Faltering of Colts’ division rivals open the door to retake the AFC South

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 29: Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field on December 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 29: Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field on December 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Colts’ extremely successful free agency in 2020, coupled with the past successes in the draft, leads the way for the team to win now and retake control of the AFC South.

The Colts are in a prime position to retake control of the AFC South. The team has emerged out of free agency with the best haul of talent in the division and quite possibly, the entire league. In addition, the Colts’ division rivals have only begun to show chinks in their respective armors with the various trades and loss of talent so far this offseason.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the ability in the Colts’ front office to find talent and improve the roster is some of the best in the NFL. Over the past few years, GM Chris Ballard’s approach to free agency and the draft gave the team a young core to build around. As of now, his approach was turned on its head as the Colts scored a number of marquee, veteran talents to complete the roster. The team is ready to win now, and with the subsequent decline in the team’s division rivals, it’s even more clear that the time to make a run deep into the playoffs has come.

The Colts’ roster is much improved from last season. The addition of Pro Bowl QB Phillip Rivers brings a proven veteran to the position group that is exactly the player the team needs. While not being the most mobile threat, Rivers will play behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL; his ability to throw the deep has decreased but will still be an upgrade over that of Jacoby Brissett.

One of the main worries outside of QB was solved in a huge way for the Colts; the trade of the 13th overall pick for 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner brings another Pro Bowl talent to the roster.

Buckner is in the prime of his career at 27 years old and will only get better as he plays. Fellow lineman Sheldon Day was also signed shortly after the trade for his teammate and will give a needed boost in depth at the position. Former Viking CB Xavier Rhodes gives the Colts a much-needed number one player at the position, especially following the release of Pierre Desir.

The Colts see themselves not only benefitting from the moves made in the organization, but also by their division opponents’ respective blunders. The Texans’ shocking trade around DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for Cardinals RB David Johnson and draft picks was a move that left the entire league in shock.

The Jaguars sent one of their best defensive players in Calais Campbell to the Ravens for only a 5th round selection in the 2020 draft. The Titans, while keeping their AFC Championship core, are still a beatable team in the grand scheme of things, especially considering the limitations they possess on the defensive end.

All things considered, the Colts were a few kicks away from taking the Titans’ place as the 6th seeded team in the AFC last season. Without Hopkins, the Texans have an increasingly severe disadvantage on the offensive end in comparison to the Colts’ core of TY Hilton and Jack Doyle. Rivers isn’t nearly as athletic as Deshaun Watson but can still make all of the necessary throws to finally take control over Houston.

The Jaguars will have much more of a difficulty containing the Colts’ new passing offense led by Rivers; a large part in the Jags’ Week 17 victory was due to Brissett’s inability to move the ball down the field effectively. The loss of Calais Campbell only helps Marlon Mack and the running game take control just as it did in the two 2019 meetings (The Colts combined for 396 rushing yards in those two games).

The Titans will likely pose the biggest threat to the Colts’ chances at a division title next year. Keeping the same core ensures that the team will have the advantage on the offensive end with their powerful running game. Derrick Henry rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown in the two teams’ second meeting.

Buckner, paired with Justin Houston, Jabaal Sheard, and Darius Leonard, will bring a formidable rush defense to match Henry and the Titans. Buckner is the missing piece in the middle of the defensive line to decrease the damage done and limit the rush yards allowed after contact last season, a category that the Colts struggled mightly in. In the secondary, Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Moore will play a vital role in stopping Ryan Tannehill‘s efficient play at quarterback (he went 17-22 and threw for two touchdowns in that second meeting).

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The Colts have combined their past strategy of building a young core through the draft with solidifying talent via established veteran talent through free agency. As the team improved this offseason, their rivals did the opposite. “Win-now mode’ has been activated, and the Colts are truly ready to do so come the start of the 2020 season.