Early NFL Power Rankings – Heading Down To The AFC South

Continuing our look at the early NFL Power Rankings based on division — I've gone through the AFC East and North so far, so it's time to head down to the AFC South. I'm taking into account where the teams ended last season, their off-season moves, draft picks and coaching changes, as well as the competition they are going to be playing. And the biggest thing to note here is that the team who has won back to back division titles is not the top of my ranking.

AFC SouthTennessee Titans: The Titans sit in the top spot, because of what they could be. They have a franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, whose only question mark remaining is durability. They have built a strong offensive line and running game to keep the pressure off of him, and the team spent a big chunk of the offense getting him some pass catchers. The pickup of WR Corey Davis and TE O.J. Howard will likely push this team well into the playoffs. They also addressed holes on the defensive side of the ball. Besides keeping Mariota healthy, the biggest concern for the team may be the coaching staff. Mike Mularkey has been a head coach two other times with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, and neither of those times last more than one season. This is only his second full season as head coach for Tennessee after taking over for fired Ken Whisenhunt in 2015.

Early NFL Power Rankings – Heading Down To The AFC SouthIndianapolis Colts: The Colts in the past had one of the best QB's in the NFL in Peyton Manning, but always put a horrible defense on the field. Some figured that was because all the money went to the offense and this got them to the playoffs regularly, but only once to a Super Bowl ring. When it became time to move away from Manning, they were in luck — literally, as they drafted one of the most touted prospects to come out in years, Andrew Luck. And there is no doubt Luck is a good quarterback, but the team has missed the last two playoffs because of poor defense again. The team replaced its GM in the off-season and brought in some new players for the defense: Johnathan Hankins, Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson and Tarell Basham. If they can click, then the team has a chance to get back to extend their season.

Early NFL Power Rankings – Heading Down To The AFC SouthHouston Texans: It's strange to move a team that has won their division back to back and possesses one of the top defense in the NFL down to third in that same division, but it's the only thing that makes sense at this point. The Brock Osweiler experiment failed and forced the team to do an NBA salary dump style trade with the Cleveland Browns. The team has yet to have a true franchise quarterback since they made David Carr their first draft pick ever, and he was a bust. Now, they move up in the draft to get Deshaun Watson, a quarterback that was considered a bit of a work in progress to start with. The team is trying to get him ready to go to lead the team. If Watson can click and be the QB the Texans think he can be, then they can capture the division again; but if he needs more time to develop and has a rock start or the reigns are given to Tom Savage or Brandon Weeden, then it's going to be a long year.

Early NFL Power Rankings – Heading Down To The AFC SouthJacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are the equivalent of Lucy holding the football, and the experts are Charlie Brown. Every year there is a tentative hopefulness in the air that it's finally going to be the year the team comes together, and it never happens — not since Mark Brunell left the team. But the team has Tom Coughlin back in the fold, and the franchise's first head coach is now an executive VP and is trying to change the culture. But the team still has a giant question mark at quarterback, with Blake Bortles going into his 4th season. His play will be the deciding factor for the team, regardless of the number of defensive players they bring in or the drafting of bruising running back Leonard Fournette. The emphasis on the running game could help Bortles greatly, but if he doesn't play better, the team will cut ties with him, indicated by they fact they didn't pick up his fifth-year option.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.