We're back with the second installment of the 2019 NFL biggest questions series. In case this is your first time reading, up until the start of the season, I will be going team by team in each division, and revealing one of the biggest questions for each team. In the first of eight parts, we covered the AFC North, which is likely to be one of the better divisions in the NFL. In this installment, I will be discussing the AFC South, which I believe is the toughest division in football. When these teams battle each other, they're always hard fought games, where the winner usually doesn't get decided until late in the game. Now that the intro is out of the way, let's get into the biggest questions for each team in the AFC South.
Houston Texans: Can the Texans Finally Put it All Together?
The Houston Texans have been close for a few years now. In the early to mid 2010s, it was inconsistencies at the quarterback that ultimately cost them an opportunity at a Super Bowl. I'm sorry, but the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates and Ryan Mallett aren't going to win you playoff games.(Oops, I almost forgot about Brock Osweiler, how could I forget about him?) In the latter half of the decade, it's been injuries that have ultimately ended Houston's chances. It feels like J.J. Watt plays a few games every year, but then gets put on IR midway through the season.
The Texans really do have one of the more talented rosters in football, and if everything goes right, they're right up there with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. They have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who's already arguably in the top five at his position already. Deandre Hopkins is the best receiver in the game, and leads a core with rising young stars in Will Fuller V and KeKe Coutee. The offensive line is the biggest question, which they potentially answered in this years drafting, taking multiple offensive lineman including Alabama State's Tytus Howard. The defense is led by a lethal pass rush duo in Watt and JaDeveon Clowney, and a solid front seven that dominates the run. I think this could be the year for them to finally put it all together.
Indianapolis Colts: Is Darius Leonard That Good? Or Is He a One Year Wonder?
The Indianapolis Colts selected Darius Leonard with the 36th pick in the second round in the 2018 NFL Draft. Many expected Leonard to be a solid starter at linebacker for a team that has struggled mightily on defense for most of this decade. Leonard though, blew those expectations out of the water, and then some. He finished the season leading the league in tackles with a whopping 163. In addition to that, he accumulated seven sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He ran away with the NFL defensive rookie of the year, and also was named to the AP first team all pro.(He did get snubbed from the pro bowl though, which I still don't understand. How does a guy make first team all pro and not make the pro bowl. Something ain't right about that chief).
We always bring this question up for guys who have incredible years and we will continue to do it. Are they able to sustain their production? There are some guys who were able to keep it going consistently, and continue to be perennial pro bowlers and end up making a strong case to enter Canton. Unfortunately that's not the case for some players. Guys like Robert Griffin III and Peyton Hillis has incredible seasons, but only did it one time, and now are just an afterthought. Will Leonard become the next RG3 or Hillis? Or will he be able to build off of a sensational rookie season?
Jacksonville Jaguars: Is Nick Foles the Answer to the Jaguars Recent Offensive Woes?
The Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville is finally over. After another year of struggles, along with a mid season benching in favor of Cody Kessler, the Jags finally decided to dump the former #3 overall pick. Instead of drafting a quarterback, or trading for one, they decided to go the free agency route, and pick up former Philadelphia Eagles slinger Nick Foles on an expensive deal. Foles has been a backup most of his career, but in recent years has had to step in following two Carson Wentz injuries. However, Foles has been fantastic in his appearances, winning four playoff games, including Super Bowl 52 over the New England Patriots. He thrived in Doug Pedersen's offense, which utilized the run pass option (RPO).
He heads to Jacksonville now, who give him an intriguing set of skill players, as well as an improving offensive line, led by former all pro selection Andrew Norwell. In addition, Jacksonville brought in someone who knows Foles pretty well. Former Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator John Defillipo to run the offense. Defillipo was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia during their magical Super Bowl run. With everything put in place, the odds look to be in Nick Foles favor. Will he succeed, and finally give the Jags offense some new life, and be able to take the pressure off of their star studded defense? Or will he revert back to St. Louis Rams Nick Foles, who struggled mightily and was contemplating retirement?
Tennessee Titans: Is This the Swan Song For Marcus Mariota?
The Marcus Mariota era in Tennessee has included a few ups, but many downs. Those few ups include a playoff appearance in 2018, a come from behind win in those same playoffs against Kansas City, and that's about it. The Tennessee Titans have consistently been in the bottom half of the league in most categories, and even further down when it comes to passing. That is partly due to the poor play calling, and the inconsistencies at offensive coordinator, and partly due to Mariota's struggles to not only throw the ball, but stay healthy. He's battled numerous injury issues during his career, including a scary issue last year that caused numbness.
Mariota is going into the final year of his rookie deal and will need to prove that he's worth another contract extension. He gets a new offensive coordinator this time around in Arthur Smith, who was promoted from tight ends coach, in a relatively shocking move. Maybe Smith can put Mariota in situations where he can succeed, as well as give the Titans opportunities to win games. Another part of this situation is Mariota's health. I discussed it above, but he has a big durability problem, something that the Titans will discuss when talking about if he deserves that huge extension. The ball is squarely in Mariota's court right now, so we'll see if he's able to take advantage of a new opportunity, or tank it all away.