NFL Season Preview: AFC South

Sports Mole previews the 2014 season of teams in the AFC South.

The Indianapolis Colts secured a playoff berth and AFC South title with ease last year in a division low on quality in the 2013 season.

The Houston Texans went from first to worst as they fell from a 12-4 record in the 2012 campaign to a 2-14 record in 2013 and the first overall pick in the 2014 Draft.

The Tennessee Titans kept up their recent mediocrity with a 7-9 performance, while the Jacksonville Jaguars improved mildly to 4-12.

Here, Sports Mole breaks down the prospects for the AFC South teams heading into the 2014 season with all the sides eyeing improvement.


Indianapolis Colts

Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 in a Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014© Getty Images

Last season: 11-5 – Divisional-round loss

Notable ins: Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants), Arthur Jones (Baltimore Ravens), D'Qwell Jackson (Cleveland Browns), Mike Adams (Denver Broncos)

Notable outs: Antoine Bethea (San Francisco 49ers), Donald Brown (San Diego Chargers), Cassius Vaughn (Detroit Lions)

Outlook: The Colts continued their solid progression under Andrew Luck, who will be looking to make the step up to join the elite quarterbacks and lift his side into the latter stages of the playoffs. Chuck Pagano's side were blown away by the New England Patriots in the divisional round last season, but with some decent additions they could get one further than last time out.

The return to health of dynamic tight end Dwayne Allen is huge for the club as he provides a mismatch all over the field, while the addition of Hakeem Nicks to receiving corps gives Luck a big body to throw to along with the speedster TY Hilton and the veteran Reggie Wayne. The Colts could have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but they will need production from Trent Richardson this year as all eyes will be on him following the expensive trade the club used to acquire him last year.

The addition of Arthur Jones could help the Colts on the defensive line this year while D'Qwell Jackson will provide leadership in the linebacking corps. The talent in their secondary is concerning as only Vontae Davis looks a quality option good enough to cope with the likes of the Patriots and the Denver Broncos' passing attack.

Prediction: 11-5 – Divisional-round loss – The Colts endure the same fate and record as the 2013 season. They have bolstered their receiving corps but still aren't good enough to live with the talen of the Patriots and Broncos.


Houston Texans

J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans looks on from the sidelines against the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 2-14 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Jadeveon Clowney (Draft), Kendrick Lewis (Kansas City Chiefs), Jerrell Powe (Kansas City Chiefs), Ryan Mallett (New England Patriots), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee Titans)

Notable outs: Antonio Smith (Oakland Raiders), Matt Schaub (Oakland Raiders), Earl Mitchell (Miami Dolphins), Darryl Sharpton (Washington Redskins), Ben Tate (Cleveland Browns)

Outlook: The 2013 season was a disaster for the Houston Texans and head coach Gary Kubiak paid the price for the failure with his job as the club went from Super Bowl contenders to the worst team in the league. Bill O'Brien was brought to replace him from college side Penn State and immediately bolstered his side with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, while quarterback Matt Schaub was traded away to the Oakland Raiders.

Ryan Fitzpatrick will lead the Texans' offense this season, despite the trade for New England Patriots backup Ryan Mallett last week. Fitzpatrick was inconsistent in his time with the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills and may not be the answer at quarterback, while a lot will again be asked of running back Arian Foster. So there could be a time of struggle for Houston despite the scheme talent of head coach O'Brien.

Clowney will bolster an already frighteningly good defensive line and could forge an excellent partnership with JJ Watt, who the Texans signed to a six-year deal last week. Their linebacking corps will be boosted by the return of Brian Cushing from injury, but their depth at the position has taken a hit over free agency which could lead to problems during the season. The secondary also has question marks at the cornerback position.

Prediction: 8-8 – Miss playoffs- The Texans will recover from their poor 2013 campaign, but will not be the contenders in the AFC they were in 2012. O'Brien will have a solid start to life as a head coach in the NFL.


Tennessee Titans

Shonn Greene of the Tennessee Titans runs through Josh Evans of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a game at EverBank Field on December 22, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 7-9 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Wesley Woodyard (Denver Broncos), Shaun Phillips (Denver Broncos), Dexter McCluster (Kansas City Chiefs), Michael Oher (Baltimore Ravens), TJ Graham (Buffalo Bills)

Notable outs: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Houston Texans), Chris Johnson (New York Jets), Kenny Britt (St Louis Rams), Alterraun Verner (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Outlook: The Titans continued their mediocrity in the NFL as they finished with a 7-9 record in the 2013 season, failing to reach the playoffs for the five-straight season. That failure cost Mike Munchak his job and he was replaced by Ken Whisenhunt.

Whisenhunt is an excellent coach but faces a challenge to turn his side into a playoff-calibre team. Getting performances from his key players will be crucial and none more so that Jurrell Casey, who has been the Titans' star performer in recent seasons on the defensive line. Their defense has some talent but not enough playmakers to be an elite unit.

Jake Locker has had problems staying healthy and that continued in the 2013 as he missed nine games with a Lisfranc injury. The 26-year-old has to play a full season this year to give his side a chance of competing in the division, while he does have some talent around him at the receiver position in Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright.

Prediction: 6-10 – Miss playoffs – The Titans are one of a number of teams in transition and are not helped by a tough schedule this season, which will see them post a six-win campaign.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Ace Sanders of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs for a long gain in the first half of the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on November 24, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 4-12 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Chris Clemons (Seattle Seahawks), Red Bryant (Seattle Seahawks), Zane Beadles (Denver Broncos), Toby Gerhart (Minnesota Vikings), Ziggy Hood (Pittsburgh Steelers), Blake Bortles (Draft)

Notable outs: Jason Babin (New York Jets), Will Rackley (Baltimore Ravens), Blaine Gabbert (San Francisco 49ers), Maurice Jones-Drew (Oakland Raiders)

Outlook: The Jaguars have made a point of emphasis to rebuild their defensive line in the off-season, and head coach Gus Bradley used his connections with the Seattle Seahawks to secure the signings of Gus Bradley and Chris Clemons. Both players should being experience and quality to the line and make the Jaguars difficult to run on in the 2014 season.

Their secondary and linebacking corps remains a work in progress and will take a bit longer to develop. As may the club's offense, as Chad Henne has been named the starter ahead of number three pick in the Draft Blake Bortles, which may change later in the campaign if Henne's inconsistencies return.

The Jaguars also allowed Maurice Jones-Drew to leave EverBank Field to join the Raiders, and Toby Gerhart will take on his carries this year in a season of much change for Bradley's side.

Prediction: 6-10 – Miss playoffs - Bradley is doing his best to overhaul the Jaguars and little by little is trying to change their identity. They have their quarterback for the future, but now need to get the talent around him and may be forced to go through another season of struggle before that can change.

Delanie Walker #82 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter at LP Field on November 14, 2013
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