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NFL 2018 preview: AFC South outlook

Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the

Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 7, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Scott Halleran

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

COACH: Doug Marrone, 3rd season

(11-7, .611)

LAST SEASON: 13-3, 1st place

PLAYOFFS: beat Buffalo, 10-3, in wild card; beat Pittsburgh, 45-42, in divisional; lost to New England, 24-20, in AFC Championship.

OUTLOOK: It was an unexpected run to the AFC South title for the Jaguars, who did a superb job in Doug Marrone’s first full season as head coach. They went to the AFC title game by using strong defense, a resolute running game featuring first-round running back Leonard Fournette and improved quarterback play from Blake Bortles. The Jaguars believe they can take the next step, and after considering their options at quarterback, decided to stick with Bortles for the near term. Tom Coughlin’s influence is all over this team, as the former Giants and Jags coach returned last year as executive vice president of football operations.

HOUSTON TEXANS

COACH: Bill O’Brien, 5th season

(31-33, .484)

LAST SEASON: 4-12, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: Deshaun Watson was a revelation during his six starts as a rookie last season, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He had an exceptional rehab and is ready to return, which makes all the difference for a Texans team that has been a quarterback away from contending for years. J.J. Watt also returns from a back injury, giving the Texans their best players from both sides of the ball. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins got the long-term contract he was seeking, and linebacker Jadeveon Clowney looks ready for a breakout season.

TENNESSEE TITANS

COACH: Mike Vrabel, 1st season

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2nd place

PLAYOFFS: beat Kansas City, 22-21, in wild card; lost to New England, 35-14, in divisional playoff.

OUTLOOK: First-year coach Mike Vrabel gets a shot with the Titans, as he joins general manager Jon Robinson. Both worked under Bill Belichick in New England — Vrabel as a standout linebacker and Robinson as a personnel executive — and they hope to translate that background into a second straight playoff appearance in Tennessee. Marcus Mariota has shown improvement through the early part of his career but will need to take a major step forward this season. The Titans hope another former Patriot — cornerback Malcolm Butler — can solidify the secondary.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

COACH: Frank Reich, 1st season

LAST SEASON: 4-12, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: Andrew Luck has finally made it back from a shoulder injury, and there is cautious optimism he can return to the form that made him one of the NFL’s most promising quarterbacks. That’s welcome news for first-year coach Frank Reich, the former Bills backup and Eagles offensive coordinator who was hired by the Colts after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out. The Colts have remade the offensive line to better protect Luck, and former Lions tight end Eric Ebron gives him another capable target. The defense is average and still doesn’t have a pass rusher in the mold of former Colts greats Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis.

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