Who wins the AFC South in 2017?


J.J. Watt photo courtesy of the Houston Texans

Coach Bill O’Brien has done the impossible in Houston, winning the AFC South the last two seasons without a quarterback.

O’Brien has started six different quarterbacks in those 32 games and won games with all of them. The quarterback of record who guided the Texans to that division title a year ago, Brock Osweiler, has already been traded. The quarterback of record who steered the Texans to the AFC South crown in 2015, Brian Hoyer, was allowed to leave in free agency.

Can O’Brien win a third consecutive division title with a third different starting quarterback in 2017? And a rookie at that? That’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll — who wins the AFC South in 2017?  The division is tightening up around the Texans and becoming very competitive. Here are your options:

Houston Texans. The Texans fielded the best defense in the NFL last season in winning their second consecutive AFC South title. 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. But the question is on the offensive side of the ball – specifically, at quarterback, where rookie DeShaun Watson could wind up taking the snaps. He 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.

Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were a disappointing 8-8 last season with the best quarterback in the division, Andrew Luck. But Indianapolis didn’t play any defense, finishing 30th in the NFL. The Colts addressed that shortcoming in the draft, selecting safety Malik Hooker in the first round, cornerback Quincy Wilson in the second round and pass rusher Tarell Basham in the third. The Colts also signed defensive end Jabaal Sheard in free agency away from the Super Bowl champion Patriots and linebacker John Simon away from the AFC South champion Texans. The Colts are going to need big seasons again from running back Frank Gore and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to overtake the Texans. Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards last season with 1,448.

Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars haven’t won a division title since 1999 and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007. Since Shahid Khan bought the team in 2011, the Jaguars have strung together six consecutive losing seasons. So Khan is determined to spend his way out of this slump. He spent $352 million in free agency over the last two years on seven players, with $133 million of it guaranteed. He made Denver defensive end Malik Jackson the NFL’s richest free agent in 2016 with an $85.5-million deal, then made Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye the richest free agent in 2017 with a $67.5-million deal. But what the Jaguars really need is Blake Bortles to have a Pro Bowl season to justify his Top-5 selection in the 2014 draft. He averaged only 6.25 yards per pass attempt last season, with 16 interceptions against only 23 touchdowns.

Tennessee Titans. The Titans tied the Texans for the division lead last season with 9-7 records but lost the AFC South crown on a tie-breaker, which also cost Tennessee a playoff spot. The Titans have the best offensive line in the AFC, conference rushing champion 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. Legendary 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, signing Logan Ryan away from the Patriots and using a first-round draft pick on Southern Cal’s Adoree Jackson.

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