By Stephen Juza
July 31st, 2023
Continuing our predictions for the 2023 NFL season, our next stop is the AFC South. The division is in a transition period, with three of the four teams taking quarterbacks in the first two rounds of April’s draft, two new coaches starting their head coaching careers, and a division that is as open as any. Watch for the Jacksonville Jaguars to repeat as division champions under second-year head coach Doug Pederson.
After finishing with six wins in their last seven games, the Jaguars were able to clinch their first division title since 2017. After a disastrous 2021 season that saw new head coach Urban Meyer fired before his first season was completed, the team rebounded under Doug Pederson. The Jaguars enter the season with a strong hand, hoping to play their hand right and secure another division title under the guidance of Coach Pederson.
Continuity will be a major with this team. The team returns almost every starter from last season. Third-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence began showing why he was one of the most hyped draft picks in the last ten years and he should continue that this season. Beyond a year of experience, this season brings a new receiving weapon after Calvin Ridley returns after his season long suspension. For those familiar with poker hands, he could be the equivalent of a royal flush if he can find some form.
Look for the Jaguars to repeat as champions and secure their first back-to-back division titles since the 1998/1999 seasons.
The Houston Texans had a rough 2022 season, culminating in firing their head coach for the second consecutive offseason. Entering 2023, optimism is high with the hiring of DeMeco Ryans to lead the team. After drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud and edge Will Anderson, Jr. second and third overall in the NFL draft, the team hoped to find franchise cornerstones on both sides of the ball.
After leading the 49ers defense for the last two years, including a defense that ranked #1 in both yards and points allowed, Ryans hopes to shore up the Texans defense. A big step in leading that will be free agent defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins. In a division with two of the top running backs in the league, the run defense will be critical to winning the close games that the Texans will need to rely on in 2023.
The Indianapolis Colts enter the 2023 season with many of the same questions as the Texans, behind a rookie head coach/quarterback tandem. While Ryans led a top defense in the West, new Colts head coach Shane Steichen led a top offense in the East. Steichens was hired by the Colts to turn around the franchise, and providing stability to the QB position will be a big part of that success. After constant turnover at the position, the franchise is hoping that fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson can be the answer.
His success should be easier with defending rushing champion Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, should he report to the team. In an offseason filled with noise and threats of holdouts from the running backs across the league, Taylor is the last high profile running back who has yet to report. Entering the final season of his contract and hoping for an extension, if the Colts want to win games, they will need him in the backfield. If, or rather, when, he reports, he should pair with Richardson to form a feared running combination in the division.
While the Tennessee Titans have one of the best running backs in the league in Derrick Henry and new wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, I do not think it will be enough on offense to compete in the division. Henry will be good enough to lead the team to a few victories on his own, but the Titans probably will not get much help from the quarterback position.
After having arguably the worst season of his career since his rookie year, he should not inspire hope for the franchise. Look for the Titans to turn it over to one of the young quarterbacks on their roster by their bye week as they start to look toward the future. While head coach Mike Vrabel has led the team to three division titles in his five seasons, look for his seat to start warming up by the end of the season if they end in the basement.
Read our other division predictions: