For the overall 2019 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.
The Jaguars’ 25th season in Jacksonville comes with some expectations — from both the owner and The Professor — to author the seemingly-annual worst-to-first tale in the NFL. But it’s far from a lock.
Yes, Nick Foles is an upgrade over Blake “The Human Pick-Six” Bortles, but we have yet to really see Foles perform especially well outside of an Andy Reid offense. There won’t be a bevy of targets in the passing game, and troubled running back Leonard Fournette — who says he is in a better place now — has not demonstrated he can be relied upon for an entire 16-game season.
Rookie Josh Allen looks like an impact player on an already-stout defense that ranked in the top five in both scoring and yardage in 2018. Jalen Ramsey’s swag overflows in ways he hopes his pockets soon will. I have Jacksonville winning a wide-open division thanks to a tiebreaker edge over Houston, but if Foles left his magic in Philly and the Texans’ flurry of moves before the season pay off, this could just as easily be another sub-. 500 season in Jacksonville.
Given the wealth of skill position players in Houston, it’s almost ironic that the Texans’ hopes to contend in 2019 hinge on the play of their offensive line.
Houston gave up a league-high 62 sacks in 2018, and Deshaun Watson won’t survive another season like that. Cantankerous coach Bill O’Brien is clearly aware of that, which is why he took advantage of the absence of a general manager and traded away their future to get Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. Those additions, along with the trade for Duke Johnson, should help the offense stay productive without leading rusher Lamar Miller, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Now that Jadeveon Clowney calls the Pacific Northwest home because of a headscratching trade, the defense will rely that much more on J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus — both of whom are on the tail end of their prime years. Even before all the preseason movement, this was a playoff contender — but O’Brien’s wheeling and dealing has made this a deep-playoff-run-or-bust season. If it pays off, this is a division-winning title contender in the AFC. If this is closer to bust, then O’Brien will be ornery elsewhere in 2020.
But Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement changed all that. Jacoby Brissett is a terrific backup but his 15-start audition for the injured Luck in 2017 didn’t exactly inspire the confidence he can lift this offense to the 27.1 points per game the Colts scored with Luck last season.
The defense was in the top 10 in scoring in 2018 and returns more than enough to stay in that range this year. Plus, GM Chris Ballard has drafted well enough to make this a good team around whoever is playing quarterback.
But without Luck, it’ll take a lot of luck for Indy to avoid a mediocre season, especially in a competitive division like the AFC South.
Tennessee’s third-ranked scoring defense was the catalyst for Mike Vrabel’s 9-7 squad last year, one that stunned the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
That defense should remain strong. Cameron Wake should still have enough left in the tank to help the pass rush and Kevin Byard remains one of the most underrated playmakers in the defensive backfield.
However, the offense could have a setback with Marcus Mariota entering his fifth season with his fifth offensive coordinator — a guy whose monetary riches vastly outweigh what he’s got to work with talent-wise. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis remain a good 1-2 punch at RB, but it all hinges on Mariota: A breakout season means a playoff push for Tennessee and, um, maybe spares Vrabel’s nether regions. Another year of underperforming means nobody will remember these Titans.