2022 AFC South Preview

September 6, 2022

Getty Images/Wesley Hitt

For the overall 2022 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the previews.

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Overview | Playoffs | Awards

Colts 9-8

This tends to be the case in Indy every year, but owner Jim Irsay says the Colts are all in for ’22.

That’s exactly why he didn’t want to roll the dice on the possibility of Carson Wentz devolving as he did in Philly, and instead would rather bank on a 37-year-old Matt Ryan making like Peyton Manning in Denver.

Unfortunately for Colts fans, that’s a sucker’s bet. Ryan is coming off his first sub-4,000-yard passing season since 2010 and did nothing to lift Atlanta out of mediocrity in the six years since his Falcons infamously blew a 25-point Super Bowl lead to the Patriots. Yet somehow, Irsay — and the rest of the NFL, for that matter — somehow applies more luster to Ryan’s 2016 MVP than Cam Newton’s the prior season.

The guess here is the offense isn’t substantially better than it was with Wentz at the helm, primarily because of the “meh” collection of pass catchers. Also, the defense is betting that former Pro Bowlers Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore will give juice to that unit, as well as hoping Shaquille (previously Darius) Leonard returns to form following back surgery.

There’s a case for this team winning as many as 11 games but as few as seven or eight — so I’ll split the difference and say nine is enough to win a mediocre division that might be the worst in the NFL.

Titans 8-9

Tennessee’s divisional round playoff loss to the eventual conference champion Bengals didn’t just end the Titans’ season —  it may have ended their reign among the AFC’s best.

Ryan Tannehill was borderline traumatized by the playoff loss, and now he’s locked in a real-life version of “Any Given Sunday” with rookie Malik Willis, who flashed signs in the preseason that he could be a rare and special player at the sport’s most important position.

Derrick Henry is still a force to be reckoned with — he’s a virtual lock to rush for over 1,500 yards if he stays healthy (which he wasn’t in 2021, playing in only eight games). But dealing A.J. Brown to Philly leaves Tennessee with Robert Woods and rookie Treylon Burks as the top receiving targets for a quarterback who needs everything around him to be elite in order to look elite himself.

Count on a regression in Nashville that greases the skids for the Willis era to begin sooner rather than later.

Jaguars 7-10

Jacksonville had to learn the hard way that hiring Urban Meyer to coach a pro team is as toxic as it is galactically stupid, so now they begin a long healing process under former Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson.

I still think D.C. native and former Jaguars first-round pick Byron Leftwich, the real brains of the Bucs offense, was a better choice — he’d be uniquely suited to get the most out of last year’s first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Pederson is certainly a safe hire for a franchise stuck in the AFC South basement for four years running, the last two of which left them dead last in the entire league.

The Jaguars broke bank in order to break those last-place streaks, opening free agency with a record-setting spending spree reminiscent of Washington circa 2000, that (speaking of Washington) included Brandon Scherff to stabilize the offensive line and way too much money for Christian Kirk and Evan Engram — both first-round underachievers in their previous stops.

Travis Etienne is healthy after losing his entire rookie season to injury, and could thrive in the Jags’ offense in a Deebo Samuel-like role. Jacksonville will need him to because the receiving corps is far from elite.

No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker was added to a defense that’s already deep with pass rushers, so there’s actually a chance that Mike Caldwell’s defense makes the Jags a threat to take the division sooner rather than later.

I don’t think the Jaguars will get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they will lay a foundation to return to postseason contention in 2023 and beyond.

Texans 4-13

Will Davis Mills and the Houston Texans “shock the world?”

Take it away, Bishop Bullwinkle:

Mills has reason to be confident on an individual level — he had a season nearly identical to Tua Tagovailoa last year and finished 2021 by completing 68% of his passes for 1,258 yards with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last five starts (good for a 102.4 passer rating). The dude can play.

But it’s going to take a lot more than third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. to improve the second-worst defense in 2021, especially since new head coach Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator for that unit.

As such, Lovie (like predecessor David Culley) is basically a placeholder for a dysfunctional franchise that seems oddly obsessed with making former journeyman quarterback Josh McCown their head coach.

The Texans can’t get out of their own way, so the only improvement they’ll see is picking second overall in the draft instead of third.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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