Strengths and Weaknesses for Every Team in the AFC South in 2021

By Dan Vasta in NFL
| August 16, 2021 11:06 am PDT

The AFC South will be a fun division to keep your eye on. Most are looking at Kansas City or the AFC North for AFC contenders, but the South might have two threats in 2021.

Without further ado, here are your biggest strengths and weaknesses for the AFC South in 2021.

Tennessee Titans

The star power on the Titans will make them a tough out for any conference contender. It is helpful that there are a few rebuilding teams that should benefit the top of the division.

Biggest Strength for the Tennessee Titans: Star Talent

The number of stars on the Tennessee Titans is nearly a cheat code in video game terms. The superstars have perfectly aligned together.

Especially since they have been chasing their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999. (IMAGE)

The offense was potent that season. Steve McNair and Eddie George were on fire. It helped that they had underrated receivers in Kevin Dyson and Derrick Mason. The comparisons are worthy with Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, and A.J. Brown.

Most would argue the star talent on offense is more impressive in the present time.

Derrick Henry

Henry has been the most entertaining and productive back in the league. He has been a nightmare of a man due to his size, speed, and vision. The play could be over once Henry reaches the second level untouched.

He can run through any opposing defender, but he certainly can run by them as well. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark after his second was nearly complete. Nowadays, he can run for 1,000 yards in six games or fewer.

With Henry, the Titans can dominate the time of possession and keep a team off-balanced. The home-run ability draws attention to his play, but he is so powerful that he can make the challenging first downs turn into a score.

Is Henry the best back in the NFL? Check out where he is ranked in our 2021 NFL running back rankings

Home-Run Titans Derrick Henry Julio Jones A.J. Brown
2019-20 Touches 736 227 193
2019-20 Total TD 35 9 20

A.J. Brown

A.J. Brown is the other bash brother that makes the Titans unstoppable in some games. Brown breaks tackles for breakfast and can turn them into scores just for fun. The former star at Ole Miss is another home-run threat that can dissect defenses.

Brown single-handedly decided the AFC South crown in Week 17 against the Texans. He hauled in a 52-yard bomb to set the Titans up for an AFC South crown.

Being able to host a playoff game often gives you extra momentum in the postseason. The Titans are hoping he will bring more of that action to this season.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones is one of the best receivers ever, and he is hopeful he finally is on a clutch playoff team.

Jones has had the size, speed, and wingspan that has made him unstoppable. He has made highlight-reel catches for the majority of his career.

Staying healthy has been the only concern for Jones over the majority of his career. If he can do that without having any type of a drop-off, the Titans could be a Super Bowl 56 contender.

Ryan Tannehill

Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been an exceptional passer thus far with the Titans, and a premier offensive line makes life easier.

Tannehill was among the worst starters in the NFL during his days with the Dolphins. Now he has turned into an upper-echelon quarterback in Tennessee.

The Titans offense has all the perfect pieces to make a run at the AFC championship.

If health is not a factor, the Titans will remain one of the most entertaining teams with the highest upside.

Biggest Weakness for the Tennessee Titans: Shaky Defense

The Tennessee defense has not done well enough against the elite competition. Last season, the defense held them back from putting teams away in the first half of games.

There needs to be more of an emphasis on focus and attention to detail. There were too many blown assignments and open targets streaking down the field of play.

The selection of Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech in the draft was an indicator of where they believe help is needed.

The secondary was abysmal in stretches of the season, and the lack of a shutdown corner played a role in barely winning their division despite a dominant offense.

Kevin Byard has been a stud safety for years, but there has not been enough help around him.

The lack of respectable and starter-worthy defensive backs has played a role in their struggles. We have seen plenty of youngsters out there, but only Byard and Janoris Jenkins will have years of experience.

It is hard to take the team as AFC title contenders until the secondary becomes relevant.

Titans Defensive Woes Total Defense Pass Defense Scoring Defense Team Sacks
2020 (Rank) 398.3 YPG (No. 28) 277.4 YPG (No. 29) 27.4 PPG

(No. 24)

19 (No. 30)

Secondary and Pass Rushers

The secondary should be their biggest concern, but the pass rushers will need to improve their play.

Ranking third to last in the entire NFL is remarkably bad. Teams that fail to reach the playoffs often struggle to get after the passer. Just look at the numbers, and you will find Kansas City being the next lowest team to struggle to sack the quarterback.

Kansas City finished No. 19 in sacks with 32 on the season. Their offense is a bit more potent than Tennessee, but it does not stop there. Three of the top four teams in sacks were all in the postseason, and six of the top eight made it as well.

It truly goes to show how important having a solid front four is.

Newly acquired free agent Bud Dupree will need to show the nice burst off the edge in Pittsburgh like he did two seasons ago when he was last healthy.

Rashaan Evans is another stud linebacker looking to exceed his expectations.

To keep this defense from being among the worst playoff squads, Evans will be vital.

There was no doubt this defense was the worst in the entire AFC postseason. Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry were once studs in college, and they have not done enough to strike fear in opposing hearts.

Until the defense can be more consistent and learn when to dominate, the team will not achieve their ultimate goal. Kansas City, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Buffalo all look better on the defensive side of the ball. If the Titans want to knock these four off, a much-improved defense in 2021 will be mandatory.

Indianapolis Colts

The health bug could be the Colts biggest issue this season. Hilton, MPJ, Campbell, and Wentz all missed games over the years. They need them healthy to be able to put together some of their best seasons in their career if they want to live up to some lofty preseason expectations.

Biggest Strength for the Indianapolis Colts: Running Game and Defense

The dominant run game for the Colts has been a thing of beauty over the years. Jonathan Taylor had a solid rookie campaign, and there are hopes that they make further strides.

The offensive line was not flawless and perhaps was slightly disappointing, but the return of Quentin Nelson and Ryan Kelly could get them closer to an elite line.

They add Eric Fisher from the Chiefs to help protect the blindside of newly acquired quarterback Carson Wentz.

Jonathan Taylor

Taylor put together a remarkable career in college at Wisconsin, where he ran behind a stellar offensive line. The passing game was always a slight concern for Wisconsin, and not too much has changed for Taylor. Indianapolis will lean even more on Taylor in the passing game.

Jonathon Taylor can break enough tackles to be one of the best backs in the NFL.

The Colts have a stellar defense, so running the clock out plays to their advantage. The solid defense the Colts have played with over the years has kept them in the AFC South race.

They hung in there against the Bills in the postseason and nearly won the AFC South. Despite Philip Rivers retiring and moving on from football, the Colts defense should be borderline elite upfront.

The team isn’t going to change drastically with the loss of one player.

Average defenses have several solid players, but it is rare to have multiple difference makers. Speed, field awareness, and size are tough to come by, and the Colts have a mixture of it all in their front seven.

Darius Leonard

Darius Leonard has been a superstar since his days at South Carolina State. The FCS rockstar has the speed to roam sideline to sideline with the best of them. Leonard is slightly undersized at 6-2, 230-plus pounds.

We see stud linebackers play anywhere from 220-270, but Leonard is a specimen.

Leonard excels in pass coverage and defending the run. The heat-sinking missile keeps running backs at bay with a minimum gain.

The leader of the defense has high expectations heading into the 2021 campaign.

Darius Leonard Career Stats Tackles TFL Sacks / INT All-Pro?
2020 132 7 3.0 / 0 Yes, First Team
2019 121 7 5.0 / 5 Yes, Second
2018 163 12 7.0 / 2 Yes, First Team

DeForest Buckner

Leonard (age 26) is not the only productive player on the defensive side of the ball for the Colts.

DeForest Buckner (age 27) is another beast that will dominate in the trenches. He was a stud at Oregon during his college days. He stayed on the West coast early on in his career with the 49ers.

Buckner was one of the main reasons why San Francisco reached the Super Bowl in the 2019-20 season. He is elite due to his enormous size and strength. He is an unmovable object that will obliterate the opposition.

At 6-7 and 300-pounds, Buckner is a constant double team that opens up favorable matchups for his teammates.

We have seen Leonard come in on blitzes, but the secondary can bring the pain too.

The front four was flawless at getting after the passer and the Colts are getting close to being that physical force, and Buckner is leading the charge.

They also have added pieces in free agency and the draft.

Kwity Paye out of Michigan is an upcoming pass-rusher that should benefit from playing next to a steady line.

The schedule is challenging early on, so the Colts will heavily lean on players such as Leonard and Buckner. The tandem is so stout that the youngsters developing in and out of the lineup will turn the corner quicker.

DeForest Buckner Career Stats TFL Sacks Pro Bowl, All-Pro?
2020 10 9.5 Yes, First Team AP
2019 9 7.5 Yes, Second Team AP
2018 17 12.0 Yes, Pro Bowler
2017 5 3.0 No
2016 7 6.0 No

Challenging Schedule

The schedule will be a challenge in September and October. Opening against Seattle will test the secondary right out of the gates. Russell Wilson has been a superstar early on in the season, so Indianapolis will need to bring the heat to avoid getting torched.

The following week they host the Rams against a loaded NFC contender. Both sides of the ball will challenge the Colts, and it may come down to what Indianapolis puts together offensively.

Traveling to Tennessee will be a huge matchup that dictates the AFC South crown. The following two matchups are not much more favorable. Going to Miami and then Baltimore ends their roughest patch of the season. To start against several playoff teams is a brutal way to bring in the new season. After hosting the Texans, the Colts play the 49ers and Titans (again).

So, there are no cakewalks for this team that is looking for a deeper postseason run.

Getting continued superstar production from Leonard and Buckner will go a long way in achieving another berth in the postseason.

Biggest Weakness for the Indianapolis Colts: Passing Game

A growing concern on Carson Wentz will be a theme all year for the Colts. Many franchises have struggled to get over the hump. The Colts have been a relevant squad for the better half of the decade.

Outside of a few struggling years before grabbing Andrew Luck, this has been a solid playoff team.

The same should be accurate for the 2021 season, so as long as Wentz stays healthy. The Eagles won the Super Bowl without Wentz, despite his near MVP efforts in the regular season.

If Indianapolis can develop a passing game, they could be the biggest threat to Kansas City.

To get an idea of what Wentz brings to the table, take a look at his numbers while with the Eagles.

Carson Wentz Career Stats Games Missed, Not Played Pass TD / INT Rush Yds / TD Record
2020 4 16 / 15 276 / 5 3-8-1
2019 0 27 / 7 243 / 1 9-7
2018 5 21 / 7 93 / 0 5-6
2017 3 33 / 7 299 / 0 11-2
2016 0 16 / 14 150 / 2 7-9

The passing game was a bit too inconsistent last season. Many had opinions on whether it was more Rivers or the lack of weapons.

Those weapons from last season have returned for the 2021 campaign. An improved year from Michael Pittman Jr. would go a long way. MPJ had flashes of brilliance against Green Bay and Buffalo (Wild Card).

MPJ, TY Hilton, Zach Pascal, and Parris Campbell

Coming out of USC, MPJ was a machine with yards after the catch. He would take defensive backs for a joy ride on simple slants and curls. He nearly averaged 15 yards a catch and was a touchdown machine during his senior season (11).

The upside is there to develop next to TY Hilton, Zach Pascal, and Parris Campbell. There is speed on the field, and Pittman is the only one with size and strength.

Wentz does not have enough proven weapons to have quick drives down the field.

Taylor should be an improved pass-catcher out of the backfield, but Pascal was one of the more productive players on the roster last season.

Hilton has lost the foot speed, as injuries have caught up with the lifelong Indianapolis receiver.

Wentz will also have to learn to throw the ball away or check down more often if he wants to avoid further injuries. Many are praying he does not fall apart physically since the depth is less experienced behind him.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are one of the most intriguing teams. Urban Meyer is back on the sidelines, but this time in the NFL. Trevor Lawrence is the top selection and will have eyes all over him as well.

Biggest Strength for the Jacksonville Jaguars: Youth

The Jaguars have youthful talent that many teams do not possess. The expectations placed on Urban Meyer will be tough to live up to, but there is time to achieve success. Drafting Trevor Lawrence was a godsend for the franchise, at least on paper. (IMAGE)

The former Clemson superstar checks all the boxes and should put Jacksonville back on the map.

Lawrence should be exceptional due to this athleticism, arm strength, and pocket presence. The Jaguars have never had an elite pocket passer, and the Mark Brunell days are in the distant past.

Lawrence does have his former college teammate Travis Etienne next to him in the backfield.

Etienne brought the afterburners during his days with the Tigers, and Meyer will likely use him as a pass-catcher more often than as a ball carrier.

One of the more productive ACC backs we have seen (most yards rushing in ACC history), Etienne could be used as a decoy on some plays.

2020 Leading Rushers Derrick Henry Dalvin Cook Jonathan Taylor Aaron Jones James Robinson*
Tied w/David Montgomery* 2,027 1,557 1,169 1,104 1,070

James Robinson

James Robinson came out of Illinois State last season without much hype. Instead, he ended up tying David Montgomery for the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL. Jacksonville won only one game for the entire season, and somehow Robinson still dominated.

We should expect continued carries from Robinson, and it should help keep more victories coming.

The division has two favorable matchups, with the Texans being among the worst teams entering the season.

The Receivers

The receivers are where this team could turn the franchise around. Meyer wanted D.J. Chark to get bigger and handle the workload that a number one wideout often receives. That should pay off with Lawrence threading the needle, but the secondary options are better than they have been.

Laviska Shenault Jr. has upside in the slot due to his size, speed, and length to haul in even poorly thrown passes. Urban has used wildcat packages before, and most college coaches that head to the pro game have used a few trick-plays along the way.

Shenault is a specimen that can bounce off tackles and fight through all contact. Tim Tebow lacks youth, but he could be part of a wrinkle or two for Meyer if the former Heisman winner makes the team.

Imagine Shenault Jr. with Tebow and Lawrence in the backfield. That would be interesting.

There are a few experienced players on the roster, but the pool of youth on this offense could be exciting for the next decade.

In fact, this receiving corps is so talented that both Chark and Shenault enter 2021 as intriguing fantasy football wide receiver sleepers.

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Biggest Weakness for the Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Power

The lack of proven and experienced studs is a concern.

Marvin Jones is the only player with 50-plus career touchdowns on the offense, and he has now joined his third career team.

Everybody else has three years or fewer into the NFL. The lack of experience can cause headaches and inconsistent play when times get tough.

Trevor Lawrence does have a favorable schedule early on. Seeing the Texans, Broncos, and Bengals in three of the first four weeks of the season should be a joy.

Weeks 8-11 after the bye week will be a grind that will test the patience of Urban Meyer. At Seattle, home against Buffalo, at Indianapolis, and home against San Francisco will be four losses on paper.

There is a decent shot that all four of the teams reach the postseason, but the lack of elite players for the Jaguars is an issue.

Trevor Lawrence at Clemson Total Offense Passing Yards Pass TD Total TD Record as Starter
* Top 5 at Clemson 11,041* 10,098* 90* 108* 38-2

Lawrence Holds the Key

While James Robinson had a great rookie campaign, Lawrence is the clear starter with no worries of players behind him. This team belongs to Lawrence, and the sooner he catches fire, the quicker the franchise will take off.

If Lawrence has a struggling rookie season, the team will likely have issues coming close to the seven or eight-win mark. Those are the preseason expectations, and Lawrence truly holds the keys to success.

Yes, the talent around him will need to develop because Lawrence will have lofty expectations. Urban Meyer will have some pressure, but the quarterback will always receive the most praise or criticism. As crazy out of control as we have seen things, media members will place all the credit and blame on signal-callers.

Football is the one sport where it is not difficult to find the stars or lack thereof.

Lawrence is the most highly-touted rookie at the quarterback position since Andrew Luck.

Luck was mobile enough to make dots on the run, but his field awareness and pocket presence were spectacular. Lawrence has a similar stature, but he might have more help on his side.

This division may have tough teams in it, but the Jaguars could be light years ahead of the Texans and may not be far off from the Colts and Titans in a few years.

Time will tell how much the lack of stars impacts their team in the first year of the Urban tenure.

Houston Texans

Houston could be on their way to a top selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Deshaun Watson has not been pleased with the franchise, and many do not believe he will play for the Texans. Regardless if he does or doesn’t, this team is in for a long season.

Biggest Strength for the Houston Texans: Passing Attack

Deshaun Watson has been a solid passer and the franchise piece that has kept the Texans afloat in the AFC South. Winning has been tough to come by, and the front office has not done anything to improve that.

Watson has been displeased with the way the entire organization has handled the former stars of the franchise. (IMAGE)

Losing DeAndre Hopkins took a toll on Watson, and the relationship started to falter over a year ago. There was no surprise that the team was abysmal last season. After losing one of the better offensive playmakers in the history of the Texans, Houston went 4-12.

They only lost four games by double-digits. The bad news is that every team should be improved, especially in the AFC South.

Deshaun Watson Career Stats Pass TD / INT Passing Yards Rush Yards / TD Career Record
Through Four NFL Seasons 104 / 36 14,539 1,677 / 17 28-25

The offseason that Watson had was an albatross in the early going due to all hi legal issues. If he can put aside his differences with the Texans, this signal-caller should put together at least a solid season.

The pieces are dwindling, but Watson has made do for most of his career with or without Hopkins.

Receivers and Offensive Line Concerns

The franchise has not had an elite running back in years. Yet, Watson has taken them to the postseason in two of the past three seasons. Of course, that is without Hopkins out wide, but Watson has made plays without help around him in the trenches.

Watson has been superman when on the run due to tremendous athleticism and speed.

Watson has received criticism due to holding onto the ball for too long, but his receivers were not productive last season at getting open. The offensive line is not a great squad, so they may need to make adjustments there, but Watson will need to carry them in 2021.

The team will go as far as Watson takes them. On paper, the team has plenty of question marks entering the season. It goes to show that offseason criticism and on-field frustration can snowball into more difficult losses.

Biggest Weakness for the Houston Texans: Lack of Talent

Beyond Deshaun Watson, the Texans have a severe lack of reliable talent. It all starts in the offensive backfield, where Houston is hanging their hat on aging or regressing commodities.

When was the last time the Texans had a dominant rushing attack?

Lamar Miller ran for 3,000 yards rushing in his three seasons with the Texans, and he never had elite skills. He was your classic east-west runner that could occasionally hit a home run.

He was a stud at Miami, but the holes are different in the NFL. Miller did not provide much in the passing department since the team had another Hurricane back for those duties (Duke Johnson).

Carlos Hyde was more of your north-south grinder that could move the chains and hardly hit the home-run ball. He only played for one season, but he did find some success while rushing for 1,000 yards.

Hyde has never been much of a pass-catcher (excluding 2017 with the 49ers), so hopefully David Johnson could perform well in that department like his Arizona days.

If there is not increased production, the Houston faithful will start to think of the random and yet productive backs they have seen over the years.

Houston Texans All-Time Leading Rushers Arian Foster (2009-2015) Domanick Williams (2003-2005) Lamar Miller (2016-2018) Alfred Blue (2014-2018) Ben Tate (2011-2013)
Rushing Yards 6,472 3,195 2,934 2,407 1,992

Johnson is not what he once was, and the days of Arian Foster are long gone. Looking at the top backs to ever tote the rock for Houston has been entertaining.

The list of players that have come and gone like a flash in the pan is comical. Some of these players were productive without question, but nobody could last more than three or four seasons. Bring back the Arian Foster days.

Houston has had a porous offensive line in recent memory, and the franchise has suffered.

Watson has been getting crushed in the pocket and health has been a factor at times for the quarterback.

Brandin Cooks remains, but the loss of Will Fuller is a tough one to endure. His speed was Olympic track-like, and most cannot replace proven speedsters.

The overall roster is one of the five worst in the league.

The Odds are Stacked Against Them

Look at all the top NFL betting sites and where their faith belongs to this franchise in 2021.

The Texans are underdogs in every game, with many of them double-digit spreads. It is just an ugly look for a team that has fallen on hard times.

There are only two games that will be decided by four points or fewer per most NFL sportsbooks. The first one is in the season opener against Jacksonville (Jaguars are 2-5).

The other is a Week 12 home date with the Jets, where Houston is a one-point underdog. This could be brutal to watch against the likes of Tennessee and Indianapolis.

Texans Double-Digit Spreads Week 2 at Cleveland Week 4 at Buffalo Week 6 at Indianapolis Week 7 at Arizona Week 17 at San Francisco
Underdog Numbers +13 +14 +11.5 +10.5 +13.5

The season ahead is approaching quickly, and it does not seem to be a successful one for the Texans. They could shock the nation and hover around the .500 mark, but the odds are stacked highly against them.

The offensive pieces are mediocre at best, and that is with Watson under center. The defense has more weaknesses than arguably any other squad in the NFL. Being an underdog in every game will be mission impossible to win more than a handful of times.

Until the team proves otherwise in the offseason, they will have shades of 2005 and 2013 (both went 2-14). The question many are asking is just how pathetic of a season ahead will it be?

Which Team Is Strongest in the AFC South in 2021?

Figuring out the top team in the AFC South will come down to the wire in 2021, similar to how last season finished off.

Tennessee could not get off the field enough on defense to clinch earlier in the season. The Titans played dominant grown man football on offense. Defensively, the team will have to carry its weight.

The Titans are slight underdogs to win this division due to Indianapolis (+115 at BetOnline) being more consistent on the defensive side of the ball. Leonard and Buckner are freaks in the front seven, and the schedule sets up nicely once November shows up on the calendar.

The Jaguars under Urban Meyer will have their most exciting squad in years. Trevor Lawrence will be a star eventually, but allowing him to succeed with building blocks around him will be the key.

The Texans have so many questions on both sides of the ball. Deshaun Watson seemingly does not want to play with the franchise, and there are way too many issues on defense.

Ultimately, this undoubtedly comes down to a two-team race.

Tennessee gets the slightest edge due to a more favorable schedule, but the experience they have on offense is an advantage. Tannehill has been a stud and seems to be right in the middle of his prime.

The AFC South should be a wild race filled with several high-scoring affairs. The one with the most consistent play from their defenses and quarterbacks will find the most success.

Read on to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses in the other NFL divisions for 2021.

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