For the overall 2018 NFL Preview click here, and see the links at the bottom of the page for the rest of the divisional previews.
Much like last season, you can hear the “Sacksonville” defense before you see them.
You’ve got one guy talking undefeated season. Another guy trash talking damn near everyone. Hell, Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler were even fighting each other in training camp.
Considering the Jaguars came about five minutes shy of their first Super Bowl appearance, that confidence is justified. Former Terp Yannick Ngakoue had a great camp/preseason and figures to have a big season opposite Calais Campbell. Ramsey’s bite is every bit as good as his bark. Every level of the defense is solid, easily making this one of the best defenses in the league.
The big question mark is again on offense. Top receiver Marqise Lee suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, so Blake Bortles will have to prove he can be a consistent QB without premier weapons. Assuming Leonard Fournette can have a healthy, productive sophomore season, Jacksonville has enough to repeat as division champs.
Before J.J. Watt was a notable philanthropist, he was the most dominant defensive player in pro football. Injuries robbed him of all but eight games the last two seasons, but he’s back and ready to pick up where he left off when he was the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year. If he does, he’ll give the Texans’ D playmakers at every level of the unit, thanks to the offseason addition of Tyrann Mathieu.
The offense also gets a key player back from injury — Deshaun Watson returns from his torn ACL, but getting him up to speed could contribute to a slow start. I’m inclined to believe any struggles will be less the result of a sophomore slump than Watson working his way back to form, so count on Watson eventually helping DeAndre Hopkins return to All-Pro status, and getting just enough help from Lamar Miller and the run game to get Houston in contention for a Wild Card spot, if not the division title.
Just eight years removed from his playing career, Mike Vrabel has quickly shot up the coaching ranks, a rookie coach inheriting a playoff team, seeking to bring the Patriot Way to yet another NFL city.
His defense should be solid: Kevin Byard is supremely motivated to build on his breakout 2017 season, and ex-Pat Malcolm Butler gets the fresh start he needs after his inexplicable benching in the Super Bowl. Derrick Morgan’s knee injury hurts, but this unit shouldn’t be a liability.
It’ll be interesting to see how the offense fares, though. Another former Patriot, Dion Lewis, should be a nice change of pace for lead back Derrick Henry under new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was in Washington during RG3’s electrifying rookie season. If he and the QB coach of the stars can help Marcus Mariota be a star, the sky is the limit for Tennessee.
But their head coach has just four years of NFL coaching experience, so expect some growing pains in Year 1 of the Vrabel era.
Loudmouth owner Jim Irsay is promising a return to glory for Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
First-year coach Frank Reich left a Super Bowl team rich with QB talent to helm a Colts team still operating under the baseless assumption they have it despite struggling through Andrew Luck’s yearslong shoulder issues. Luck is expected to start the season, but after such a long layoff there’s no telling if he’s still the guy who threw 40 TDs in 2014 to get the Colts to the AFC title game.
Luck should finally get some level of help up front, as first-round pick Quenton Nelson already looks like a veteran and Ryan Kelly should be ready to roll after an injury-shortened sophomore season. But the Colts are banking on last year’s mid-round pick, Marlon Mack, being the answer at running back and that’s a risky proposition for a team trying to ease Luck’s load.
The defense will likely struggle in its first year transitioning to a 4-3 defense, especially without a top flight pass rusher. Luck may provide a slight boost in confidence, but probably not the on-field boon Irsay’s team is banking on.
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