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Stroud, Richardson, Levis highlight eight bold predictions for AFC South
National Football League

Stroud, Richardson, Levis highlight eight bold predictions for AFC South

Published May. 11, 2023 1:52 p.m. ET

How will the Jaguars respond to their surprising AFC South title campaign? What are reasonable expectations for the Texans, who are armed with a new coach and two of the top three picks from the 2023 draft? Can the Titans get back into the playoffs? What should we expect from the Colts and Anthony Richardson?

The AFC South is filled with intriguing storylines entering the upcoming season. Here are eight bold predictions for the division, with the draft and the early waves of free agency in the books: 

1. Jaguars will win 10 games, repeat as AFC South champions

The Jaguars are returning 20 of 22 starters, plus adding Calvin Ridley — a proven No. 1 receiver — to an already dynamic passing attack. Trevor Lawrence, on the ascent, has coaching continuity at the NFL level for the first time this offseason. And a franchise-record 13-player draft class strengthens the depth of the roster, too. The AFC South looks like the Jaguars' division to lose. 


Jacksonville will be seeking back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1998-99. 

2. Anthony Richardson will be Colts' Week 1 starter

In Gardner Minshew, the Colts have a trusted veteran backup who can start games if need be — he was with new coach Shane Steichen the past two years in Philadelphia — but Richardson should be on the field as soon as possible. One of the biggest knocks on Richardson, who's just 20 years old and had just 13 starts at Florida, is his lack of reps at the college level. 

Indianapolis' investment of the No. 4 pick on Richardson represented its willingness to weather his early ups and downs. Colts owner Jim Irsay has said that Richardson will get better by playing. 

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3. Texans reach seven wins

The Texans are probably still a year or two away from serious contention for the AFC South title, but they've done enough this offseason to be a much more competitive team with the additions of No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud and first-year coach DeMeco Ryans. 

Having a first-time offensive playcaller (Bobby Slowik) and a rookie quarterback (Stroud) brings uncertainty, but the run blocking should be much improved for star tailback Dameon Pierce. The Texans have added veteran guard Shaq Mason and interior O-line depth through the draft (center Juice Scruggs in the second round, center Jarrett Patterson in the sixth round). Houston has also addressed its run defense holes by fortifying the defensive line and linebacker positions, including the addition of No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jalen Pitre are expected to make big Year 2 jumps. 

4. Titans miss playoffs for second straight year

Coach Mike Vrabel, all-world running back Derrick Henry and a strong defense will keep Tennessee competitive in most games. But the team's lackluster wide receiver room and a new-look offensive line that will need time to find itself may limit the potential of the offense — and the team's prospects to make a playoff run. Great teams need a strong passing game in today's NFL. On paper, it looks like that will be a struggle for the Titans again in 2023. 

5. Calvin Ridley makes first Pro Bowl 

Returning from his suspension for violating the NFL's gambling policy, Ridley wrote in a piece for The Players' Tribune that he'll be a 1,400-yard receiver for the Jaguars in 2023. It's hard to doubt him. He's fully healthy. He's in a good headspace mentally. And it will be difficult for opposing defenses to dedicate extra attention to him. Tight end Evan Engram and receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones all had 70-plus receptions last season. 

The AFC is loaded with talented receivers, but if the Jaguars take another big leap in 2023 with Ridley in the fold as the top receiver, he can be in the mix for All-Pro recognition. 

[RELATED: Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley reinstated, 'rejuvenated' and 'chasing greatness']

6. Will Levis will be Titans' QB1 before Week 5

Ryan Tannehill is the Titans' starting quarterback for now, and barring any unforeseen circumstances (a trade opportunity, injury, etc.), he is set to be the Week 1 starter. But the Titans, toeing the line of a retooled roster that can compete now and in the future, don't appear to have enough juice offensively (as noted above). If Tennessee struggles early in the season, and with Tannehill in the last year of his contract, it makes sense to start second-round rookie Will Levis and see if he's the team's potential quarterback of the future. 

7. Josh Downs will have at least 50 receptions as a rookie 

Wide receiver Josh Downs, a third-round pick for the Colts out of North Carolina, drew buzz at rookie minicamp last week due to his great hands. It would not be surprising to see him instantly become a favorite target for Richardson, a strong No. 3 option behind Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce. Downs was an uber-productive player at UNC, with a combined total of 195 receptions for 2,364 yards and 19 touchdowns his last two seasons. 

8. Dalton Schultz will be Houston's top pass-catcher 

The Texans lack a true No. 1 receiver. Veterans Robert Woods and Noah Brown are secondary options at best. Former second-round pick John Metchie III, who missed his rookie season due to leukemia, is a wild card. Tank Dell is a third-round rookie. With the Cowboys last season, tight end Dalton Schultz had more receiving yards (577) than Woods or Brown. Schultz had a career-high 808 receiving yards and eight TDs in 2021. He figures to be an insurance blanket for Stroud in the short and intermediate passing game.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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