SEVIERVILLE — NFL fans look for anyone who dares doubt their team’s upcoming success each and every offseason. In the case of those who support the Tennessee Titans, gambling futures for who will win the AFC South are a particularly favored slight.

Even if those same individuals choose to ignore the outlets that still champion Tennessee.

The greatest threat to the Titans in the South, as always, remains the Indianapolis Colts. The franchise equating to the bogeyman for most in Tennessee has not won their division since 2014, however, and in the last seven years remained in a fairly constant state of flux. Again, Indianapolis brings a significantly altered cast into the 2022 season.

Fortunately for the Titans, the Colts personnel still plays favorably into the reigning AFC South champion’s hands.

Titans counterculture signings play to their strengths

Weird to write that keeping one of the NFL’s pass rush units whole is “counterculture,” but not when you look at how the rest of the AFC spent their money this Spring.

Tennessee’s big spend came in early March when they gave edge defender Harold Landry a five-year, $87.5 million contract. In an offseason that saw high-profile quarterbacks and receivers swapped around the league like so many trading cards, the Titans felt it was in their best interest to pay to keep their greatest roster strength together. The plan for the offense in Tennessee was to re-tool more organically through the draft and with value plays on two or three veterans to help them along the way.

How far that strategy takes them beyond the AFC South is still in question. The Titans decision-making this offseason still more than equips them to keep their thumb on the Colts.

Enter: quarterback Matt Ryan.

AFC South rests on the ability to protect Ryan

Titans AFC South
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman (11) makes a catch late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The addition of Ryan to the AFC South after a decade with the Atlanta Falcons makes the division interesting yet again. It marks the seventh consecutive season that Indianapolis will start a different player under center going back to Andrew Luck. While it has been some time since Ryan has played for a winning team, the fault is not on him.

As the former NFL MVP has aged, his franchise did precious little to help protect him.

Last season in Atlanta, 16.3% of pressure on Ryan resulted in a sack. The quarterback was taken down 40 times last season with the Falcons. At age 37, getting hit that frequently takes a cumulative toll.

At one point, the Colts had the league’s best offensive line unit. Time has eroded that, as it does all things. For a quarterback like Ryan who lacks mobility, interior protection is at a premium. Left guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly are above average players at their position, but the rest of Indianapolis’ front remains in question.

Impacting the quarterback is what carried the day for Tennessee in 2021 and almost helped win them a playoff game where Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions. Against Ryan and the Colts, it will again be their greatest weapon.

Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.