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AFC South preview 2016: Andrew Luck returns

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throws during the

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, Indianapolis. Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

A look at the AFC South heading into the 2016 NFL season, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.


COACH: Chuch Pagano

5th season (41-23, .641)

LAST SEASON: 8-8, 2nd place

OUTLOOK: Andrew Luck returns from an injury-shortened 2015 season, and while he’s a full go, the offensive line problems that led to his physical problems haven’t gotten much better. The Colts want Luck to take fewer chances, but his fearless style may prompt him to extend plays the way only he can do. Indy’s defense still has some shortcomings, and you can only go so far counting on 35-year-old Robert Mathis as your primary pass rusher. The secondary has been beset by injuries, with cornerback Vontae Davis not likely to be in the lineup for several weeks. His absence prompted the Colts to sign former Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.


COACH: Bill O’Brien

3rd season (18-14, .563)

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 1st place

PLAYOFFS: lost to Cincinnati, 30-0.

OUTLOOK: They somehow made it to the playoffs in a weakened division last year, but they lacked a big-time quarterback. Problem solved — or so they hope. The team signed Broncos free agent Brock Osweiler to a monster deal in the offseason, and although relatively untested as Peyton Manning’s understudy, O’Brien thinks he can turn Osweiler into a star. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the game’s top receivers, and the Texans signed Dolphins running back Lamar Miller to take over for Arian Foster. J.J. Watt had recent back surgery, but the team is optimistic the two-time Defensive Player of the Year can resume his spectacular career with no interruption.


COACH: Gus Bradley

4th season (12-36, .250)

LAST SEASON: 5-11, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: They have been about as patient an organization as you can ask, but owner Shad Khan is expecting results this season. It’s still a young team, starting with third-year quarterback Blake Bortles. But Bradley thinks Bortles is ready to take a significant step forward. The Jaguars spent big in free agency on Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson, and he joins first-round defenders Dante Fowler and Jalen Ramsey to form what should be one of the league’s better units. Time for this team to show some results, or Bradley may be out of a job.


COACH: Mike Mularkey

1st season

LAST SEASON: 3-13, 4th place

OUTLOOK: Marcus Mariota had some bright moments as a rookie last year, but he’ll need to show more consistency for the Titans to have a shot at contending for a playoff spot. He doesn’t have exceptional receiving talent to work with, but the Titans think Mariota can do enough on his own to make a middling group look decent. It also helps that DeMarco Murray, acquired in a trade with the Eagles, will be a workhorse running back. The Titans have a relatively non-descript defense that features Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker Brian Orakpo and cornerback Jason McCourty, but not much else.

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