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The AFC South was the land of mediocrity in 2016, with the Texans winning the division title with a 9-7 record and a negative point differential (-49). Having ended the Brock Osweiler experiment, Houston will have to decide whether to play it safe at QB in the short term (Tom Savage) or turn the keys over immediately to Clemson star and 12th overall pick Deshaun Watson. Tennessee could ride Marcus Mariota and a resurgent DeMarco Murray to the club’s first playoff appearance in a decade. The fate of the Colts’ season rests upon the surgically-repaired and slow-healing shoulder of Andrew Luck. Indianapolis did at least add some draft day reinforcements (Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson) to a frequently burned secondary. The perennially rebuilding Jaguars appear set to give Blake Bortles the RG III treatment, benching him due to poor play and additional future financial commitments if he were to get hurt. Their running game should get a massive upgrade from 4th overall pick and Rookie of the Year Candidate Leonard Fournette.

 

Quick Primer — Our formula for close and late situations:  A lead of <=16 points during the 4th quarter with over 5 minutes to play or a lead of <= 8 points with under 5 minutes to play

 


QUARTERBACKS

Marcus Mariota (TEN) is only 23 and entering his third NFL season, but he’s mature beyond his years. Mariota had 0 turnovers in 67 opportunities and was not sacked in 59 pass attempts on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: Best among QBs in both areas)

Mariota gained 71.2% of his total passing yards through the air (959/1,347) on 1st down last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 56.0%)

Blake Bortles (JAC) is fighting for his starting job and NFL future, and his imprecision on intermediate passes is a major reason why. Bortles completed just 45.6% of passes (72 completions/158 attempts) when attempting a pass of 10-19 yards last season (NFL Rank: 28th of 28 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 53.2%)

Bortles threw 52 catchable balls on 72 pass attempts (72.2%) on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: 5th of 32 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 63.0%)

Recovering from shoulder surgery, Andrew Luck (IND) could avoid some future pain by getting rid of the ball more quickly. He was sacked 35 times when he used a straight drop last season (NFL Rank: T-Most among QBs)

Luck had 2.648 seconds in the pocket per pass attempt (169 attempts) against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 29 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 2.378 seconds)

Luck threw 51 catchable balls on 68 pass attempts (75.0%) on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: T-Highest % among Qualified QBs; League Avg: 63.0%)

Luck threw for 1,008 passing yards when pressured last season (NFL Rank: 1st among QBs)

Luck completed passes for 20+ yards on 21 of his 147 total passing attempts (14.3%) when pressured last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 28 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 7.9%)

Luck averaged 16.3 Yards per Attempt (651 yards/40 attempts) on go routes last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 30 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 10.5 Yards per Attempt)

Tom Savage (HOU) had 0 interceptions (27 pass attempts) in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 35 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 1 per 36.7 attempts)

 

RUNNING BACKS

Frank Gore (IND) rushed for 20+ yards on just 1 of his 263 carries (0.4%) last season (NFL Rank: 4th worst of 36 Qualified RBs; League Avg: 2.2%)

Lamar Miller (HOU) rushed for 273 yards in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 2nd among RBs)

Miller picked up 197 yards after contact on plays out of the shotgun last season (NFL Rank: 6th among RBs)

DeMarco Murray (TEN) nearly doubled his rushing yardage total between 2015 (702) and 2016 (1,287). The former Cowboys star and three-time Pro Bowl selection broke 23 tackles last season (NFL Rank: 2nd among RBs)

Murray picked up 56 yards after contact on 3rd and short last season (NFL Rank: 1st among RBs)

Chris Ivory (JAC) rushed for 10 or more yards on 5 of his 25 carries (20.0%) on plays to the left side last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 40 Qualified RBs; League Avg: 10.9%)

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) was targeted 32 times when his QB was under pressure last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among WRs)

Hopkins had 28 receptions on 3rd down last season (NFL Rank: 1st among WRs)

Hopkins was targeted 61 times on 1st down last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among WRs)

T.Y. Hilton (IND) was targeted 60 times and had 36 receptions against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 1st among WRs in both targets and receptions)

Hilton averaged 42.4 Receiving Yards per game (594/14) against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 39 Qualified WRs; League Avg: 17.9)

Allen Robinson (JAC) had 23 first down receptions against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among WRs)

Robinson caught just 62 of 126 passes when targeted (49.2% Reception Pct) when his QB was not under pressure last season (NFL Rank: 45th of 45 Qualified WRs; League Avg: 63.6%)

Marqise Lee (JAC) had 42 first down receptions on plays out of the shotgun last season (NFL Rank: 12th among WRs)

Even during a down, injury-plagued 2016 season, Donte Moncrief (IND) used his big frame to outmuscle DBs near the goal line. Moncrief caught 6 touchdown receptions on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: T-6th among WRs)

 

TIGHT ENDS

Delanie Walker (TEN) was targeted 35 times against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among TEs)

Jack Doyle (IND) caught 50 of 61 passes when targeted (82.0% Reception Pct) when his QB was not under pressure last season (NFL Rank: T-1st of 43 Qualified TEs; League Avg: 70.6%)

Doyle had 9 receptions when his QB was under pressure last season (NFL Rank: 7th among TEs)

 

DEFENSE

The Texans defense allowed first downs on just 26.6% of plays last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 32; League Avg: 30.0%)

Houston boasted an elite secondary in 2016, surrendering the second-fewest passing yards per game in the NFL. The Texans defense allowed a passer rating of just 56.5 in short yardage situations (46 Pass Attempts) last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 105.0)

The Texans defense forced just 1 fumble on 194 carries (32.3 Carries Per Fumble) in the 1st half last season (NFL Rank: 30th of 32; League Avg: 62.2)

The Texans defense blitzed on just 2.3% of plays on second and 1-3 yards to go last season (NFL Rank: 31st of 32; League Avg: 11.3%)

Indianapolis’ run defense was nothing special overall in 2016, ranking 25th in yard allowed per game, but they clamped down in important moments. The Colts defense did not allow a rushing touchdown on 86 rushes in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 28.7)

The Jaguars defense allowed just 9.5 Yards per Completion (817 yards/86 completions) in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 11.7

The Jaguars defense allowed 6.7 Yards from Scrimmage Per Touch (5,330 yards / 791 touches) last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 32; League Avg: 7.5)

The Jaguars defense sacked opposing QBs on just 5.8% of pass attempts (7/121) when blitzing last season (NFL Rank: 29th of 32; League Avg: 7.9%)

Jalen Ramsey (JAC) was thrown at 110 times last season (NFL Rank: 2nd most among DBs)

The Titans defense allowed first downs on just 44.7% of plays on 3rd and short last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 61.5%)

The Titans defense allowed a Completion Pct of just 53.5% (83 completions/155 attempts) on 3rd down last season (NFL Rank: 3rd of 32; League Avg: 59.1%)

The Titans defense created pressure against opposing QBs 26 times when opponents had over 10 yards to go last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 32; League Avg: 18)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jason Myers (JAC) averaged touchbacks on 78.9% of kickoffs (60 touchbacks/76 kickoffs) last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 34 Qualified Ks; League Avg: 57.6%)

Houston Texans Punters placed 54.5% of punts inside the 20 (6/11) in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 34.2%)

Houston Texans Kickers averaged touchbacks on 31.1% of kickoffs (23 touchbacks/74 kickoffs) last season (NFL Rank: 32nd of 32; League Avg: 57.6%)

 

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