Thursday, September 7, 2023

2023 NFL Predictions: AFC South

Before the start of the season, I will post my division-by-division predictions for the 2023 NFL regular season and postseason.

Instead of projecting an outright winner and loser in all 272 regular-season games, I've assigned a win probability to each team in every game and totaled them up.

Check out our 2023 NFL Predictions page for other divisions.

With that said, here are our early AFC South projections for each team including their win total.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Projected Wins: 9.51

The Jaguars have the fewest wins (49) over the past decade, but they are also reigning AFC South champs. Heading into 2023, things look even better for the defending champions.

While Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, had to endure (read: waste) a season with Urban Meyer, he made tremendous strides within the 2022 season. Doug Pederson was head coach of Philadelphia from 2016, the year the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz, until 2020, and Wentz had an MVP-caliber season (third in MVP voting despite three missed games) in their second year together. Back to Lawrence, here were his splits:

  • Weeks 1-8: 62.5% completion rate, 6.6 Y/A and a 10-to-six TD-INT ratio
  • Weeks 9-18: 69.7% completion rate, 7.4 Y/A and a 15-to-two TD-INT ratio
All of the top weapons (Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram) are back, and Calvin Ridley (90/1374/9 in last full season) replaces Marvin Jones.

The Jaguars have nearly doubled their sack total over the past two years (18 in 2020 to 35 in 2022), but nobody will compare this iteration of Jacksonville's defense with the 2017 "Sacksonville" version (55 sacks). That said, Travon Walker, the first overall pick in 2022, could make significant strides in his second season and Josh Allen's 68 QB pressures (per PFF) were 10th-most in the NFL in 2022. Meanwhile, Tyson Campbell has developed into one of the best young cornerbacks in the league.

While their offense will pace the team, they should be able to go deep into the playoffs with continued development of their young players on defense.

MORE: Jacksonville Jaguars 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

2. Tennessee Titans - Projected Wins: 7.74

Adding DeAndre Hopkins to a group of pass catchers that includes Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo, two potential breakout candidates, takes some pressure off workhorse back Derrick Henry. Per PFF, Okonkwo led all qualified tight ends in yards per route run (2.61) in 2022. And even though the Titans used their first-round pick on Northwestern's Peter Skoronski and signed former first-rounder Andre Dillard in free agency to play left tackle, Tennessee's biggest weakness is their offensive line.

The Titans led the NFL in run defense (76.9 YPG, 3.35 YPC), but they ranked last in the league in pass defense (274.8 YPG). Jeffery Simmons is one of the best interior defensive lineman in the league, and the Titans will get Harold Landry III back from a torn ACL.

The Titans benefit from playing four division games against the Texans and Colts (and their rookie quarterbacks). Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and it's possible that they could end up with a winning record in a bad AFC South at least in part based on their opponents.

MORE: Tennessee Titans 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

3. Indianapolis Colts - Projected Wins: 7.34

If he's not the best, Jonathan Taylor is certainly one of the best running backs in the NFL. The situation between Taylor and the Colts (especially owner Jim Irsay) has devolved into a complete mess. Quenton Nelson has posted the worst PFF grades of his career in back-to-back seasons (69.1 and 68.4, respectively), but the team returns all five starters to a unit that should return to being a top-10 offensive line in the league. With no Taylor (at least for four games, and possibly/likely more) and a rookie under center, the offense could have lots of ups and downs in 2023.

The Colts defend the run well, but a young and inexperienced cornerback room could present some challenges on the back end. The Colts have lost a number of several players in free agency — Samson Ebukam, Yannick Ngakoue and Brandon Facyson.

MORE: Indianapolis Colts 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

4. Houston Texans - Projected Wins: 7.04

For the fourth year in a row, the Texans enter the season with a new head coach — Bill O'Brien (and then Romeo Crennel), David Culley, Lovie Smith and now DeMeco Ryans, respectively. O'Brien won double-digit games in back-to-back seasons (2018 and 2019), but the franchise has only 11 wins over the past three seasons combined.

Houston ranked bottom three in the league in both scoring and total offense in back-to-back seasons, but they drafted their quarterback of the future in Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. The offensive line could rank in the top half of the league, and the Texans will rely heavily on Dameon Pierce to take pressure off their rookie quarterback. Houston traded Brandin Cooks to the Cowboys, and the offense lacks elite playmakers in the passing game although Nico Collins has the potential for a breakout season.

Over the past three seasons, the Texans rank 31st in both total defense (19,655 yards), defensive yards per play allowed (5.95), and points allowed (1,336). That said, they traded up to add Will Anderson Jr. to bolster their pass rush, and the team's biggest strength may be its secondary.

MORE: Houston Texans 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

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