Titans favourites again in AFC South but Colts, Jags and Texans stronger
The Titans have won two consecutive AFC South divisional titles and go into the 2022 campaign as favorites for a third despite other teams strengthening.
The Tennessee Titans went 12-5 as the top seed in the AFC South last season despite using 91 players due to injuries, an NFL record in a single season when there hasn’t been a strike.
Coach Mike Bravel’s team has won two consecutive divisional titles and goes into the 2022 NFL season as favorites for a third crown and a fourth straight playoff appearance.
To achieve this, Bravel knows he needs the best version of running back Derrick Henry, who had surgery on his right foot after an injury that sidelined him for half of last season. Although he returned for the playoffs, Henry was not a factor in the loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals.
In that game, Ryan Tannehill threw three costly interceptions, including one with 28 seconds left on the clock that allowed Cincinnati to kick the game-winning field goal.
Tannehill is no longer alone in Tennessee and if he hits a rough patch Bravel knows he can turn to Malik Willis, the Liberty rookie who was a preseason sensation with two touchdown passes and another rushing score.
Titans backed by 2021 defense
The Titans return with 10 of 11 starters from a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed last season and tied for ninth in the NFL with 43 sacks.
Tennessee was the only team in the NFL to contain three players with at least eight sacks each, and Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons are back. Linebacker Bud Dupree has also finally recovered from an ACL injury.
Although Tennessee are favourites, the Indianapolis Colts are perhaps the Titans’ biggest threat.
Matt Ryan is the new starting quarterback and Nick Foles his backup. That is to say, two quarterbacks with experience of playing in at least one Super Bowl.
Also, Jonathan Taylor, last season’s rushing leader, is looking for more behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.
The Colts defense generated 33 turnovers in 2021, behind linebacker Shaquille Leonard and this year they have added one of the best cornerbacks in the league: Stephon Gilmore, who will be under the guidance of new defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley.
Colts have doubts at wide receiver
The doubt in Indianapolis is in the wide receivers: Michael Pittman Jr. and the rookie Alec Pierce. Maybe Ryan can provide the difference.
The Houston Texans may spring a surprise this season as they begin a new era with head coach Lovie Smith.
Davis Mills surprised as a rookie in 2021 and it will be interesting to see what the young quarterback is capable of in his second year in the NFL.
Brandin Cooks (90 receptions and 1,037 yards last season) is their best target, but the Texans haven't been able to find another wide receiver to complement him.
Due to Smith’s defensive orientation, expect a dramatic improvement on that side of the ball: Houston’s defense was one of the worst against the run in 2021.
Half of the Texans’ backline is new, with the addition of rookies Jalen Pitre (safety) and Derek Stingley Jr. (cornerback).
Pederson-led Jaguars could be contenders
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars go into the 2022 season as one of the most strengthened teams in the NFL.
Following the Urban Meyer fiasco last year, the team hired head coach Doug Pederson, famous for delivering the Philadelphia Eagles their only Super Bowl title.
Linebacker Foye Oluokun, end Foley Fatukasi and cornerback Darious Williams arrived in free agency to bolster a defense that has quietly built up enough talent to be among the best in the league this year.
However, all eyes will be on Trevor Lawrence, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, who didn’t have a great time in his debut NFL season.
Jags invest heavily on Lawrence improvement
The Jaguars averaged 14.9 points per game in 2021, the lowest in franchise history, so the team also invested on that side of the ball to give its young quarterback more and better weapons. Among the new faces are wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and guard Brandon Scherff. .
Running back Travis Etienne, who missed his rookie season with a foot injury, is also back and ready to help his former Clemson teammate Lawrence.
The Titans are the favorites to win the AFC South, but competition will be fierce from three teams that have improved dramatically and are ready to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweight of the division.