NFL division preview: AFC South

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) leaves the field after a preseason game with the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium.
Safid Deen
USA TODAY Sports Plus

It’s been two years since the Tennessee Titans were in the AFC championship game, and they might have added a missing piece that could get coach Mike Vrabel’s team over the hump.

USA TODAY Sports+ examines each division prior to kickoff of the 2021 NFL season. And there's plenty of intrigue surrounding this unique year, which features 17 games after the NFL expanded its regular season for the first time since 1978.

The playoffs will begin the weekend of Jan. 15 and Los Angeles will host Super Bowl LVI Feb. 13, 2022.

Now, let's get into it.

Looking for a different division preview? AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West |NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

AFC South

Team to beat? Tennessee Titans

Julio Jones, who leads all active NFL receivers with 11,746 receiving yards, joins a stellar Titans offense centered around star running back Derrick Henry, another standout receiver in A.J. Brown and veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

An issue of concern, however, is how the Titans’ new offense will look under Todd Downing, the team’s new offensive coordinator after Arthur Smith left to coach the Atlanta Falcons.

The Titans are a veteran group that has taken on Vrabel’s hard-nosed identity and could contend for the division title this season.

RELATED:How does Julio Jones fit into Titans' receiving corps?

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Julio Jones (2) looks on from the sidelines during the second half of a preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium.

Team on the rise? Indianapolis Colts

The Colts received gut-wrenching news to start training camp when newly-acquired quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson uniquely suffered the same foot injury, which came with an initial prognosis of five to 12 weeks on the shelf.

Luckily for Indianapolis, both players returned to training camp on a limited basis three weeks after their injuries and will be key cogs in the Colts’ pursuit to repeat as AFC South champions in 2021.

Wentz joins a much more favorable situation than he experienced with the Philadelphia Eagles. He'll play behind a formidable offensive line, with a rising star at running back in Jonathon Taylor and with a Top 10 defense on the other side of the football.

MORE:Former coaches predict 'bounce-back year' for Carson Wentz

Team with some intrigue? Jacksonville Jaguars

A new coach and new quarterback spark intrigue for any situation, but Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence bring a lot more to Jacksonville.

The Jaguars hired Meyer, one of college football’s greatest coaches, to his first NFL coaching job – and he’ll have his work cut out for him. The Jaguars had the No. 1 pick in the draft for a reason, and Lawrence will have a significant hand in turning the franchise around starting in 2021.

The Jaguars hope Lawrence’s billing as one of the best quarterback prospects in recent draft history and Meyer’s winning pedigree in college translate to NFL success.

Team with ground to make up? Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are so, so far from their 24-0 first-half lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs two seasons ago.

J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins and coach Bill O’Brien are gone, and star quarterback Deshaun Watson may not see the field in 2021. Watson is in legal limbo following an offseason where more than 20 civil lawsuits were filed alleging sexual misconduct. Watson has not participated in training camp, and the Texans appear primed to begin the season without him on the field, hurting their chances this season.