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2020 NFL Game-by-Game Record Predictions: AFC South

Will a loaded offseason allow the Colts to compete with the Titans? How ugly will things be in Jacksonville? One BTSC writer offers his predictions for each team in the AFC South.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

In the third installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series, which will span 9 parts, I’ll be examining the dynamic yet dreadful AFC South.

Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.

Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!

Past Predictions: AFC North, AFC East

Tennessee Titans

Week 1: at Denver Broncos (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 2-0)
Week 3: at Minnesota Vikings (L, 2-1)
Week 4: Pittsburgh Steelers (W, 3-1)
Week 5: Buffalo Bills (W, 4-1)
Week 6: Houston Texans (W, 5-1)
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Cincinnati Bengals (L, 5-2)
Week 9: Chicago Bears (W, 6-2)
Week 10: Indianapolis Colts (W, 7-2)
Week 11: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 7-3)
Week 12: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 7-4)
Week 13: Cleveland Browns (W, 8-4)
Week 14: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 9-4)
Week 15: Detroit Lions (W, 10-4)
Week 16: at Green Bay Packers (W, 11-4)
Week 17: at Houston Texans (W, 12-4)

Make no mistake: the Titans are still legitimate.

After coming off the bench against the Denver Broncos in Week 6 of 2019, Ryan Tannehill was absolutely sensational for Tennessee. He guided Mike Vrabel’s team to a 7-3 record in the games in which he started while earning a Pro Bowl nod via a 117.5 quarterback rating, the highest in the league.

Tannehill didn’t just have to keep the Titans afloat himself via his accuracy, though. Running back Derrick Henry trotted for a league-high 1,540 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns to bolster his solid 2018 campaign.

In the 2019 postseason, Henry just couldn’t be stopped as he ran for a whopping 182 and 195 yards against the Patriots and Ravens, respectively—two top 4 defenses in terms of Football Outsiders’ 2019 Defensive DVOA—leading the Titans to an AFC Championship berth.

Tennessee witnessed several key departures this offseason, including Jack Conklin, Delanie Walker, Jurrell Casey—one that was self-inflicted—and Logan Ryan. However, they were able to mitigate such nascent vacancies by drafting Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson as well as LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, not to mention signing former Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley.

The Titans play a litany of excellent squads this year such as the Broncos, Vikings, Steelers, Bills, Colts, Ravens and Packers, but their playoff intrepidity demonstrates their ultimate fortitude. I think Vrabel & Co. will proliferate their 2019 mark to earn the #3 seed in the AFC.

Indianapolis Colts

Week 1: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Minnesota Vikings (W, 2-0)
Week 3: New York Jets (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at Chicago Bears (W, 4-0)
Week 5: at Cleveland Browns (L, 4-1)
Week 6: Cincinnati Bengals (L, 4-2)
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Detroit Lions (L, 4-3)
Week 9: Baltimore Ravens (L, 4-4)
Week 10: at Tennessee Titans (L, 4-5)
Week 11: Green Bay Packers (W, 5-5)
Week 12: Tennessee Titans (W, 6-5)
Week 13: at Houston Texans (W, 7-5)
Week 14: at Las Vegas Raiders (L, 7-6)
Week 15: Houston Texans (W, 8-6)
Week 16: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 8-7)
Week 17: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 9-7)

General Manager Chris Ballard made an intriguing decision to sign former Chargers stalwart quarterback Philip Rivers to a 1-year, $25 million deal considering fellow former NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was relatively average in 2019. By no means was Brissett poor as he posted just 6 interceptions yet he also was far from electric, as he did not reach the 20 touchdown or 3,000 yard thresholds.

I’m not confident Rivers will be a monumental boon to Indy especially since he just came off of arguably the worst year of his career, but he will certainly provide more experience and fire (even through PG-13 trash talk) than Brissett.

What’s promising for the Colts is that Rivers is surrounded by a myriad of talent. The Colts were able to infuse star power via their 2020 Draft class by selecting USC WR Michael Pittman, Jr. as well as Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor. Pittman will join a good receiving corps with the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and second-year speedster Paris Campbell; likewise, Taylor will share carries with star Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines.

Rivers will be well-protected, too, as the Indianapolis boasts a premier offensive line, quite possibly the best in the league.

Moreover, the Colts made a defensive splash by accruing elite DT DeForest Buckner from the NFC Champion 49ers. He is a true disruptor and should make his presence felt. Indianapolis’ defense should perform similarly to its average play in 2019, but I’m anxious about its secondary considering the declining Xavier Rhodes appears to be its first option at cornerback.

Although I do expect the Colts to lose 5 straight towards the middle of the season, I think they can rebound nicely and gut out a Wild Card berth as they are my #7 seed.

Houston Texans

Week 1: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 0-1)
Week 2: Baltimore Ravens (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 0-3)
Week 4: Minnesota Vikings (W, 1-3)
Week 5: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 2-3)
Week 6: at Tennessee Titans (L, 2-4)
Week 7: Green Bay Packers (L, 2-5)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Jacksonville Jaguars (L, 2-6)
Week 10: at Cleveland Browns (W, 3-6)
Week 11: New England Patriots (L, 3-7)
Week 12: at Detroit Lions (W, 4-7)
Week 13: Indianapolis Colts (L, 4-8)
Week 14: at Chicago Bears (W, 5-8)
Week 15: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 5-9)
Week 16: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 6-9)
Week 17: Tennessee Titans (L, 6-10)

It seems coach/general manager Bill O’Brien is doing his best to derail Houston’s 2-year postseason streak.

To start, O’Brien packaged arguably the league’s best wideout, DeAndre Hopkins, with a 2020 4th Round Pick to the Cardinals in exchange for an ailing and washed up David Johnson, a 2020 2nd Round Pick as well as a 2021 4th Round Pick.

After acquiring Johnson, the Texans now have a quagmire at running back, as neither Johnson, nor his surname twin Duke Johnson, eclipsed 450 yards last year.

Another headache caused by O’Brien is at wide receiver as the Texans added yet another deep threat by trading for the RamsBrandin Cooks. Cooks has a mark of 10.4 yards before catch per reception (YBC/R) since 2018 and will be paired with fellow speed demons Will Fuller (9.7 YBC/R since 2018) and Kenny Stills (10.9 YBC/R since 2018) as well as slot man Randall Cobb. To further complicate things, Fuller has yet to play a full season since entering the league 4 years ago, and Stills started a microscopic 5 games in 2019.

What makes me feel even more for superstar Deshaun Watson is a subpar defense. Houston replaced defensive tackle D.J. Reader with Ross Blacklock via the Draft, but its talent in the secondary is scant outside of emerging safety Justin Reid.

Holistically, it seems that this team lacks both a winning mentality and the talent to flourish in 2020, even if Watson posts MVP-type numbers, which he very well may. In fact, I wouldn’t be astounded if Watson were so exasperated that he importuned a trade at season’s end.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 1: Indianapolis Colts (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Tennessee Titans (L, 0-2)
Week 3: Miami Dolphins (L, 0-3)
Week 4: at Cincinnati Bengals (L, 0-4)
Week 5: at Houston Texans (L, 0-5)
Week 6: Detroit Lions (W, 1-5)
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: at Los Angeles Chargers (L, 1-6)
Week 9: Houston Texans (W, 2-6)
Week 10: at Green Bay Packers (L, 2-7)
Week 11: Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 2-8)
Week 12: Cleveland Browns (L, 2-9)
Week 13: at Minnesota Vikings (L, 2-10)
Week 14: Tennessee Titans (L, 2-11)
Week 15: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 2-12)
Week 16: Chicago Bears (L, 2-13)
Week 17: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 2-14)

Per ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Jaguars have the highest odds of any team to earn the #1 overall pick at 23%. This very well may be the only thing to which they live up to the hype in 2020, if it’ can even be considered an accomplishment.

Although Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew became a folk lore hero during his inconsistent rookie campaign, I expect there to be far less “Minshew Magic” in 2020. Minshew’s lone elite option is wideout D.J. Chark. Besides Chark, the Jaguars have several weapons about which I am tepid, including Leonard Fournette, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Lasviska Shenault and Tyler Eifert.

However, I have to accredit GM David Caldwell for his efforts to mitigate the losses to his defense. After trading away defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye this offseason, Caldwell drafted edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson 20th overall and corner C.J. Henderson at #9 overall both in the 1st round to help infuse some skill.

Further, the Jaguars added Browns headliner Joe Schobert to pair with Myles Jack at inside linebacker, creating a good front 7 which includes the likes of defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue who very well may hold out if he isn’t dealt along with second-year starter Josh Allen.

On the back end, though, things get gruesome. Henderson very well may be thrust into the starting corner rotation, pairing with journeyman Rashaan Melvin and D.J. Hayden, none of which has ever started a full 16 games. At safety, things improve marginally via Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson, but by no means is either exceptional.

What definitely does not work in Jacksonville’s favor is playing the stacked AFC North and NFC North. Aside from several potential upsets, expect many losses, and a new franchise quarterback being taken in April 2021.