The 2021 NFL season is right around the corner, and there are questions all 32 teams will have to answer if they want to be hoisting the Lombardi trophy come February. The AFC South will be one of the most interesting divisions to watch this year. You have a Tennessee Titans team that goes as far as their bruising back Derrick Henry can carry them, an Indianapolis Colts franchise that could be a Super Bowl sleeper if their quarterback addition works out, a Jacksonville Jaguars squad that made some exciting new additions on the field and off the field and then a Houston Texans team that could be facing a major rebuild.
The division is truly up for grabs but it may again come down to the wire between two teams. According to William Hill Sportsbook, the Colts are the favorites to win the AFC South at +100, while the Titans are second at +120. The Jaguars provide an interesting flier opportunity at +900, but like each team in the division, their potential rests on answering an important question. Below, we will pose one burning question for each AFC South team.
Texans: What's going to happen with Deshaun Watson?
The Texans have a huge problem on their hands with Watson. While he is facing some serious off-field legal issues that are of the utmost importance, before those problems came to light he was in the midst of a falling out with the Texans franchise. Reports stated Watson had demanded a trade, and he was not budging.
With the legal issues Watson is dealing with, it seems likely he will begin the season on the commissioner's exempt list. The question is when will he come off of the exempt list, and will he return to the Texans immediately? It goes without saying, but the Texans will be one of the worst teams in the league without Watson under center. Their quarterback room currently consists of Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Finley, Jeff Driskel and the rookie Davis Mills. Not exactly the signal-caller situation first-year head coach David Culley wants to find himself in during what could be a tough rebuild. Let's assume for a moment the off-field issues work themselves out one way or another at one time or another. Will Watson hold firm with his trade request or will he be a Texan for years to come? How the Watson situation pans out is the clear burning question for the Texans in 2021, but also a burning question when it comes to the franchise's future at large.
Colts: Can Carson Wentz turn it around?
For the Colts, this question was simple to identify. Can Wentz reintroduce himself to the NFL world as a star? Make no mistake, the Colts' ceiling and success as a whole completely hinges on the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was once an MVP frontrunner with the Philadelphia Eagles, as Wentz completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions while going 11-2 in his second season before an ACL injury derailed his best campaign. The Eagles would go on to win the Super Bowl under the guidance of Nick Foles, but Wentz could never rebound. He went 17-21-1 as the starter over the next three seasons, including an abysmal 2020 campaign in which he threw a career-high 15 interceptions while going 3-8-1 as the starter. A change of scenery and reuniting with Frank Reich could mark the beginning of a turnaround for Wentz, but it's not guaranteed.
Reich said recently that he cringes whenever he hears that Wentz is "broken," and that he now has "a team around him" in Indy. He's right in many ways, as this Colts roster is ready to compete right now. They have a top 10 defense, a great offensive line and several young weapons to help take the load off. Still, Wentz is going to have to go out and prove that he's a starting quarterback that can help elevate this franchise, and that's what we all will be watching for in 2021.
Jaguars: How quickly can Trevor Lawrence find success?
The Jaguars won the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, and they should be excited about it. He passed for 10,098 yards, 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in three seasons at Clemson, and became the first quarterback ever to win three ACC Championship games, according to Clemson's official website. He is going to make the Jaguars better -- but how much better and how quickly? As we stated, the division is pretty wide open. If Henry can't carry the Titans like he has or Wentz struggles mightily, could Urban Meyer and Lawrence win the AFC South? I came up with a 7-10 record for the Jaguars when I first looked at the schedule -- which would be a successful campaign in my opinion. But if Lawrence comes out swinging I could be lowballing the Jags.
This team won just one game last season, but there's undeniable talent on both sides of the ball. Just looking at the offense, Lawrence has a decent left tackle in Cam Robinson, a good running back in James Robinson along with Clemson teammate Travis Etienne and a great wide receiving corps. DJ Chark is a legitimate No. 1 wideout, they added the veteran Marvin Jones as well and then the second-year weapon Laviska Shenault Jr. could play a bigger role in 2021. The Jaguars won't be competing for a Super Bowl this year, but let's see how quickly Lawrence can elevate this franchise.
Could the Titans be hampered by the wide receiving corps?
This offseason wasn't incredibly kind to the Titans, as they lost two major offensive weapons in Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith to free agency. In fact, Ryan Tannehill lost four out of his top six pass-catchers from last year -- which made up for 48 percent of his 3,819 passing yards. That will happen to some teams in free agency, but the Titans didn't do much in the offseason to try to make up for it. Tennessee signed former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds but didn't sign a tight end, and didn't make it a point to address either position in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Titans traded down to take two defensive players instead of drafting someone like Clemson's Amari Rodgers at No. 85 overall, traded up to reach on Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth round and then took Racey McMath in the sixth round, who never caught more than 17 passes in a single season at LSU. We have seen the Titans struggle in the rare games where Henry can't carry the team, and that is just going to get worse unless someone like Reynolds or Fitzpatrick steps up and becomes a legitimate starter. Fitzpatrick is one of those candidates that appears to have the best chance to see the field early, and he's already said he's motivated to prove the Titans right and everyone else wrong.