Marlon Mack and Taylor, a second-round pick from Wisconsin, so his running game should be strong.

Fourth-and-long: With the exception of T.Y. Hilton, Rivers will be working with a young group of WRs including Pittman, this year’s second-round pick, and Parris Campbell, last year’s second-rounder who missed most of 2019 with injuries.

Phillip Rivers Chargers
Philip Rivers is seen last season with the Los Angeles Chargers.Getty Images

Cann’s Call: 10-6. I love the acquisition of Rivers, whose fire should ignite the Colts’ offense and put at least a temporary end to their QB problems of the past few years.

2. Tennessee Titans

Coach: Mike Vrabel

2019 record: 9-7

O/U wins: 8 ¹/₂

Key additions: LB Vic Beasley Jr., CB Johnathan Joseph, DE Jadeveon Clowney, OT Isaiah Wilson, CB Kristian Fulton, RB Darrynton Evans, DL Jack Crawford, LB Nick Dzubnar, OT Ty Sambrailo

Key losses: DT Jurrell Casey, CB Logan Ryan, WR Tajae Sharpe

First-and-goal: Continuity. The offense has 10 of 11 starters back, and that includes QB Ryan Tannehill, who led the NFL in passer rating in 2019, as well as the league’s leading rusher, RB Derrick Henry. WR A.J. Brown is a player who should be Tannehill’s best friend, a productive playmaker.

Fourth-and-long: The defensive line is relying on the development of young players. Not having a full offseason may hurt Wilson, the team’s first-round draft pick, whom they’re counting on to be an immediate contributor at right tackle. Will Henry’s heavy workload of 2019 have an adverse effect on 2020? He was given a four-year, $50 million contract extension in the offseason. The Titans hope Evans, the third-round pick out of Appalachian State, can take some load off Henry.

Derrick Henry Titans
Derrick Henry is seen after the Titans’ divisional round playoff win against the Ravens last season.Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cann’s Call: 9-7. Despite the four-year, $118 million contract he got after coming off the bench last season and going 9-4 as starter, I’m still not convinced that Tannehill is one of the league’s top QBs.

3. Houston Texans

Coach: Bill O’Brien

2019 record: 10-6

O/U wins: 7 1/2

Key additions: RB David Johnson, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Randall Cobb, S Eric Murray, OT Roderick Johnson, LB Tyrell Adams, DT Ross Blacklock, DE Jonathan Greenard

Key losses: WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Lamar Miller, CB Johnathan Joseph, NT D.J. Reader

First-and-goal: QB Deshaun Watson has improved in each of his three seasons. He’ll play behind an offensive line that improved last season.

Fourth-and-long: Trading away WR DeAndre Hopkins, a dynamic playmaker, will not help Watson. Other than star DE J.J. Watt, the Texans’ pass rush has been suspect, with Houston producing only 31 sacks last season. The Texans hope that WR Will Fuller, along with Cooks and Cobb, will compensate for the loss of Hopkins. They, too, hope that RB David Johnson, acquired from the Cardinals as part of the Hopkins deal, regains his All-Pro form of 2016.

Cann’s Call: 9-7. The lack of Hopkins and his big-play ability will be difficult to overcome, but Watson is a terrific player who’ll keep the Texans relevant.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach: Doug Marrone

2019 record: 6-10

O/U wins: 5

Key additions: LB Joe Schobert, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Chris Thompson, DE Cassius Marsh, CB CJ Henderson, LB K’Lavon Chaisson, WR Laviska Shenault, DT DaVon Hamilton

Key losses: DL Rodney Gunter, DT Al Woods, DE Aaron Lynch, DE Lerentee McCray, CB Rashaan Melvin, DL Calais Campbell, DT Marcell Dareus, CB A.J. Bouye, QB Nick Foles, RB Leonard Fournette, DE Yannick Ngakoue

First-and-goal: Most of the talent is among the wide receivers, with DJ Chark coming off a Pro Bowl season, Chris Conley coming off a career year and Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole playing for new contracts. They drafted Shenault in second round, and he’s had a strong camp.

Fourth-and-long: The defensive line has been decimated with Campbell and Ngakoue both gone. The Jags have lost a slew of linemen since the start of camp, with Woods and McCray opting out, Gunter and Lynch retiring and DT Dontavius Russell (hip) going on injured reserve. Carl Davis (four games) and Josh Mauro (five) also are suspended to start the season.

Cann’s Call: 6-10. This will be a challenging season for a team that looks like it’s tanking for the No. 1 pick in 2021. But the Jags return 16 of 22 starters from last season and they hope the addition of Jay Gruden as the offensive coordinator will help QB Gardner Minshew.

Check out the other NFL division breakdowns from The Post for the 2020 season:

AFC East preview

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