Latest AFC South preview

Who will win the AFC South?

By: Andy Davies

Welcome to the most topsy turvy division in the NFL. This is a division featuring two teams that are expected to make the playoffs and two teams that are expected to have no more than 5 or 6 wins. In the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans, the AFC South presents a very contrasting division. During the past seven seasons, all four teams have at least once tasted the division crown.

With it only being one of two teams that are likely to win the division this season, here is a preview of the AFC South.

Houston Texans (2020 record: 4-12. Third worst record in the NFL)

The Texans are in a dysfunctional mess. It seems just yesterday that they were 24-0 up against the Kansas City Chiefs during the Divisional Round in January 2020. The franchise has overseen massive changes and none are for the better.

Star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2020 offseason, which had a massive role to play in the Texans finishing 4-12 last season. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his best statistical season despite the team’s record and the loss of his number one wideout, earning the award of passing yards leader. A request for a trade followed by legal troubles leaving his chances of suiting up once again in a Texans jersey slim to none. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who is probably the best player in franchise history, said an emotional goodbye to the Texans this offseason, with his move to the Arizona Cardinals in Free Agency confirmed.

The team has attempted to address the QB situation in the offseason, with Tyrod Taylor picked up in Free Agency and Davis Mills being taken in the third round of this year’s draft, the team’s first selection. The running back room is one area where Houston will be happy. Along with David Johnson, who was part of the aforementioned Hopkins trade, will be joined by three free-agent signings. Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead have all joined this summer via the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos respectively.

Wide receiver Chris Conley, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, linebackers Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and cornerback Desmon King are five other notable additions but none of these players are likely to make much of an impact. With the exception of Watson, who has an uncertain future both in the NFL and as a Texan, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and linebacker Zach Cunningham are the only two players that would start for the majority of teams in the league.

The Texans face a difficult season and new head coach David Culley has a tough task on his hands. Expect them to finish last in the division and have the worst record in the entire league.

Prediction: 4th in AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (2020 record: 11-5. Lost in Wildcard Round)

Indianapolis has the longest period without a division crown, with their last AFC South title coming in the 2014 season. Head coach Frank Reich has done an excellent job since being appointed in 2018, a job that was given to him after Josh McDaniels’ u-turn.

They started 1-5 in 2018 before turning it around to finish 10-6 and bow out in the Divisional Round. Quarterback Andrew Luck had an excellent 2018 campaign but announced his retirement on the eve of the 2019 season, Jacoby Brissett would come in as the starter before 2020, where Phillip Rivers arrived for what ended up being the final season of his career.

Carson Wentz departed the Philadelphia Eagles for the Colts this offseason but an injury put his season in doubt. It has since been reported that he has recovered way better than expected and may even play in week one. The more realistic outcome is Wentz playing in either week two or three.

He is reunited with his former offensive coordinator in Reich, someone who was a big part of his 2017 campaign. This is a season where he was everyone’s favourite for the MVP before injury prevented this. If there is anyone that can get him back to the player we once saw, this is Reich. Wentz knows the Reich system and once he starts for the Colts, the transition from franchises should be a smooth one.

Wentz comes into a very talented offense. He firstly will have running backs Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines to hand the ball off to. Michael Pittman showed flashes of what he can do in the NFL last season in his rookie year. Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell have the opportunity to make their mark, especially with the injury concerns surrounding T.Y. Hilton.

The offense will be massively helped by what is an excellent offensive line. Alongside centre Ryan Kelly, the Colts have the best offensive lineman in football. Guard Quenton Nelson has been a force in the league ever since being drafted sixth overall by Indianapolis in 2018. It is not only the offensive line where the Colts excel. They have an excellent defensive unit.

Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke, DeForest Buckner will be joined by 2021 first round pick in defensive end Kwity Paye, who was one of the best defensive prospects in this year’s draft.

Games against the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots as well as two division games against the Titans makes for a tough schedule. These are mostly all Super Bowl contenders. Two games against the Texans and Jaguars will offer the Colts some wins, as well as their games against the inconsistent Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders.

Had it not been for Wentz’ injury, the Colts would be my tip to win the AFC South. However, the uncertainty around his health and the NFL readiness of backup Jacob Eason means that the Colts will find it tough to win this division.

Prediction: 2nd in AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (2020 record: 1-15. Worst record in NFL)

Hope surrounds Jacksonville, with new head coach Urban Meyer and number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Fans are left extremely excited over how the next three to four seasons will play out.

However, there have been some setbacks this offseason. Fellow first-round selection Travis Etienne was making good waves in training camp. The running back was said to be playing snaps as a receiver, which would allow fellow back James Robinson to kick on from his excellent rookie campaign. Etienne is now out for the season after suffering a foot injury.

Meyer’s body language has not exactly been positive and the three preseason games have highlighted the issues with the Jaguars offensive line, despite the win over the Dallas Cowboys. Lawrence will struggle to become the quarterback we all expect him to be if his line cannot protect him. If they can get that part of their team right, then the Jaguars can be a team to shock a few. Lawrence has the chance to throw to what is a very underrated wide receiver room in Jacksonville.

Marvin Jones has come in during the offseason after 36 touchdowns in 5 seasons with the Detroit Lions. Alongside 2020 draft pick Laviska Shenault and D.J. Chark, who has recorded 13 touchdowns throughout his three-year NFL career, the Jaguars are set at the wide receiver position. Offensive weapons should be the last of their concerns in the 2022 draft.

Defense should be a concern going into the 2021 season, considering they finished 27th in passing yards allowed and 30th in rushing yards allowed last year. No matter whether their offense excels or struggles, their defense will let them down. This is a far cry from the 2017 Jaguars defense that were proclaimed ‘Sacksonville’, a unit that was dismantled year by year until all of those individuals left the franchise.

Expect the Jaguars to show their potential in short spells as the rebuild continues for this franchise. Improvement will be made on last season.

Prediction: 3rd in AFC South

Tennessee Titans (2020 record: 11-5. Lost in Wildcard Round

Under an excellent head coach in Mike Vrabel and the reigning Offensive Player of the Year in running back Derrick Henry, the Titans go into this season with plenty of excitement. They are seen as a dark horse for an appearance in Super Bowl 56 but can they surprise a few and make it to the big game?

With an exciting offense, anything is possible. Ryan Tannehill has rejuvenated his career in Tennessee after being traded from the Miami Dolphins, with 55 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 6,561 passing yards since arriving at the franchise in 2019. He will hope to continue his success despite the departure of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who is now the new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Of course, there is Henry. He became just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards. He is the hearbeat of this offense. His sheer size and athleticism makes him a terror for any NFL defense. His importance to this team means that opponents can draw up a gameplan that aims to take him out of the game. If they are successful, then this can often be Tennessee’s downfall. This is a big if. Teams who take Henry out of the game often still get bullied by him and those that deal with Henry often then get stung by the Titan’s passing offense.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown had an excellent 2020, where he caught for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. Josh Reynolds has arrived in Free Agency but the biggest headline addition is Julio Jones. He joined from the Falcons after 10 years and likely to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Injuries halted his 2020 campaign but if the Titans get a Julio at his best, then they have a very exciting and deep receiver room. By double teaming either Jones or Brown, this can open up space for the other to capitalise and get Tennessee down the field. Tannehill is excellent when running play action. His ability to move around the pocket and evade defenses is a massive plus to this Titans team.

Defensively is where Tennessee struggled in 2020, ranking 29th in passing yards allowed and 19th in rushing yards allowed. There was a clear intent this offseason to address the defensive issues, with stopping the pass a clear priority, with 5 of Tennessee’s 8 picks on the defensive side of the ball, with three of those being defensive backs. Cornerback Caleb Farley was taken 27th overall with second-round pick Dillon Radunz and third rounder Elijah Molden both expected to be taken higher than what they were. Bud Dupree has come in during Free Agency to add some quality to the defense. The Pittsburgh Steelers were 11-0 when Dupree suffered a season ending injury. They finished the season 12-4 and lost in the Wildcard Round. This shows how crucial he was to the Pittsburgh team.

The Titans have a fairly tough schedule. This is despite having the same fortunes as Indianapolis in that they will play the Jaguars and Texans twice. Games against the Bills, Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Rams, Seattle Seahawks and 49ers await Tennessee as well as two games against the Colts.

This may impact Tennessee’s chances of winning the division but their stacked roster, particularly on offense, has the capabilities to win it and go far in the playoffs.

Prediction: 1st in AFC South.

Urban Meyer’s career so far: can he transform the Jaguars?

Urban Meyer career up to this point

By: Andy Davies

The Jacksonville Jaguars will go into the 2021 season with a new head coach. Urban Meyer is the new man to take charge, hoping to be the guy to change the fortunes of a franchise that has struggled for many years. After drafting the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in Trevor Lawrence this year with the number one overall pick, the Jags fans have rarely gone into a season this excited. The Jags have twice gone into a season on the back of reaching an AFC Championship game but with the addition of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, there is a real buzz around the organization and in the city of Jacksonville. However, Urban Meyer has never coached in the NFL. He is one of the most successful college head coaches of his generation. Can he translate this to the pros?

His Journey As A Player

Meyer was a walk-on in college as a defensive back for the University of Cincinnati, despite initially being drafted by Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves in 1982. Injury would deny Meyer the chance to make it as a professional player, but he showed signs of his coaching credentials whilst in college. He would go back to college, heading to Ohio State University where he studied sports administration. He would get a degree at both colleges, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Cincinnati and sports administration at Ohio State, which will have no doubt helped him massively during his time as a football coach.

He may not have made it to the NFL as a player but he showed signs of his credentials as a coach during his time in college. Meyer would often spend additional time in practice, learning how to run them and handle substitutions. These all prepared him for life as a coach. As a player, he was part of a Cincinnati team that finished 2-9, with Meyer saying that it “wasn’t a great experience. We weren’t very good”. This will help him be prepared for a Jaguars team that won just one game in 2020. His former coach in Cincinnati David Currey spoke of his coaching abilities.

“He was not a great player but you could tell he would coach for a living. He was a student of the game, always trying to learn about things”.

The Start Of Meyer’s Coaching Career

He started his coaching career in 1985 as a defensive backs coach for St Xavier High School in Ohio before becoming a graduate assistant for two seasons with Ohio State. He spent two years with Illinois State as an outside linebackers coach in 1988 and a quarterback and wide receivers coach in 1989. He would then spend eleven years as a wide receivers coach, spending six with Colorado State and then five with Notre Dame before getting his first head coaching job in 2001 with Bowling Green.

The Early Stages Of His Time As A Head Coach In College

Meyer only spent two seasons with Bowling Green but would leave the team with a 17-6 record in charge. Highlights of his time there was the 56-21 win over rivals, the University of Toledo Rockets. Whilst with Bowling Green, he transformer their fortunes. He joined with the team having gone 2-9 in 2000 to then go 8-3 in 2001 and 9-3 in 2002, before leaving for the University of Utah.

Utah hired Meyer and was an instant success, going 10-2 and winning the Liberty Bowl in 2003. They would go 12-0 and win the Fiesta Bowl in 2004. Whilst with the university, he coached safety Eric Weddle and quarterback Alex Smith, who went on to be the number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith would become an inspiration to everyone when he went on to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year during the 2020 season, returning the field after a life threatening injury in 2018.

Meyer openly claimed that he “made Utah competitive” during his time there. Morgan Scalley played as a defensive back under Meyer at Utah before going on to become a defensive coordinator with the college. He spoke of how Meyer changed everything.

“You could tell it would be different from the first session at the weight room. I never had butterflies going into a weight room and that had me going”.

Success With Florida and Ohio State

The Florida Gators then came calling in 2005, where Meyer would spend the next six seasons. He would coach notable players such as Cam Newton, Carlos Dunlap, Janoris Jenkins, Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Tim Tebow and Trey Burton during his time in Florida as head coach. With an overall record 65-15 with the Gators, Meyer won Florida the Outback Bowl and the Sugar Bowl as well as winning two National Championships. He had a 5-1 record with Florida in Bowl games. Following a health scare, Meyer decided to leave the Gators after the 2010 seasons as he wanted to put focus on his family and “life away from the field”.

He soon returned to college football, becoming Ohio State head coach two seasons later. During his time with the team, he had an 83-9 record. He won one National Championship as well as a Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. His time there sadly ended in controversy, before leaving in 2018 due to health reasons. He spent time as a television analyst before accepting the Jacksonville head coaching position in January 2021.

His Coaching Style & The Spread Offense

Meyer is seen as someone who is competitive, fiery and resolute. His “juice” is said to fire his teams up, with his infectious personality an integral part of his head coaching success. During his time as an analyst, he often went through a breakdown of offensive systems, with one component of his style of coaching being his Spread Offense.

This is a scheme which features four receivers, resulting in the opposition defense attempting to cover these players. This system allows the run game to excel, with RPO and read option plays often used under this style of offense. In a modern day NFL, we are seeing plenty of college schemes being brought into the league. Meyer will look to bring this style of coaching into the NFL that worked so well for him in college.

Can He Transform The Jaguars?

This is not going to be an easy task for Meyer but as he showed in Utah, he is capable of turning a team around. Jacksonville has the talent on their roster but have never seemed to fulfil their potential. One of their aforementioned trips to the AFC Championship was in the 2017 season. Their defense named ‘Sacksonville” played a big part in their journey, where they had a ten point lead and were nine minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl. They would end up losing 24-20 in agonizing fashion.

The components of Sacksonville would slowly fall apart. Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue all left in 2019, with both A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell leaving in 2020. Quarterback Blake Bortles was seen as the player holding back the team, being released in March 2019 as the Jaguars looked to Nick Foles, who won Super Bowl 52 MVP just a year earlier. He was seen as the missing piece in the jigsaw but only lasted one season in a disappointing spell with the franchise.

Head coach Doug Marrone guided Jacksonville to the AFC Championship and a 10-6 record in his first full season as head coach of the franchise. Despite this, he couldn’t guide them to more than six wins in any of the three seasons that followed before being fired in January 2021. Issues off the field started to develop, with the players arrested on their annual trip to London in 2018 after an unpaid £50,000 drinks bill. Meyer won’t stand for any negative behaviour with his aforementioned fiery, competitive and infectious personality is likely to keep the players in check.

And then of course, there is Lawrence. One of the best college prospects in many years, he brings a lot of expectation with Jags fans pinning their hopes on him being the man to bring the good times to this franchise. He had not lost a regular season game since high school and reached the National Championship in two of his three seasons with the Clemson Tigers, winning one of those two.

He played 40 games in college and threw for 758 out of his 1,138 throws, giving him a 66.6 completion percentage. Across his time with Clemson, he threw for 90 touchdowns and 10,098 yards. Jacksonville have a real talent on their hands and they need to do everything they can to ensure he fulfils his tremendous potential.

Along with Lawrence, they have reunited their number one overall pick with his Clemson team-mate in running back Travis Etienne, who recorded 70 rushing touchdowns and 4,952 rushing yards during his four seasons in the ACC. He will join a running back room alongside James Robinson, who impressed highly in 2020 during his rookie year with 1,070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Etienne is said to also be working out as a receiver, which gives variety to the offensive side of the ball. Former Detroit Lions wideout Marvin Jones has joined the team via Free Agency to add depth to a wide receiver room already including DJ Chark Jr and Laviska Shenault Jr. Second-round pick Tyson Campbell gives depth to the Jaguars secondary, as will 65th overall pick Andre Cisco. 45th overall selection Walker Little will add protection to the Jags offensive line. Myles Jack is a survivor from the Sacksonville era and alongside fellow linebacker Josh Allen, they have the potential to cause problems for the opposition.

Jacksonville have a long rebuild ahead and fans should not expect an immediate transformation. Doubts remain over new Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz and whether he can get back to his 2017 form. The Tennessee Titans’ defense is seen as their Achilles heels and the Houston Texans are a mess. They will likely see their quarterback Deshaun Watson leave, which will result in years of struggles and mediocrity. This is not the toughest division in the NFL and the Jags will want to capitalise on this, but the improvement will likely be in either year 2, 3 or 4 of the Urban Meyer Jacksonville era.

Why Wentz’s Colts are really Super Bowl contenders

Carson Wentz will return to being a star QB as an Indianapolis Colt

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

The Indianapolis Colts are one of the teams with Super Bowl hopes heading into the 2021 NFL season. According to the Draft Kings Sports Book, they have the ninth best odds to win the Super Bowl this season and the fifth best odds to win the AFC Conference. After the Tampa Bay Bucs, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, who are clearly the top three most likely teams to win it all this year, the Colts are one of the teams in that second tier who can be real contenders this season. Here are some reasons why they are right in the mix.

Favorable Schedule

According to the strength of schedule rankings based on team records from last season, the Colts have the ninth easiest schedule in the NFL heading into this upcoming year. They also play in an AFC South division that appears to be a two team race right now between the Colts and the Tennessee Titans. The Houston Texans are a mess right now while rebuilding and might not even have star quarterback Deshaun Watson this season, or at least for part of it, because of the off the field issues he is currently dealing with. The Jacksonville Jaguars are an improving team in the middle of their own rebuild but probably are not ready to really compete yet. All of these factors combined give the Colts a very favorable schedule situation this season with a relatively easier path to the NFL postseason as either a division winner or even a wild card.

Solid Roster

The Colts are a well balanced team that do not have any real weaknesses. Last season, their offense ranked 10th in total yards, 9th in points scored, 11th in passing yards, and 11th in rushing yards. Their defense ranked 8th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed, 5th in turnovers forced, and 12th in sacks. This shows that they were firmly in the top half of the league for almost all measures on both sides of the ball. They win in a wide variety of ways and have no real weak spot for an opposing team to expose.

They have a very solid roster that is talented at all of the position groups. They have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL lead by the best overall blocker in guard Quentin Nelson. Their stable of multiple running backs is lead by a young emerging star in Jonathan Taylor and they have many contributing wide receivers and tight ends that can spread the field. They are solid at all three levels on defense and even have a good special teams unit as well. Position for position on paper, they match up with any team in the league.

The Quarterback Situation

In theory, the Colts believe they made a major upgrade at quarterback this season by acquiring Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles to replace the now retired Philip Rivers. The Colts were already a playoff team last season, and came very close to upsetting the Bills, so if they did in fact improve at quarterback then they definitely increase their chances of a Super Bowl run greatly. Wentz has struggled in his last couple of years but he was playing at an MVP caliber level before his major injury.

The best version of Wentz was back in 2017 where he was a favorite to win MVP before going down with an injury. Through 11 games that season he threw for 3296 yards with 33 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions and a strong 78.5 QBR. That’s a big difference from his 2020 campaign where he eventually lost his starting job to Jalen Hurts. Last year across 12 games played he threw 2620 yards with just 16 touchdowns against an alarming 15 interceptions and a very disappointing 49.6 QBR.

In comparison, Rivers last season for the Colts played all 16 games while throwing for 4196 yards with 24 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and a 62.5 QBR. That’s definitely better than what Wentz was able to do for the Eagles last year but nowhere near as good as the 2017 Wentz. In Fact, Rivers has never in his very solid career had a season as good as Wentz was having in 2017. It’s that version of Wentz that the Colts believe they can revive this upcoming season and why they believe it is a huge upgrade at the quarterback position.

Interestingly, when Wentz was playing his best football it was under the offensive scheme of Frank Reich, who is now the head coach of the Colts. The belief of the organization, and the reason why they went out and got Wentz, is that pairing him back up with Reich will get him back on track. It is surely a gamble considering how far he has fallen off, but if they are right then the Colts instantly become a serious Super Bowl contender. After all, the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl was not as talented as this Colts team is now. The fate of the Colts this season is directly linked to what version of Wentz is playing quarterback.

Projecting the floor and ceiling of Carson Wentz in Indianapolis

Will Carson Wentz do well as an Indianapolis Colt?

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

On February 18th, the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles announced a trade: starting quarterback Carson Wentz was shipped to Indy in exchange for a pair of picks, those being a 2021 third and a 2022 conditional second. Had this trade happened even so much as a year earlier, there is no possibility of it going down, as Wentz was coming off another solid 2019 season in which he broke 4,000 yards for the first time in his career and threw just seven interceptions to 27 touchdowns.

After the 2020 season, however, there are people that will say the trade is equal in value for both sides, and even some that will tell you the Eagles won by getting rid of Wentz. So, what happened?

Well, if you didn’t follow anything related to the Eagles in 2020, I’ll quickly get you up to speed. To put it simply, Wentz absolutely fell apart. Without a competent offense surrounding him, and with the offensive line in shambles due to the injury bug, the Eagles stumbled their way to a 4-11-1 record, dead last in the worst division in football, the NFC East, and second worst in the conference behind the 4-12 Falcons. 

Prior to getting benched in the final quarter of the season, Wentz accumulated a league-leading 15 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns in 12 games. What is even more impressive is that, despite playing four fewer games than most quarterbacks, Wentz led the league in sacks with 50, averaging out to just over four sacks each game. It is also telling that only a single receiver netted over 50 catches on the season, that being Greg Ward, and only Ward, Travis Fulgham, and tight end Dallas Goedert tallied more than 400 receiving yards. The offense surrounding the struggling quarterback was horrendous, but Wentz had issues of his own.

For those who watched any of the Eagles games in 2020 and compared them to his tape from prior seasons, it was obvious that Wentz was not the same quarterback he was before. Perhaps it was the lack of protection, a true top target, or something else, but Wentz developed a multitude of bad habits throughout the season, turning him from a budding young star into arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL.

Now, in 2021, it’s on Colts head coach Frank Reich to see if he can reignite the magic that was displayed when he was the offensive coordinator for Wentz’s MVP-caliber season in 2017. However, it is far from smooth sailing for the pair, as the coaching staff will need to work out Wentz’s aforementioned bad habits in order to get him back to his prior self. However, unlike in Philadelphia, Carson Wentz will have many of the pieces he needs to round back into form.

The Indianapolis Colts house one of the league’s top offensive lines, with superstar left guard Quenton Nelson heading the charge. The unit allowed just 21 sacks in 2020, tied for the second fewest in the league, and their 71 sacks allowed since 2018 is the second fewest over that time period, just one more than the 70 allowed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite losing cornerstone left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement at the beginning of the offseason, the team has adequately replaced him with former Chiefs bookend Eric Fisher and pinch-starters in Sam Tevi and Julién Davenport. With Wentz looking good behind top offensive lines from 2017-2019, he should be able to rely on the big guys up front once again in order to boost his own confidence.

The offensive line isn’t the only improvement, however. In Philadelphia, Wentz struggled to get things going while passing to 2017 UDFA Greg Ward, oft-injured tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, an inexperienced Travis Fulgham, and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor, none of whom spark fear into opponents. In Indianapolis, Wentz will unite with former league-leader T.Y. Hilton, sophomore breakout-candidate Michael Pittman Jr., and tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox to form the passing offense. Throw in dynamic receiving back Nyheim Hines and wide receivers Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal, and Wentz is entering a much better situation than he saw in 2020.

Along with a strong rushing attack that saw 2020 rookie running back Jonathan Taylor finish third in the NFL in rushing and is set to return former 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack into the picture, and Wentz has all the tools there to be successful once again. However, the question again returns to whether he can get rid of all the bad habits that arose in the 2020 season in order to return to his full potential. If Reich and Co. can release Wentz from his shackles and round him back into shape, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see the former star reach 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air with the team surrounding him. Should he continue to struggle as he did for much of the 2020 season, there is a chance he could even end up on the bench in favor of 2020 4th-rounder Jacob Eason or 2021 6th-rounder Sam Ehlinger. Whether he regains his star form or is benched for the second time in as many seasons is ultimately up to the 28-year old from North Dakota State University.

Each Divisional Favorite in the NFL

By: Ladarius Brown

Which teams are the favorites to win their respective divisions? Glad you asked because I will go division by division and give my favorites. Using the compass, we will start north with the AFC North.  

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens  

This division is about two teams (Ravens & Browns) with an outside chance for the Steelers. There’s always next year, the year after that for you Bengals fans. The Ravens get the edge because it’s the one team that I have the most confidence in. Head coach John Harbaugh has three consecutive double-digit winning seasons. (Steelers & Browns each have one). Their run game and that defense are still formidable.  

To be clear, you cannot ignore the Browns after their 1st winning season since 2007 and winning their 1st playoff game since 1994. The question mark here is can they duplicate, or even improve, from last year? They shored up some gaps in their secondary via both free agency and the draft. If Baker Mayfield can keep up his steady improvement, this division will be fun to watch.  

For the Steelers, it certainly looked as though Big Ben’s best days were behind him. Is the defense good enough after losing DE Bud Dupree to the Titans? As for the Bengals, Joe Burrow was a ROTY frontrunner before being injured and they drafted his LSU teammate, WR Ja’Marr Chase, as his new target. Overall, this division will come down to QB play and which defense is the best.   

AFC East: Buffalo Bills  

Josh Allen is a top 5 QB in this league. He was a huge part of their success last season, winning the AFC East for the 1st time since 1995. They return all five of their starting offensive line and if they are a strong tenacious unit this year, this is a Super Bowl contender. There is not a lot of gaps on this roster.   

The Miami Dolphins and their franchise is hinging on what QB Tua Tagovailoa can do in year two. Despite going 6-3 in his nine starts, there was still clamor that they should have pursued a starting QB. However, I have faith in Tua because of his accuracy (64.1%) and the ability to win down the stretch (two 4th quarter comebacks). Adding WR Will Fuller in free agency and drafting WR Jaylen Waddle along with WR DeVante Parker gives Tua a nice WR core to throw to. Plus, head coach Brian Flores and his defense drafted LB Jaelan Phillips out of Miami (FL) to replace LB Kyle Van Noy, who signed with the Patriots. They will be in the mix.  

Speaking of the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick opened up the checkbook, especially on the tight end position. Hunter Henry got a three-year, $37.5 million deal, including $25 million guaranteed, and Jonnu Smith a four-year, $50 million deal with $31.25 million guaranteed. They also signed WRs Nelson Agholor & Kendrick Bourne, LBs Kyle Van Noy and Matthew Judon, and C Ted Karras. It is abundantly clear the Patriots are not rebuilding, given the Belichick is 69 years old. Even though they re-signed QB Cam Newton, they drafted Mac Jones of Alabama. Jones will play this season but when is uncertain.   

The Jets cleaned house by firing Adam Gase and hiring former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach. They drafted a franchise QB in Zach Wilson of BYU and OT Alijah Vera-Tucker to protect his blindside. They also went out and signed WR Corey Davis from the Titans, DE Carl Lawson from the Bengals, and S Lamarcus Joyner from the Raiders. The Jets are far from a contender but I love their upside because I like Zach Wilson and what he can do in this offense ran by OC Mike LaFleur.   

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts  

I am confident that this is a two-team for the division. The Colts went out and traded for QB Carson Wentz. They did not make a huge splash in free agency, but they did sign CB Xavier Rhodes from the Vikings to help in the secondary. If Wentz can stay healthy, the Colts. could sneak into the AFC Championship game. By the way, the Matt Eberflus-led defense with DT DeForest Buckner and LB Darius Leonard was great last year.  

Here is what I know about the Titans: Derrick Henry is a beast and traded for a future HOF WR in Julio Jones. I know the offense is great but can we talk about the defense for a second? They signed DE Bud Dupree and drafted CB Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech but is it enough to improve their defense? They were 28th in the NFL in total defense. Having an explosive offense is cool but can you stop anybody?   

The Jaguars have their QB of the future in Trevor Lawrence and 1st-year head coach Urban Meyer is looking to get the Jags back on track. As for the Texans, I feel bad for only two people: the diehard Texans fan and head coach David Culley. 0-17 is not out of the realm of possibility here.  

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs  

Everyone feels this division is a lock because of the Chiefs’ success over the last three years (2 Super Bowl appearances and 3 AFC Championship game appearances). Also, having the QB Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid helps too. However, they might have some competition because the Chiefs can play down to their opponents. Nonetheless, they vastly improved their offensive line by signing Joe Thuney and Kyle Long, which was their Achilles heel last year. They are the favorite but do not sleep on the Chargers.  

The Chargers were plagued with injuries and losing close games, which cost Anthony Lynn his job. Hiring former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as their new head coach gives me a sense that they make a move in this division. Starting with their offense, QB Justin Herbert played outstanding, garnering the ROTY award. Throw in WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams along with signing C Corey Linsley from the Packers solidifies their offensive line. RB Austin Ekler could have a breakout year also. The Rams had the No. 1 defense in the league under Staley last season. He inherits DE Joey Bosa, S Derwin James, and drafted CB Asante Samuel Jr.   

The Denver Broncos passed on QB Justin Fields in the NFL Draft for CB Patrick Surtain II of Alabama. They traded for QB Teddy Bridgewater, making it a QB competition between him and QB Drew Lock. They signed CB Kyle Fuller from the Bears to play on the other side of Surtain II. The question is this: Do the Broncos have a Lock or a Bridge at QB?   

As for the Raiders, their turnover differential was –11, which was 30th in the league. Derek Carr is not the problem because this was a top 10 offense last season (8th) with a defense ranked 25th. I will contend that the head coach Jon Gruden is a great offensive mind but my concern will always be the defense with this team.   

NFC North: Minnesota Vikings  

My favorite here is based on one player: Aaron Rodgers. I believe that he might not play a down for them again. With Jordan Love under center for the Packers, they will not win this division. Rodgers moves the needle for me. Plus, they lost their C Corey Linsley to the Chargers and made no other free agency signings but did re-sign RB Aaron Jones and CB Kevin King. However, if no. 12 is not there, this team is going nowhere.  

Shifting to the Vikings, their drafts over the last two years have great, yielding WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, OT Ezra Cleveland, and CB Cameron Dantzler in 2020. This year, they drafted OT Christian Darrisaw, QB Kellen Mond, and OT Wyatt Davis. Throw in that they still have RB Dalvin Cook in the backfield and a still productive QB in Kirk Cousins (still overpaid though). Plus, they still have Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks on defense.   

The Bears finally got their franchise QB in Justin Fields. Their defense is still good but not elite, especially after losing CB Kyle Fuller in free agency to the Broncos. They have a good chance to improve if the Packers don’t get Rodgers back. As for the Lions, QB Jared Goff needed a change of scenery and the Lions needed to restart their franchise after trading QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions have RB D’Andre Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson on offense and their defense has promise with CB Jeff Okudah, DE Trey Flowers, and DT Michael Brockers.  

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys  

On paper, the Dallas Cowboys have a talented roster. With a now healthy Dak Prescott as the signal-caller, they have the best QB in the division. The biggest issue I have is if the defense, now under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, will improve. Last season, the defensive scheme of Mike Nolan was pretty bad and it showed. Plus, the injury bug hit them hard. If this defense takes some major strides, this division is theirs to lose.  

The Washington Football Team (WFT) won this division with a 7-9 record in 2020. This offseason, they signed WR Curtis Samuel from the Panthers, CB William Jackson of the Bengals, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins. This was the second-best defense in the league last year with defensive ROTY Chase Young leading the way. Offensively, the only concern is the offensive line. They were tied for 2nd, allowing 50 sacks. Can FitzMagic stay upright to get this offense going?  

The Giants were all about building around their QB Daniel Jones, signing WR Kenny Golladay, WR John Ross III, and TE Kyle Rudolph in free agency. For GM Dave Gettleman, his job is tied to Danny Dimes. He drafted WR Kadarius Toney of Florida as well. With a healthy Saquon Barkley, this offense has to improve or it could over for Gettleman. As for the Eagles, it’s life after Carson Wentz with the Jalen Hurts era set to commence. New head coach Nick Sirianni has his cut for him as a rookie head coach trying to navigate a roster with talent but needs improvement big time.   

NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers   

When you re-sign every starter in the offseason and you won the Super Bowl, you are the favorite. If key players remain healthy, the Bucs could be in Los Angeles playing for another Super Bowl.   

The Saints lost QB Drew Brees to retirement and players like DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Janoris Jenkins, LB Alex Anzalone, and DT Sheldon Rankins to free agency. However, they still DEs Cam Jordan & Marcus Davenport, CB Marshon Lattimore, and WR Michael Thomas. To me, if Taysom Hill is the starting QB, I do have reservations because he has been a gadget player ever since he’s been in the league. He was a QB at BYU but maybe with a full offseason as a QB, he could adjust.   

The Falcons hired Titans OC Arthur Smith to be the head coach after firing Dan Quinn five games into last season. They traded away one of the best players to ever don a Falcons uniform, Julio Jones. They still have QB Matt Ryan, WR Calvin Ridley, and drafting TE Kyle Pitts of Florida, they are in a transition phase. On top of Pitts, GM Terry Fontenot has a great draft and is building for the future. This defense has to be better and new defensive coordinator Dean Pees has to maximize this talent to show gradual improvement.   

The Panthers, like the Broncos, passed on QB Justin Fields for a CB. This time, it was Jaycee Horn of South Carolina. It does help their secondary and they traded for QB Sam Darnold. It was clear that head coach Matt Rhule wanted to move on from Teddy Bridgewater and did so. The biggest question coming out of Carolina is if Darnold is the guy. If so, Carolina will pay him. If not, they look to the 2022 draft for their guy.   

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals  

I am high on the Cardinals. Every team in this division can win this division. I went out on a limb with the Cardinals is because they went out and got better on defense, signing DE J.J. Watt and CB Malcolm Butler. Last year, the Cardinals’ defense was 4th in sacks and a top-15 defense. Plus, signing WR A.J. Green to pair with DeAndre Hopkins gives QB Kyler Murray weapons at the skill position. The x-factor is head coach Kliff Kingsbury. If he can elevate this offense, this team could be dangerous come playoff time.   

The Rams upgraded at QB by trading for Matthew Stafford of the Lions. It seems GM Les Snead does not believe in the draft whatsoever, giving up a lot to get him. Their defense lost S John Johnson to the Browns but they still CB Jalen Ramsey and DT Aaron Donald. The concern is if new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris can keep this defense elite to compete for a Super Bowl.   

I am a huge Russell Wilson fan but the Seahawks have been leaning on him for some time now. That offensive line allowed 48 sacks, which was tied for 3rd in 2020. Defensively, head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. need to shore up that secondary. They allowed 285 passing yards/game (2nd worse in the league last year). If they want any chance to win this division, this defense has to be better.  

Many people like the 49ers to win this division and I get it. Their defense is great and healthier and TE George Kittle is healthy. The biggest question mark I have is under center. Jimmy Garoppolo is not the answer and I feel Trey Lance is not the answer. I love their front office in GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. However, losing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh concerns me and uncertainty under center.   

Three reasons why Carson Wentz could struggle with the Colts

By: Reese Nasser

Quarterback Carson Wentz will be entering his sixth year in the NFL come the beginning of the 2021 season. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has found a new home for himself: The Indianapolis Colts. 

Carson Wentz has had an NFL career that has been full of highs and lows. Over the course of his five-year career, he has played in 16 games just twice. Injuries have plagued his career and have kept him from being the QB that many people thought that he could be when he entered the NFL as the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. 

When healthy, Wentz has proven to be a capable starter. He has made big plays and is considered a true leader in the NFL world. During the Eagles super bowl run in 2017, Wentz had the best season of his career. He was an MVP front runner and his play spoke for itself.

The second-year quarterback led the Eagles to a record of 11-2. He threw for 33 touchdowns and looked to be on pace to become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. This was until a torn ACL in week 14 ended his season. 

While the Eagles still went onto win the super bowl, led by quarterback Nick Foles, Wentz still played an integral part in putting them into that position. His leadership and elite play through 13 games helped the Eagles secure their spot in the playoffs.

The injuries began with the torn ACL in week 14 of the 2017 season for Wentz. Since then he has dealt with  injuries nearly every year of his career. 

In 2018, even after coming off of the torn ACL, Wentz was ready to go by week three. He led the Eagles through 11 games and had a record of 5-6. He lasted until week 14 when the Eagles decided to end his season early. This early shutdown was due to a back injury that Wentz fought throughout the majority of the season. Yet again, the Eagles turned to Foles and he once again pulled off a playoff miracle. Their season came to an end in the NFC Divisional round. 

As the 2019 season was under way, Wentz began to look like his old self again. He played in all 16 games and his stat line was impressive. He threw 27 touchdowns and added another on the ground. Wentz played well but injuries came for him yet again. In the Eagles first playoff game, Wentz suffered a concussion just nine snaps into the game. There was no Nick Foles to save the day this time and the Eagles season came to an end in a game that saw the Eagles not score a single offensive touchdown. 

The 2020 season was no better for Wentz. The only difference this time being that injuries did not derail Wentz season, but instead, he derailed it himself. 

Statistically, 2020 was the worst season of Wentz’s career. He finished with a starting record of 3-8-1. He was responsible for 21 touchdowns but also threw 15 interceptions and had 10 fumbles. He was eventually replaced by rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. 

Both the Colts and Wentz will look to bounce back in 2021. In recent years, both sides have underperformed. 

The Colts went all in last season and brought in longtime Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers led the Colts ro an 11-5 record but didn’t make it past the AFC Wild card round. Not long after the season ended, Rivers retired and brought in Carson Wentz. 

Wentz and the Colts will both have high expectations heading into 2021, but things may not necessarily go to plan. Here are three reasons why Carson Wentz may struggle in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts. 

Injury History

As previously noted, Carson Wentz has had a difficult time staying healthy. It is difficult to make a legitimate impact if you can’t stay on the field.

Now this is no knock against Wentz. Injuries are never planned and they are impossible to avoid. But, it is difficult to discuss Wentz career up to this point without taking note of his extensive injury history. He has finished a season playing all 16 games just twice.

The injuries that have knocked Wentz out have all been significant. His injuries have varied heavily. He has dealt with hairline fractures in his ribs, concussions, a stress fracture in his back, and a torn ACL and LCL. 

None of these injuries have been easy to recover from, and while it is amazing that Wentz has continued to be resilient and work back from each injury, it can’t be ignored that he is hurt somewhat often. 

2020 proved to be an outlier for Wentz. He was able to stay healthy but his play on the field proved to be his downfall. 

Turnover Issues

Turnovers have been a mainstay throughout Wentz’s career. While he has shown that he is willing to do whatever must be done to make a play, whether that be staying in the pocket for too long, forcing a ball into a tight window, or attempting to make the play with his legs, this has also led to a high amount of turnovers. 

Wentz has been responsible for 121 touchdowns over his career: 113 passing and 8 rushing. But, he has also produced some of the highest turnover amounts while missing significant time over his five seasons in the NFL. He has thrown 50 interceptions and has fumbled 58 times. That is 108 turnovers to 121 touchdowns. The number is much closer than you would like it to be for your QB1. 

It is possible for Wentz to cut down on his turnovers. He has had three seasons where he has thrown only seven interceptions. 

The fumbling issue is more of the concern when it comes to his turnover concerns. He has never had less than nine fumbles in a season and has recorded as many as 16 in a season. 

The positive of joining the Colts is that Wentz will be protected. The Colts have one of the top rated offensive lines in the NFL and should give Wentz all the time that he needs to make a play. This protection will give Wentz an opportunity to not need to force the ball or have to make some outlandish play. 

A clean pocket has not been a consistent part of Wentz’s career up to this point. The Eagles line that Wentz was behind dealt with injuries and experienced highs and lows, much like Wentz. 

Average Wide Reciever Room

The Colts wide receiver core has depth but is still widely unproven. This could prove to impact Wentz more than some may think. 

Every great quarterback in the NFL has a reliable main target. Josh Allen has Stefon Diggs. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreek Hill. Tom Brady has Mike Evans. But who does Wentz have? Let’s look at the wide receiver options in Indianapolis. 

T.Y. Hilton is the longest tenured receiver out of the core, so we will start with him. He is a proven receiver and has spent his entire nine year career with the Colts

During his time in Indianapolis, he has produced great nu,hers and has been a catalyst on the offense. While he has never been a high touchdown producing machine, with just 50 career touchdowns, he is a reliable receiver. He has hauled in 608 receptions and is on pace to potentially reach 10,000 career receiving yards this season.

While age has not necessarily caught up with Hilton, his production has slowly begun to decrease. Even after playing in 15 games, the most of any core Colts receiver, Hilton still only had 56 receptions on 93 targets. These 56 catches led to just five touchdown receptions and 762 yards. This upcoming season, Hilton will still be available but may potentially take on more of a leadership role where the younger receivers can learn from him. Even with being a main target in Indianapolis, he is not to the caliber of an elite WR1 anymore. 

The next man up will be second year receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Pittman showed promise in his first year with the Colts. The 34th overall pick caught 40 receptions and had just over 500 receiving yards. 

Pittman dealt with lingering issues and played in 13 games last season. The Colts have high hopes for Pittman and will look for him to be Wentz’s main target this upcoming season. But can Pittman be a WR1? That is not yet something he has proven. 

The core after Hilton and Pittman is somewhat interesting. Zach Pascal has been an anchor for this group. He will be entering his fourth season and his production has been eerily similar over his first few years in the NFL. 

His 2019 and 2020 numbers are nearly identical across the board. He has 623 and 629 yards from scrimmage in each respective season. He also had 43 and 44 touches and also had five touchdowns in each season. 

Third year receiver Parris Campbell is the most unproven of the four. Over the course of his two seasons in the NFL, Campbell has appeared in just nine career games. He has 24 career receptions, 198 yards, and one touchdown. 

Injuries have been Campbells downfall up to this point. He was a talented playmaker during his time at Ohio State and will look to return to form this season. 

When looking at the combined stats of these four receivers, they are seemingly all on par with each other. There is no alpha in the room and that may prove to hurt Wentz. While it is nice to have reliable players at the position, a clear number one target would be even more beneficial. A star receiver in this group, whether it be one of these guys taking a leap towards stardom, or going out and getting one for Wentz, could be what he needs to not struggle. 

Wentz could potentially reach back into his bag and play like he did during his 2018 run, or he could pick up where he left off last season. There is no guarantee how he will look coming into this 2021 season. While he is easy to root for, the road back to MVP level play will not be easy to reach. 

AFC South Coach Rankings

Who is the best AFC South head coach?

By: Pierre Wilson

The AFC South is one of the most polarizing and mysterious divisions in the league. The figures leading the AFC South teams match the reputation of the AFC division. In this bite, I’m going to rank the coaches and dive into the profiles of each outlier. Let’s begin.

4) David Culley – The new head coach of the Houston Texans kicks us off.  This is mostly due to the unknown surrounding what type of head coach Culley will be.  This will be Culley’s first head coaching opportunity, but he does come with 25+ years of NFL coaching experience.  Most of Culley’s coaching experience has come as a wide receiver’s coach.  His most recent position combining WR coach, passing game coordinator, and assistant head coach title with the Baltimore Ravens last season.

Culley’s big chance was met with a big blow, as he was hired during a time of turmoil with the team’s franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.  At the time, the situation was simply Watson wanting out of Houston due to the state of the team.  This has since evolved into a much more serious situation, leaving Culley with a QB depth chart of Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Finley, and recently drafted rookie Davis Mills. 

Hitching his first head coaching opportunity to the Tyrod Taylor wagon, likely isn’t the start David Culley envisioned for his head coaching career.  He may want to steal a play from the Chargers playbook and keep the team doctor on standby.

3) Urban Meyer – Now I’m sure the college critics from Columbus and Gainesville will roll their eyes here, as Urban Meyer is one of the winningest coaches in college football history.  Winning over 85% of your collegiate games as head coach is quite the accomplishment.   Add in 3 National Championships and Urban Meyer brings quite the pedigree to the NFL.

My main concern is how Meyer will make the transition to the National Football League. The example that comes to mind is Nick Saban, during his time in Miami.  However, back in 2005 when Saban took the Dolphins head coaching position, he didn’t have the pedigree that Urban Meyer has to start his NFL tenure.  Saban does now, but back then it was just the good run he had at LSU carrying him. 

Urban Meyer is more comparable to Pete Carroll, in my eyes, who spent many years with USC and had a win percentage of 80%…along with a couple of National Championships.  Carroll has found success in the NFL winning a Super Bowl and being one horrible coaching decision away from a second championship with the Seahawks.  Carroll did have coaching experience in the NFL, prior to Seattle, which is something Meyer lacks heading into his first professional opportunity with the Jaguars.

I do believe Urban Meyer will find success in the NFL.  Jacksonville drafted what many believe will be a franchise quarterback, for years to come, in Trevor Lawrence.  Many of your coaching success stories depend on the make-up of your roster and who’s calling the shots under center.  If Meyer and the Jags can keep adding talent around Lawrence, Meyer will climb up those AFC South coaching rankings, and Jaguars fans will be shouting “DUVAL” proudly for the foreseeable future.

2) Mike Vrabel – Vrabel comes in at number two here and ties a lot of things together in the process.  Titans fan will argue this spot as he comes in with a better career winning percentage, as head coach, than the guy at number one.

When you think Mike Vrabel, you probably think New England Patriots and rightfully so.  Vrabel spent 2001-2008 with the Patriots, winning three Super Bowls. 

However, he’s not the rare success story from the Bill Belichick coaching tree.  In fact, he’s more tied to the guy that came in at number three from a coaching standpoint.  Vrabel spent his college career playing defensive end for Ohio State University from 1993 to 1996.  His first coaching opportunity would come from his alma mater, as Ohio State linebackers coach, on July 10th, 2011.  On December 21st of 2011 the new Ohio State head coach decided to keep Vrabel a part of his coaching staff and made him the defensive line coach.

Vrabel transitioned to the NFL in 2014 as a linebackers coach for the Texans, before getting his big break in 2018 as head coach of the Tennessee Titans.  Vrabel has led the Titans to a 29-19 regular season record over the past 3 years, including back-to-back playoff appearances with a trip to the AFC Championship in 2019 on the back of star running back Derrick Henry.

1) Frank Reich – Not a shock for anyone that knows me, but Frank Reich comes in as the number one head coach in the AFC South.  Just as some forget that Vrabel wasn’t a part of the Bill Belichick coaching circle, the Colts benefitted from someone backing out of the position and returning to that circle. 

Back in 2018 it was reported that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was set to accept the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job offered by new Colts GM Chris Ballard.  Then things got weird as McDaniels got cold feet and left the Colts at the altar. 

What happens when you’re left at the altar?  Well naturally you turn to the pastor, which the Colts did when making the call to Frank Reich.  Reich had been well known in NFL circles.  Most notably for the 1993 NFL wild card game in which he led the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 deficit against the Houston Oilers.  The Bills would win 41-38 in overtime and the 32-point deficit remains the largest comeback in NFL history. 

Reich wasn’t new to Indy, spending 2006-2007 as a coaching intern before serving as an offensive coaching staff assistant under Tony Dungy in 2008.  Reich would remain on the Colts staff under new head coach Jim Caldwell before being released, with the entire staff, after 2011.

Reich would come full circle and return to Indianapolis in 2018, after helping to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl Championship (as offensive coordinator) over the New England Patriot.

Reich found success early in his first season as head coach, leading the Colts to the playoffs and a wild card road win over the division winning Texans.  The Colts would lose the next week in Kansas City, and go into the offseason looking at a promising future.

Before the start of the 2019 season, that promising future came to a grinding halt as franchise quarterback Andrew Luck opted for early retirement.  This set the Colts back quite a bit, but Reich did some of his best coaching during that time. 

The Colts started the 2019 season 5-2 under QB Jacoby Brissett before a knee injury against the Steelers took their promising start off track.  Colts turned to backup QB Brian Hoyer and a less than 100% Brissett the remainder of the season and could never recover.

Going out in the offseason and getting old man Philip Rivers in 2020 proved what a coach that Frank Reich really is.  Many wrote off Rivers due to age, lack of arm strength and his poor decision making towards the end of his time with the Chargers.  During a strange time of no preseason and limited offseason work, due to the pandemic, the Colts and Reich turned in an 11-5 season – losing a tiebreaker to the Titans for the division.  They would also have an early playoff exit, losing on the road to Reich’s old team (the Buffalo Bills) in what most considered the best playoff game in 2020.

A regular season record of 28-20, two playoff appearances, with three different quarterbacks is a solid resume for Reich.  Toss in the fact that he’s being reunited with the QB that played a huge part in the Eagles making the playoffs for the magical Super Bowl run in 2017, in Carson Wentz, and Frank Reich comes in number one in my AFC South head coach rankings.

Why the Indianapolis Colts are AFC South favorites

Indianapolis Colts are AFC South favorites

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

The Indianapolis Colts went into the 2021 offseason as a team in flux. After losing their starting quarterback and left tackle to retirement following the season, the team needed to fill some holes, and fast. Fast forward a few months, and the team is situated well to win the division, and should the cards fall right, they’re a young team with championship potential.

So, what happened? What makes the Colts the early favorites to hoist the AFC South Championship banner this season? Let’s dive into three reasons why Indy is poised to potentially make waves in 2021.

Which Wentz Will Arrive in Indy?

After an early offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles which netted Indianapolis former second overall pick Carson Wentz in exchange for a third and a future second/first, Indy solved the problem of who would be under center for the team for 2021.

The question that remains, however, is if the Colts will get pre-2020 Wentz, or the Wentz that played last season as arguably the worst quarterback in the league.

Prior to his fall in 2020, Wentz was a rising quarterback, having played at an MVP level during the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl season and overcoming injuries and poor offensive help to perform well in 2018 and 2019. The wheels suddenly fell off in 2020, however, as Wentz struggled horribly, throwing 15 interceptions in just 12 games and getting benched for 2020 second rounder Jalen Hurts halfway through their Week 13 matchup with Green Bay.

If the Colts can get an earlier version of Carson Wentz, they have the offensive line and weapons to field a top 5 offense. If he struggles again, the team could fall apart entirely.

Defensive Dominance

The 2020 Colts defense was a pleasant surprise, going from a subpar/bad unit to one of the league’s best. With the acquisition of DeForest Buckner playing a pivotal role in the improvements of the front 7, the team finally was able to field its first top-10 defense since 2007.

In the 2021 draft, Ballard improved the unit further, adding Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo in the first and second rounds, respectively. While Dayo might not see the field until the latter half of the season, Paye should come in as an impact player right away, pairing with Buckner to overcome the loss of Justin Houston in the offseason.

While the defense did perform extremely well in 2020, there is even more room for improvements in 2021. If the newcomers can make an impact early, the defense could be championship-caliber.

A New Left Tackle

After the draft had come and gone, Colts fans were upset that the team had failed to fill the massive hole left on the left side of the line by Anthony Castonzo. Free agents Sam Tevi and Julien Davenport were nothing more than backup-level players, and the team failed to draft an offensive lineman until the final round of the draft.

On Monday, May 10th, the Colts finally filled the position.

Long-time Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, a former first-overall pick, hit free agency with one big issue holding him back: an Achilles injury suffered during the Chiefs victory over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game.

With most projections expecting the tackle to be out for the start to the season, fans of the Colts shouldn’t immediately expect the left tackle position to be set. Instead, it will likely be one of Tevi or Davenport holding the position down for a few weeks until Fisher is ready to go.

Once he does check out as healthy, though, the team shouldn’t have any issues from a left side of the line comprised of Fisher, All-Pro Quenton Nelson, and Pro-Bowler Ryan Kelly.

Closing Thoughts

With so many questions surrounding the AFC South in 2021, the Colts seem like the team best situated to take advantage of the issues surrounding their divisional rivals. The Jaguars seem to be a year away from competing, with first-overall pick Trevor Lawrence and rookie head coach Urban Meyers likely to need time to acclimate. The Texans seem to be having issue after issue, headlined by the allegations surrounding their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Titans, likely to be the one team with a chance to challenge the Colts, got worse in the offseason, losing many key defenders.

With the door wide open in the AFC South, the Colts are the best bet right now to lead the way in 2021.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑