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AFC South Preview

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AFC East · AFC North · AFC South · AFC West
The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring but the recent release of the 2014 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the AFC South in this schedule preview. The Colts ran away with the division last season as the only winning team in the group but improvement is likely ahead for Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston even through some big changes. Whether there is enough to bridge the gap with the favorite in one season remains to be seen.

Houston Texans: Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Texans went wrong last season as a team that had been expected to be a top AFC contender fell to just 2-14. While the poor results led to a coaching change, it also led to great position in the NFL Draft and a favorable schedule ahead in 2014 as the Texans will be a team expected to bounce back into contention. The quarterback position remains a key question mark for Bill O’Brien as he returns to the NFL as T.J. Yates and Case Keenum are back with limited starting experience and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has been added to the mix as Houston opted not to draft a quarterback early, but did pick Tom Savage in the later rounds. Houston will only play four games against 2013 playoff teams as a result of the fourth place schedule and the lone road game vs. a 2013 playoff team will come in the division at Indianapolis.

Houston will play just one 2013 playoff team in the first eight weeks of the schedule which could help in the transition season for the Texans. Houston does have significant travel on the schedule, including a West coast to East coast back-to-back set early in the season and a few other long flights. The Texans will also have to play on the road after a road Monday night appearance and there are three sets of back-to-back road games ahead. Houston is definitely a team that could see a turnaround with turnovers after having great misfortune early in the season to lose several close games, but the quarterback position is typically the key to improving in the turnover department and that is still an unsettled area for the team. Facing the AFC North and NFC East teams completes a relatively favorable schedule for this entire division and it is almost a certainty that the Texans will improve in the win column in 2014.

Houston Texans 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .441 (30/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 4 (three home, one away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,292
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3
Primetime Games: 2 (1 Thursday, 1 Monday Night)

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Indianapolis Colts
: The Colts made several moves to upgrade on offense in the offseason, but the defense certainly has some areas of concern, especially with the recent suspension looming for Robert Mathis. For back-to-back seasons, the Colts have won 11 games despite questionable point differentials and favorable bounces with turnovers and close game results, but this is a team that will be feared in the AFC picture again in 2014. Indianapolis went 6-0 in the division last season and the Colts will be favored to hit that mark again in 2014 with the rest of the division featuring two new coaching staffs and unproven quarterbacks. The Colts will face the weakest schedule in the NFL in terms of 2013 win percentage, thanks to the three division foes in the South combining to go 13-35 last season. The Colts will be the only team in the division to face New England and Denver, but three of the four games against 2013 playoff teams will come in Indianapolis where the Colts are 13-4 the last two seasons counting the comeback playoff win last year.

The only road game against a winning team from 2013 will be in the opener against the Broncos, a team Indianapolis beat last season. In the NFC East draw, the Colts will get the 2013 champion Eagles at home and in the AFC North draw the Colts will get the Ravens and Bengals at home for likely the preferable track in those games. The Colts have a Week 10 bye, which should come at a good time in the later part of the season and it comes before a huge game with the Patriots, the team that bounced the Colts from the playoffs last season. Indianapolis does have to play three of the final four games of the season on the road, but the final six games of the season will come against teams that combined to go 28-68 last season. Indianapolis also has very minimal travel requirements in terms of mileage with only two trips to the East coast and no games west of Denver. While the scoring and turnover numbers for the Colts cry for regression, Indianapolis has another great schedule to continue to pace this division.

Indianapolis Colts 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .430 (32/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 4 (three home, one away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 5,605
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (1 Thursday, 2 Sunday Night, 2 Monday Night)

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars have the lowest win total projection in the NFL for 2014 and despite Jacksonville winning four games last season, the Jaguars had the worst point differential in the NFL at -202. Three wins for Jacksonville came within this division and with the Titans and Texans starting over with new coaching staffs, there may be an opportunity for the Jaguars to move up. Jacksonville rolled the dice with Blake Bortles as its top draft pick to inherit the quarterback position, but it is not yet clear if Jacksonville will proceed with the rookie in 2014 or if they will give him some time to develop. Jacksonville obviously had many other problem areas last season, but quarterback has been a glaring area of mistakes and limited production in recent seasons. Jacksonville will actually have a somewhat challenging schedule relative to its division foes as they play four road games against 2013 playoff teams and the Jaguars will surrender a home game to play in London. The Jaguars open the season with road games in three of the first four weeks with three of the first four games are also coming against 2013 playoff teams so a strong start to the season seems unlikely.

With the tough early schedule, it might be easy for Jacksonville to slip into a another year of rebuilding and go with Bortles to gain experience for 2015 as contending for the postseason seems like a long shot this season. Jacksonville also has tough road games at Cincinnati and at Baltimore late in the season and they play Tennessee and Houston three times in the final four weeks of the season, negating to chance to catch those division foes early in their transition seasons. Finishing in third place in the division last season also means playing San Diego and Miami, two quality teams that appear far ahead of the Jaguars and far ahead of the fourth place draw that Houston will get in 2014. All in all, the Jaguars were dealt arguably the toughest schedule in the AFC South and it could be another challenging season.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .453 (29/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 9 road/neutral games: 12,125 (includes London)
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 1 (1 Thursday)

Tennessee Titans: The Titans competed very well at times and were barely negative in point differential in a 7-9 season in 2013. After three lackluster seasons, Tennessee made a coaching change and they pulled in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was a prominent candidate for several vacancies. The Titans will feature a brutally tough early season schedule in the transition with three of the first four games on the road and playing teams that combined to go 41-23 last season in the first four weeks. The schedule softens substantially in October for the Titans, but Tennessee has a very challenging road schedule overall this season with four 2013 playoff teams, plus a Ravens team only a season removed from a Super Bowl title. Tennessee has to take on the Chiefs and Jets in the second place draw and they will face NFC East champion Philadelphia on the road as well. Tennessee has another set of tough road games following its Week 9 bye and while the Titans will travel the third fewest miles in the league, it is a daunting road schedule overall.

Tennessee also drafted offensive players in the early rounds including offensive lineman Taylor Lewan in the first round, an area that seemingly already was a strong point for the team. The Titans impressed on defense early last season, but by the end of the year, it was a team that struggled down the stretch and the 7-9 record was a bit misleading as Tennessee won the final two games against Jacksonville and Houston, teams that had clearly mailed in the season and did not want to surrender draft position. The Titans also must replace Chris Johnson at running back and Tennessee has lacked playmakers in the receiving corps in recent seasons. Tennessee seems less likely than Houston to jump to immediate success with the coaching change in this division with the schedule playing a big role. The tough first month could lead to big questions and potential changes at key positions and Jake Locker is yet to prove he can stay healthy.

Tennessee Titans 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .438 (31/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 4,765
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 2 (1 Thursday, 1 Monday Night)

  
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