The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about the 32 teams looking to book a trip to Super Bowl LVII.
Kickoff for the 2022 regular season is set for Thursday, Sept. 8 and today we look at the AFC South.
2021 record: 9-8, second in AFC South, missed playoffs
Notable roster additions: QB Matt Ryan, DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Stephon Gilmore, S Rodney McLeod, QB Nick Foles, Alec Pierce (2022 second-round pick)
Notable roster subtractions: QB Carson Wentz, WR T.Y. Hilton, TE Jack Doyle, RB Marlon Mack, OG Mark Glowinski, OT Eric Fisher, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Rock Ya-Sin
The good news: The team got better while the division remains weak overall. The off-season was highlighted by the trade that brought in a new starting QB for the fifth season in a row. Matt Ryan is a borderline Hall of Famer that should have a couple good years left in him and is a clear upgrade over Carson Wentz in this offence. Ryan has averaged more than 600 passing attempts over the past four years but should have a lighter workload in 2022. Ryan hasn’t played behind an offensive line this strong in years, if ever, and he has the league’s rushing champ in Jonathan Taylor to do the heavy lifting in this offence. Ryan is at his best when the play-action is working and even if he goes down NNick Foles has proven to be as reliable a backup as any team could ask for.
Indy also improved its defensive depth with the addition of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue and perennial Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore to an already well-rounded defence corps. The Colts have the third-easiest strength of schedule, according to Sharp Analytics. They’ll knock off five of their six divisional matchups within the first seven weeks of the schedule – two each versus the Titans and Jaguars and one against the Texans, who they also face in the regular-season finale.
The bad news: The Colts could be without their best defensive player to start the year. Shaquille Leonard, formerly known as Darius, is recovering from off-season back surgery and his timetable for a return is unclear. Thankfully he was removed from the PUP list Tuesday and could make his season debut earlier than expected. On the offensive side of the ball, one area of concern is the fact Matty Ice is 37 and not a mobile QB.
Super Bowl Odds: +2500
Division Title Odds: -150
Wins Total: 9.5 (Over -160/Under +135)
2021 record: 3-14, fourth in AFC South (worst record in NFL), missed playoffs for fourth consecutive season
Notable roster additions: OLB Travon Walker (2022 first-overall pick), WR Christian Kirk, G Brandon Scherff, TE Evan Engram, WR Zay Jones, LB Devin Lloyd (2022 first-round pick), OL Luke Fortner (2022 first-round pick), CB Darious Williams, head coach Doug Pederson
Notable roster subtractions: Head coach Urban Meyer, LB Myles Jack, LB Damien Wilson, WR Laviska Shenault Jr., G Andrew Norwell, C Brandon Linder, RB Carlos Hyde, WR D.J. Chark
The good news: Could these Jags pull off a miracle turnaround like what the Bengals did in 2021, going from worst to first in the AFC North thanks in part to a breakout season from a sophomore QB that was selected first overall? It’s a lot to ask, sure, however a drastic turnaround is not out of the question for these Jags. Addition by subtraction will be clear as day with the disastrous one-year Urban Meyer experiment in the rear-view mirror. Trevor Lawrence will have a better chance to succeed working with Doug Pederson, who has done solid work with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in Philadelphia. Lawrence is surrounded by more weapons than he had last season, including one of his former Clemson teammates. Travis Etienne missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury but he’ll debut in a backfield that also has James Robinson. First-round picks Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd breathe new life and energy into the defence.
The bad news: Taking a mulligan on last season is easier said than done. How many bad habits were learned under the previous coach? Has Pederson mitigated the damage done during the infamous Meyer era? Lawrence could be limited if not given adequate protection from a consensus bottom-10 offensive line. The front seven is full of potential, while the group of defensive backs leaves much to be desired.
Super Bowl Odds: +10000
Division Title Odds: +700
Wins Total: 6.5 (Over +115/Under -135)
2021 record: 4-13, third in AFC South, missed playoffs for second consecutive year
Notable roster additions: CB Derek Stingley (2022 first-round pick), OG Kenyon Green (2022 first-round pick), S Jalen Pitre (2022 second-round pick), RB Dameon Pierce (2022 fourth-round pick), RB Marlon Mack, Lovie Smith promoted to head coach
Notable roster subtractions: QB Deshaun Watson, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Mark Ingram, RB Phillip Lindsay, interim head coach David Culley
The good news: They can finally, officially stop answering questions about their former franchise quarterback. Houston’s 2021 campaign was derailed before it began with Deshaun Watson’s trade request prior to his scandal dominating headlines and overshadowing the team’s on-field efforts. In a sense, there’s nowhere to go but up after back-to-back four-win seasons. Lovie Smith is a respected veteran bench boss that can serve as a calming stopgap presence for his young team led by sophomore QB Davis Mills. Star left tackle Laremy Tunsil returns after only playing five games last season and Mills still has perennial 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks as his top target. The team is healthier than it was last season and won’t have the worst o-line in the division, which could bode well for rookie running back Dameon Pierce and others to thrive in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s system.
Also, the Browns presumably won’t be as good without Watson while he serves his suspension, which could help the Texans in the long run. Houston acquired 2023 first- and third-round picks as part of the package it received from Cleveland in the blockbuster off-season trade. The worse Cleveland does, the better Houston’s draft position ends up being.
The bad news: Houston is projected to finish at or near the bottom of the league standings yet again, which means Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young – the projected top two quarterback prospects in the 2023 draft class – will be connected to Houston throughout the season, a potential distraction for Mills. Despite adding Derek Stingley Jr., who has superstar potential, and Jalen Pitre to the secondary, the defensive backfield remains relatively weak.
The Texans had the worst rushing attack in the NFL in 2021, some of that can be attributed to often playing from behind — an issue they could once again face this year. Mills has perennial 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks to rely on, however this team could have difficulty stretching the field – especially without speedy Canadian rookie John Metchie, who was diagnosed with leukemia in July. Houston also has one of the most difficult strength of schedule scores, facing the Colts, Broncos and Chargers in three of the first four weeks of the season.
Super Bowl Odds: +17500
Division Title Odds: +2800
Wins Total: 4.5 (Over -110/Under -110)
2021 record: 12-5, first in AFC South (best record in AFC), lost to Bengals in divisional round
Notable roster additions: WR Robert Woods, WR Treylon Burks (2022 first-round pick), CB Roger McCreary (2022 second-round pick), TE Austin Hooper, RB Hassan Haskins (2022 fourth-round pick), QB Malik Willis (2022 thrd-round pick)
Notable roster subtractions: WR A.J. Brown, WR Julio Jones, OG Rodger Saffold, OT David Quessenberry, LB Rashaan Evans
The good news: This Titans team has improved year-over-year under the leadership of reigning Coach of the Year Mike Vrabel, who boasts a 41-24 record over the past four seasons. The popular bench boss knows how to motivate his roster and the way the team persevered through a slew of injuries to key starters last season is a testament to that.
Safety Kevin Byard and defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons are outstanding talents and will continue to be leaned on heavily. Simmons clogs up the middle of the line of scrimmage and helps the pass rush as Byard assesses and impacts plays at an All-Pro level from the secondary. Rookie corner Roger McCreary hopes to help limit big plays through the air, which at times the Titans were susceptible to in 2021. Tennessee’s biggest challenge within the division is Indy and the Titans had consistent success against the Colts in recent seasons.
The bad news: In short, this is a run-heavy team whose offensive line got worse on paper and whose star running back is coming off a foot fracture and subsequent surgery. Derrick Henry is a unique talent as a ball carrier with his combination of size, speed, and brute force, although some regression is expected this year, especially with the offensive line losing a pair of starters in Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry. This undoubtedly hurts the running attack. Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan is back but can he regain his old form after only playing in 18 total games the past two years?
Replacing A.J. Brown and Julio Jones with Treylon Burks and Robert Woods doesn’t provide much optimism, at least not for this season. Neither does Ryan Tannehill’s massive cap hit, which makes one think ownership/management is willing to take a step back this year. What will need to happen for the team to turn to backup QB Malik Willis, whose stock fell dramatically during the draft earlier this year? A fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs would be a pleasant surprise for this roster.
Super Bowl Odds: +3000
Division Title Odds: +150
Wins Total: 9.5 (Over +115/Under -135)