Over the last decade has there been a more depressing franchise than the Jacksonville Jaguars? You might say the Browns, but at least Cleveland's perpetual failure has a sense of tragedy about it as well as spawning the frankly awesome “You are a factory of sadness!” quote. The Jaguars meanwhile haven't really done much of anything. The franchises biggest contribution to the NFL in recent years is probably Blaine Gabbert's ill advised theme song.
All this could be about to change in 2014 though. The Jaguars are a team on an upward curve just as the rest of the division is either stalling or a downward curve. Let's begin with the Titans
The Titans have a great looking offensive line but not much else. I'm not even sure that Jake Locker's family or the man himself can get excited about Locker acting as the Titans starting QB. On top of this, the Titans seem to be banking on rookie Bishop Sankey being a superstar and anchoring there run heavy offense. As talented as Sankey is, he is only a rookie. Banking on a rookie is always a risk.
Add this to the Titans less than impressive defense, and it is hard to see the Titans pulling up any trees in the AFC South.
I could begin and end this section with with five words Ryan Fitzpatrick Texans starting quarterback.
Simply put the Texans offense is likely to be terrible. Fitzpatrick is not a good or even average starting QB. Add to this though a whole list of other problems. The Texans best wide receiver, Andre Johnson, doesn't want to be there. Whilst running back Arian Foster is returning from a back injury. Add all this to a defense that, J.J. Watts and Jadeveon Clowney excluded, looks shambolic, and it is easy to see why the Jaguars shouldn't be afraid of playing Houston in 2014.
This brings us to the reigning AFC South Champions the Colts who are also pre-emptive favourites for 2014.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt the Colts challenge. The running game spearheaded by Trent Richardson looks dead on arrival, the defense isn't anything great and the interior of the offensive line is a mess.
Despite this, the Colts are still favourites to win the AFC South. The reason for this confidence is Andrew Luck. As great a QB Andrew Luck is he can't do it all by himself and here is a worrying statistic.
Over the the last two seasons no quarterback has been hit more times without being sacked than Andrew Luck. Luck was hit 170 times and sacked a further 73 times. How long can your franchise QB start to do that before he starts to lose his confidence or pick up injuries?
Given the lack of strength on the interior of the Colts offensive line and a schedule that includes strong pass rush defenses like the Bengals, Browns, Broncos and Texans, things could get very bad for the Colts very quickly.
This brings us to the Jaguars. They aren't a great team but under Gus Bradley they
might just be the best of a poor unexciting bunch.
Running back Toby Gerhart should give the Jags the best rushing attacking in the AFC South. Rookie wide receivers Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson look like a major upgrade on last year's talent. The acquisition of ex-Seahawks Red Byrant, Chris Clemon and former first round draft pick Ziggy Hood should improve the Jaguars defense markedly. Whilst rookie QB Blake Bortles is showing highly encouraging signs.
Aside from the positives, the big question mark over Jacksonville is the offensive line. However, these concerns are overblown. The season ending injury to right tackle Austin Pasztor is a blow but the left side with Luke Joekel and Zane Beadles looks strong and the Jaguars should improve as preseason goes on.
Bottom line. No one is expecting it, but Jacksonville could surprise the AFC South this season.