Predicted Finish:

Indianapolis Colts (12-4) (1st seed; AFC Divisional Round)

Houston Texans (9-7)

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

Tennessee Titans (4-12)

A lot of people seem to think the Indianapolis Colts knocking off the Denver Broncos last season to make it to the AFC Championship game was a free pass to get back to that game this season. Don’t count me as one of them. While I think the Colts are still a team on the rise, I don’t think this is their year… not yet anyway.

I love the Colts’ addition of veteran offensive talents Frank Gore and Andre Johnson, and Johnson in particular is an exciting player to contemplate considering how much better Andrew Luck is than all of the other quarterbacks he’s ever played with over the course of his career. My problem with Indianapolis is that they ignored their offensive line, which means that Luck will once again have to throw like crazy because of the lack of a consistent running game. If you have Andrew Luck in your fantasy league, nice pick — he might throw for 6,000 yards this season, but ultimately the Colts need more than that to win it all.

On the flip side, you have the Houston Texans who have a tremendous impact defense and a great running attack — which will probably still be effective, if not dominating, without the services of Arian Foster. The one thing missing in Houston is great quarterback play, but if Brian Hoyer can play at least decent quarterback he might be able to guide the Texans into the tail end of the playoffs.  I wouldn’t bet on it however.

The bottom half of the AFC South is an unabashed rebuilding project. In Jacksonville, the Jaguars lost their first-round pick to injury right out of the gate, but there is still plenty of player development to work on, and the most important aspect (some might say the only aspect) of that is whether last year’s quarterback selection Blake Bortles can be a high-level NFL quarterback. Considering that Jacksonville’s last first-round quarterback pick Blaine Gabbert isn’t even a viable NFL quarterback, this is a rather tall order, but the jury remains out on Bortles even though the guy certainly has the tools. Stay tuned.

In Tennessee, the reclamation project is in an even earlier phase. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has a ton to learn about the NFL game, and the remainder of the Titans roster is loaded with holes. The only reason I don’t have the Titans finishing with the worst record in the NFL is that their schedule is a bit kinder than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it’ll be close.

Like I said, I don’t have the Colts getting back to the AFC Championship game this year. Despite securing the No. 1 seed, I have them losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.

Games to Watch:

Week 5 – Jacksonville @ Tampa Bay: This is the third road game in a row for the Jaguars, but it’s against an opponent that’s not as good as them. Good teams win these kind of games. Teams that aren’t ready to win yet find a way to lose them.

Week 6 – New England @ Indianapolis: This is the team the Colts haven’t been able to get past. This game will mean a lot to them if they can pull off a win here.

Week 8 – Tennessee @ Houston: Marcus Mariota is supposed to havean extremely high football IQ.  If he can escape from J.J. Watt with his head still on his torso, we’ll know he’s got the general idea.

Week 13 – Houston @ Buffalo:  The reason I have the Bills making the playoffs while the Texans miss them is this game. If Houston can win it however. . .