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A.J. Hoffman: Ranking the AFC South quarterback situations

Andrew Luck is still the best in the division -- if he can get back on the field. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The season is over, at least for the teams in the AFC South. So I thought it would be worth a look at the quarterback situations for each team, and rank them from least ideal to most ideal, although I am not sure that any of them are “ideal.” 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles wasn’t the reason the Jaguars lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but it is hard to say he was the reason they got there in the first place. Having signed Bortles to a fifth year option for 2018, they have time to make a decision. Bortles will get $19.05 million next season, which is a big number, but manageable when you know it could be his last with the team, and even less daunting than the numbers that would have been facing Jacksonville with an extension. The question is where do they go for insurance? The in-house approach was tried this season, when Doug Marrone opened up the job in the preseason to competition. Chad Henne is a respectable backup in the NFL, but he is a 32-year-old journeyman who isn’t going to be relied upon to lead such a strong squad. This offseason is atypical, given that there will likely be several veteran QB options available. Some, like Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins will almost certainly be available. Some, like Eli Manning and Case Keenum are still a coin flip. Some, like Drew Brees, are almost certainly staying put. Would Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins make Jacksonville an even better football team in 2018? Probably. Would they be enticed by a Jaguar roster that includes a blossoming defense and run game and seems ready-made for a playoff run? I would guess so. Will Jacksonville be willing to find out? That is to be determined. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Jags draft a quarterback in the first couple of rounds, and let Bortles determine his own fate next season. Any way you look at it, at least for now, Jacksonville has the least desirable QB situation in the division. 

3. Tennessee Titans

Last offseason, the Titans would have been second, and maybe even first in this conversation. Marcus Mariota looked poised to break out and become not just a good NFL quarterback, but a star NFL quarterback. Despite the Titans making the playoffs (and winning a playoff game) for the first time in Mariota’s career, statistically he was a disaster. He finished 26th in the league in touchdown passes with only 13, and only 2 players threw more interceptions than his 15. The only qualified players with a worse passer rating than Mariota (79.3)  this season sounds like a who’s who of disappointment- Mitch Trubisky, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, CJ Beathard and Deshone Kizer. Then the Titans fired head coach Mike Mularkey, and instead of replacing him with an offensive-minded coach who could fix Mariota’s problems, decided to hire a defensive guy with a questionable resume in Mike Vrabel. The Titans have plenty of experience on the roster as backups with Matt Cassell and Brandon Weeden, but neither is a viable starting option. Mariota appears locked in as the future for the Titans. There was speculation this time last year that the Titans would give him a Derek Carr-esque extension this offseason, but Carr’s performance this season has to give them pause. Tennessee has a while to figure things out. They can control him without the franchise tag through the 2020 season, so the approach will likely be a patient one, but Mariota needs to start showing that the flashes of brilliance we saw in his first two seasons weren’t a mirage. 

2. Houston Texans

This time a year ago, the Texans not only had the worst quarterbacking situation in the division, but quite possibly the entire league. They had an albatross contract with Brock Osweiler and an unproven but (at least at the time) highly thought of backup in Tom Savage. The Texans mortgaged a chunk of their future to get out from under the Osweiler deal, and mortgaged an even bigger chunk of their future to move up and get Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick in the draft. Both of these moves turned out to be brilliant for the Texans. It only took a disastrous first half against Jacksonville for the Texans to sit Savage and give their rookie a chance. He shined in his 6.5 games, putting up nearly 2,000 yards of total offense and accounting for 21 touchdowns. Over the course of a full season, that could have translated into MVP-caliber numbers. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in practice ended his season there. The Texans went on to go 1-8 in the remaining games. While there are obvious reasons to be thrilled about the future of the position in Houston, this is the second ACL tear for Watson, who will have to be mobile behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. If Watson returns to health, and returns to form, the Texans will have a 22 year old with unlimited potential as the face of their franchise. If he can’t regain that magic, or comes back as a watered-down version of himself, it could be more frustration for Texans fans who have longed for a true franchise quarterback since the inception of the team. 

1. Indianapolis Colts

No, their situation is far from perfect, but on this list no team’s is. The Colts have far and away the most proven commodity at the position in Andrew Luck. The former 1st overall pick has been hobbled by shoulder injuries over the last 3 full seasons, after his first 3 seasons had him looking like a future league MVP. He only played seven games in 2015. In 2016 he played in 15 games. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, as well as posting a career high 71.2 QBR, but he clearly was struggling with his mechanics and his health. Offseason surgery left him as a question mark going into the 2017 season, and after an attempt to get back into game shape, the Colts decided to take the cautious approach and shut him down. Luck is only 28 years old, but his injury is clearly one that has lingered and it is impossible to say whether or not he will ever return to the form of his early career. The Colts were wise to trade for Jacoby Brissett during the season, and he did an admirable job keeping the ship somewhat afloat. If Luck is healthy going into next season, the Colts may have a decent trade chip in Brissett to try and build on what is currently a pretty weak roster. Placing the Colts atop this list is risky given Luck’s current status, which is a complete unknown. If the next time we see Luck, he is the 2016 version of himself, I will feel OK about his placement. If he is the 2015 or even worse the 2017 version of himself, I am going to look foolish. If he somehow returns to 2014 form, I am sure that the Colts have the best QB in the division, at least in the short-term. 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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