An uprising in the AFC South


Marcus Mariota photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

Only two NFL teams have won division titles each of the last two seasons – the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the Houston Texans.

The Patriots have had one quarterback in that time – Tom Brady. The Texans have had six. But while Houston seems to have stabilized the position with the selection of Clemson’s DeShaun Watson in the first round of the 2017 draft, that may not be enough for the Texans this season.

So say the voters on last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. We asked our listeners and readers who will win the AFC South in 2017, and the Tennessee Titans prevailed with 47.5 percent of the vote. The Texans were next with 37.7 percent support, followed by the Indianapolis Colts at 11.5 percent and the Jacksonville Jaguars at 3.3.

For once, the three Talk of Fame Network hosts agreed with the poll’s result. All three – Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge – cast votes for the Titans.

“I like defense,” Borges said, “so I should like Houston. But these days I like quarterbacks more and Tennessee has the one on the rise so I’ll go with Marcus Mariota’s Titans.”

The Texans and Titans tied for the division lead with 9-7 records a year ago, but Houston was crowned champion based on the second tie-breaker, division record. The Texans went 5-1 against the South and the Titans 2-4.

But the Titans have the best offensive line in the AFC, the AFC rushing champion in DeMarco Murray and a potential franchise quarterback who doesn’t beat himself in Marcus Mariota. Tennessee used the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft to claim Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. That addition alone will make Mariota a better quarterback in 2017.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will generate a pass rush, and the Titans added a couple of coverage players to upgrade the NFL’s 30th ranked pass defense. They signed Logan Ryan away from the Patriots in free agency and used a first-round draft pick on Southern Cal Adoree Jackson.

“I like Tennessee,” Judge said. “I trust their quarterback. I trust their running backs. I trust their offensive line. And I’m beginning to trust their defense — especially it they can sign P.K. Subban. The only thing I don’t trust in Tennessee are the Stanley Cup goal judges.”

The Texans fielded the best defense in the NFL in 2016 – and that defense should be even better this season with the return of arguably the NFL’s best defender, end J.J. Watt, who missed all but three games a year ago with a back injury. A healthy Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus give the Texans a ferocious pass rush.

Watson won a national title at Clemson last season and has the weapons around him to win big in Houston in running back Lamar Miller and wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller.

The Colts still have the best quarterback in the division in Andrew Luck, and the Jaguars have the biggest wallet. Owner Shahid Khan has spent $352 million in free agency over the last two years on seven players with $133 million of it guaranteed.

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