- Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars surprised many last season by coming very close to going to the super bowl. However, this team could be just as good in 2018 as they were when they almost knocked off the Patriots in the AFC Championship last year. The Jaguars offense is clearly the weakness of the Jaguars team, but they still have several really good players. Starting running back Leonard Fournette is already one of the top running backs in the NFL and he will be the one to carry the offense. However, they also have TJ Yeldon who provides some solid depth at running back. Meanwhile, the offensive line appears to be even better next season after the addition of elite guard Andrew Norwell this offseason. The main question for the Jaguars will once again be their passing game. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been criticized heavily in the local and national media for his performance the past couple of seasons. However, Bortles actually played relatively well last season especially considering he barely had any wide receivers to throw to. The Jaguars wide receiver group doesn’t appear to be any better this season even with the additions of 2nd round pick DJ Chark and free agent signing Donte Moncrief. The best receiver for the Jaguars is clearly Marqise Lee, but he has really struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career. The Jaguars don’t need a great passing game since they have one of the top running games in the NFL, although Bortles will still need to be relied upon to make plays in key situations. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense is really what carried the team last season and it is arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. They have the best pass rush in the entire NFL with Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, and Dante Fowler all having at least 8 sacks each last season. The Jaguars also have pro-bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and rookie 1st round defensive tackle Taven Bryan which makes the Jaguars defensive line probably the deepest in the NFL. Jacksonville also has two very talented young linebackers with Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Also, Jacksonville arguably has the best secondary in the entire NFL. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the best cornerback duo in the NFL in my opinion as they combined for 10 interceptions last season. Also, the Jaguars might have one of the best safety duos with Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. The only real weakness that the Jaguars have on defense is at middle linebacker, but that shouldn’t hold the Jaguars from being one of the top defenses in the NFL. Jacksonville might struggle to score some points if they can’t throw the ball well, but the defense and running game are among the best in the NFL which is why they will likely win the division this year.
2. Houston Texans
Last year was really rough for the Texans as they went 4-12, but that was mostly due to the injury to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, when he was healthy then the Texans proved that they could compete with any NFL team including the Patriots. If Watson plays like he did last season then the Texans should be considered a playoff contender. He has a couple of good receivers to throw to as DeAndre Hopkins might be the best receiver in the NFL and Will Fuller is a terrific number 2 receiver as well. Houston also has a decent running game with Lamar Miller leading the way and D’Onta Foreman will compete for the starting job if he is healthy to start the season. The main concern for the Texans is their offensive line. It was an absolute disaster last season and they didn’t do too much to improve it this season as they didn’t have the draft picks to be able to do so. However, Watson is mobile enough that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Texans in 2018. Meanwhile, having J.J. Watt back from injury will give the Texans a huge boost on defense. Having Watt to go along with star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney will give Houston a major pass rush threat. The Texans also have a very good linebacker with Benardrick McKinney as he establishes a hard-hitting presence for Houston. However, the best overall position group for the Texans might be their secondary as they have two quality cornerbacks with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. Also, the addition of safety Tyrann Mathieu fills what was a major position of weakness for the Texans last season. Injuries derailed the Texans 2017 season, but as long as their key players remain healthy then they could definitely make the playoffs in 2018.
3. Tennessee Titans
The Titans somehow managed to make the playoffs last season despite a very poor season from quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, there is no excuse for the Titans quarterback to not improve this season as he has plenty of weapons surrounding him. He has some really talented wide receivers with Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis, but he also has pro-bowl tight end Delanie Walker to throw to. The Titans even have a very good running game led by power running back Derrick Henry and the addition of Dion Lewis as well. Not to mention, Mariota has plenty of protection from the offensive line with players like Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, and Josh Kline. Mariota is still a threat to run the ball, but he threw too many interceptions last season and he wasn’t good enough in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Titans defense was decent last season and it could be even better in 2018. They have three good pass rushers with Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo, and pro-bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The linebacker group was good last season as well with Wesley Woodyard and it figures to be even better with the additions of 1st round pick Rashaan Evans and 2nd round pick Harold Landry. The Titans also have one of the best safeties in the NFL with Kevin Byard who had a whopping 8 interceptions last year. However, the secondary could become a strength this year with the addition of cornerback Malcolm Butler in free agency. The Titans have a new head coach with Mike Vrabel and it could be a tough transition for the Titans. However, the success of this season depends on if Marcus Mariota can have a comeback year. If that happens then the Titans have a chance to make the playoffs again in 2018.
4. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had an awful 2017 season, but that was kind of to be expected considering their star quarterback was out for the entire year. However, quarterback Andrew Luck is expected to be back for week 1 of the season and that would be huge for the Colts. Luck can make the team somewhat competitive by himself, but the issue is the Colts still have a very poor roster around him. He has a terrific number one receiver with T.Y. Hilton, but the rest of the receiving group isn’t good. They signed Ryan Grant to be their 2nd receiver, but he hasn’t done much in his NFL career. Also, the Colts have what appears to be a very weak running game after the departure of Frank Gore. Marlon Mack figures to be the starting running back and rookie 4th round pick Nyheim Hines could see plenty of playing time as well. However, both are extremely inexperienced and neither appear to be very good options. The good news is that the offensive line for Indianapolis could be good this year for once after they drafted elite guard prospect Quenton Nelson in the 1st round. The Colts suddenly have a decent offensive line as they also have Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly. Having Andrew Luck back makes the Colts undoubtedly better, but it won’t help much if he doesn’t have much around him on offense. Meanwhile, the defense for the Colts might be even worse than last season if that’s even possible. The Colts had an awful pass rush last season as they only finished with 25 sacks combined. Jabaal Sheard is the team’s best pass rusher right now, although he only had 5.5 sacks in 2017 for Indianapolis. The issue is that the Colts have basically the exact same defensive line as last season and the only change they made was drafting defensive end Kemoko Turay in the 2nd round. Turay likely isn’t the answer to their pass rush woes and they need the other players on the defensive line to be much better. The linebacker group for the Colts appears to be just as bad as their defensive line. Their linebacker group might have been even better last season, although adding 2nd round pick Darius Leonard should help a little bit. The Colts secondary is probably the strength of the defense with young safety Malik Hooker leading the way. However, their two best cornerbacks from last season Vontae Davis and Rashaan Melvin are both gone. That leaves the Colts with basically nothing at cornerback heading into next season. The Colts have arguably the worst defense in the NFL and it will put too much pressure on the offense to score points. If Andrew Luck stays healthy then he will keep the Colts a respectable team, but even he can’t make the Colts a playoff contender unless the rest of the team steps up.