AFC South is NFL’s wide-open space

By Matt Verderame

The AFC South is going to be a circus of both the macabre and absurd in 2016. All four teams, the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, can make real claims that they will take the crown this season.

For Tennessee, it would seem to have the longest odds. For starters, the Titans are coming from the second-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and have a new head coach in former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. This is a franchise that has a long way to go, and yet has some real players on the field. Should the quartet of Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, Kendall Wright and Marcus Mariota make sweet music in Nashville, perhaps Tennessee can surprise some folks.

As for the other three teams, all of them have all kinds of reasons to truly believe. Jacksonville is the trendy pick of so many, mostly because of a potent offense and a crazy spending spree this offseason. The Jagaurs went out and spent lavishly under general manager Dave Caldwell, signing Malik Jackson, Chris Ivory, Kelvin Beachum, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson to name a few. They also drafted Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey while getting back outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. from a torn ACL.

No team in the sport added more talent in a few months than Jacksonville. How it will manifest itself in the standings remains to be seen.

Then there are the Colts. Indianapolis was decidedly quieter in the offseason, although the $87 million doled out to quarterback Andrew Luck made quite the boom. Luck will need to do much of the heavy lifting himself this year for Indianapolis, which has good receivers and not much else. However, in today’s NFL, having an elite quarterback can be enough to win 10 games, especially in a division as wide open as the AFC South.

Finally, there are the Texans. Houston was able to finally solve its quarterback woes (maybe) with the signing of Brock Osweiler to a $72 million deal. Osweiler was joined in the backfield by Lamar Miller, who comes over to replace Arian Foster. Combine those moves with receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and the offense has the potential to be very good for the first time since the Matt Schaub era.

With J.J. Watt coming back Week 1, it stands to reason that Houston is the slight favorite in the South. If Osweiler can play, the gap continues to widen, but that remains a massive question mark until proven otherwise.

If nothing else, this foursome should give us some high-powered, entertaining games. While divisions like the AFC East and NFC North are already decided, the AFC South will leave everyone speechless, one way or the other.