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NFL preview 2017: AFC South outlook

Texans' DE J.J. Watt missed most of 2016

Texans' DE J.J. Watt missed most of 2016 after back injury. Photo Credit: AP / Eric Christian Smith

TENNESSEE TITANS

COACH: Mike Mularkey, 3rd season (11-14, .440)

LAST SEASON: 9-7, tied for 1st place

OUTLOOK: Marcus Mariota has fully recovered from a fractured leg he suffered last December, and he has looked sharp in the preseason. Which is why there’s plenty of optimism about this year’s Titans, who have a legitimate shoo win the division for the first time in the Mariota era. He’s a highly efficient passer in the red zone, and with a solid complement of receivers that now includes former Jets WR Eric Decker, he’s looking for a big season. DeMarco Murray is the workhorse running back, with Derrick Henry in reserve. The defense is solid, even if it’s comprised of mostly unheralded players. The Titans added Patriots free agent CB Ryan Logan after moving on from Jason McCourty in the offseason.

HOUSTON TEXANS

COACH: Bill O’Brien, 4th season (27-21, .563)

LAST SEASON: 9-7, tied for 1st place

PLAYOFFS: beat Oakland, 27-14 in wild card; lost to New England, 34-16, in division playoff.

OUTLOOK: The Texans believe they have their quarterback of the future in Deshaun Watson. The only question: when is that future? O’Brien is sticking with his plan to start Tom Savage heading into the season, but Watson showed enough in the preseason to at least get O’Brien thinking that the future may turn into the present fairly soon. DeAndre Hopkins remains the team’s biggest offensive weapon, and the team hopes 2016 first-round receiver Will Fuller shows that blazing speed he was known for at Notre Dame. Defense is the major strength of this team, with J.J. Watt returning from back surgery and former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney coming off a terrific season. It remains to be seen whether the impact of Hurricane Harvey will affect the team, especially early in the season.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

COACH: Doug Marrone, 1st full season (1-1, .500)

LAST SEASON: 3-13 4th place

OUTLOOK: QB Blake Bortles remains the starter, albeit barely. After continued struggles during the preseason, in which he was briefly benched in favor of Chad Henne, Bortles got the No. 1 job back. But his lack of development remains the team’s biggest problem, and only a significantly improved season will convince skeptics the Jaguars can win with him. With Tom Coughlin having taken over as the lead football executive, the Jaguars were aggressive in signing Cardinals free agent DE Calais Campbell a year after signing Broncos DT tackle Malik Jackson. First-round RB Leonard Fournette will have to shoulder a heavy burden.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

COACH: Chuck Pagano, 6th season (49-31, .613)

LAST SEASON: 8-8, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: The biggest question – the one without a definitive answer – continues to cast a dark cloud over the Colts: When will Andrew Luck be ready? The former No. 1 overall pick had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and he missed the entire preseason. The Colts simply don’t know when Luck will play again. Until he returns, the offense is in the less-than-capable hands of Scott Tolzien, a former Packers backup. They also traded for Pats backup Jacoby Brissett. Frank Gore is back at TB, and T.Y. Hilton is a terrific receiver. But without Luck, the offense will be severely limited. Defensively, the Colts are so-so, and simply don’t have anyone to fill the void left by Robert Mathis’ retirement.

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