Today we tackle what may be the most boring division in all of professional sports, the AFC South. But just because a division is boring, doesn’t mean you can’t make some money. The Colts won the division last season, as Andrew Luck took the next step in what appears to be a very promising career. The AFC South was the only division in the NFL to have three teams with losing records, and Vegas followed suit this year with only the Colts being slotted a win total higher than seven wins. The Texans were the big surprise, winning two games after winning back to back division titles. Two coaches are making debuts with their new teams (Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Bill O’Brien in Houston). The most tenured coach in the division is Chuck Pagano, whose only been at Indy since 2012. The AFC South draws the NFC East and the AFC North, a pretty tame draw in the grand scheme of things.
Win totals are from www.scoresandodds.com. Win total posted with juice on the over and under, respectively.
Tennessee Titans 7 wins (-105/-115): New coach Ken Whisenhunt has come on board and inherits a team that has more talent than you’d think. Last year’s team lost two games in OT and hung very close at Seattle and Indianapolis. Jake Locker, when healthy, has shown flashes of the potential the Titans envisioned when they used a 1st round pick on him in 2011. He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently. If he does dodge the injury bug this season, he has a pretty underrated cast around him. The Titans have focused on strengthening the O Line via the draft and free agency and the Titans selected the first RB of the draft, Bishop Sankey from Washington (54th overall, latest ever for the first RB to come off the board in draft history) who besides rushing for 1,800 yards in the PAC-12 last year, is a fantastic blocker. The Titans let Chris Johnson walk, so the running game will have a new look. Kendall Wright caught 94 balls last year and Delanie Walker will get more comfortable with his new team in his 2nd year in Nashville, after a 60 catch year last season.
The defense is an OK bunch, but they are switching schemes to a 3-4 defense. Jurell Casey had 10.5 sacks last year, and former Georgia Tech star Derrick Morgan looked very active. It will be interesting to see how the scheme shift effects these two. Stud corner Alterraun Verner is now in Tampa.
Whisenhunt is a very good coach, especially for QBs. He really helped Philip Rivers last year as the Offensive Coordinator in San Diego and could be a godsend for Locker. The schedule is very manageable, especially if they can somehow split their first four games. Three of their first four are road trips to KC, Cincy and Indy. They also don’t have to deal with the Thursday night headache until week 16, a trip to Jacksonville. Considering the QB carousel they had last year, it’s pretty remarkable they only had 20 turnovers.
Tennessee is a solid, under the radar team that will pull off an upset or two this year. Given their manageable schedule and solid offensive cast, there’s good reason to think this team finished 8-8, as long as Locker stays healthy.
Gun to head: Over 7 wins. Cheap price at -105 and cross your fingers they don’t flop in September.
Our own free win: Lean over, with Locker the big concern. Can’t lock this in with the Locker injury history.
Jacksonville Jaguars 4.5 wins (-200/+170): That price tag, yikes. You have to pay 2 to 1 to have a team win FIVE games. I don’t know where to start, or even if I want to start talking about this team. We’ll try.
This team is dreadful. When they aren’t playing in a stadium with the upper deck tarped off, they are playing somewhere else, maybe London. Blaine Gabbert has been replaced by 3rd overall pick Blake Bortles at QB, with Chad Henne as a place keeper. Justin Blackmon is suspended again, Maurice Jones-Drew is gone. This team scored 10 points or less six times last year, and gave up 20+ points in every game but two.
This is one of the worst teams in football. Period. However…
Gun to head: Over 4.5 wins. 2nd year coach Gus Bradley came over from Seattle after serving as Defensive Coordinator, and has a couple of his guys on the defense now (Red Bryant and Chris Clemons). The schedule is not tough, and you gotta think this team can run into 5 wins somehow.
Our own free will: Pass. No way we’re laying 2 dollars to win a dollar on this bunch. We also have zero interest in taking any NFL team under 4.5 wins. Going into week 17, sweating the 4-11 Jags as they get set to take on Houston is no way to spend the holidays.
Indianapolis Colts 9.5 wins (-110/-110): There’s a lot to like with Indy. Andrew Luck is the real deal and he has some weapons in the WR corp, with Reggie Wayne returning, Hakeem Nicks arriving and T.Y. Hilton flourishing. Chuck Pagano is a great coach, the Colts have a tremendous home field advantage (14-3 at home the past two seasons, including playoffs) and their division is very lackluster. I do think they will get serious competition from Houston for the division crown (more on them shortly).
The problem with the Colts is in the trenches and on defense. On the big stage, the defense often gets shredded. Even in wins like the KC playoff win, the defense was awful. The defense did pick up Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson but Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks in 2013) will miss the first four games of this season for a PED suspension, putting his amazing 2013 into perspective.
Trent Richardson will be a huge factor. He was awful last season after the trade with Cleveland that sent a first round pick to the Browns. He averaged 3 yards a carry and was phased out as the season went along. If he can return to the form he showed in Cleveland, it would help out Luck and the offense greatly by opening the running game and play action game.
The Colts have not been able to win many road games of any consequence, outside of a 20 point victory in San Francisco last year, the same week the 49ers were dealing with the aftermath of the Aldon Smith fiasco. I still don’t buy them as a legit contender; away from home they are a different team.
Coming off an 11 win season, this 9.5 line smells really fishy. The Colts were 5-1 in games decided by 6 points or less and had a turnover margin of +14 after going -10 in 2012, a ridiculous turn of events. That’s a lot of good fortune.
Given their division and the NFC East as their NFC opponent, the schedule does looks manageable. They also have a stretch in November where they have a bye week followed by three home games. Given all that, how do they not get installed at 10 wins or more?
Call me crazy, but we think Indy reverts a little bit this season.
Gun to head: Under 9.5 wins. This number stinks.
Our own free will: Heavy lean to the under, but it’s hard to bet against Luck. That’s our only reservation.
Houston Texans 7.5 wins (-135/+115): First bold call of the season, Houston wins the South.
This roster is stacked, forget about 2013. That two win season was a train wreck, with Gary Kubiak getting fired with three games left to go.
Speaking of 2013, this team was competitive for longer than you would think considering they went 2-14. Houston lost to KC, Indy, New England, Seattle and Arizona all by 3 points or less, with that Pats game being played on December 1st.
The offensive line returns three starters and adds Xavier Su’a-Filo, a Guard from UCLA who could be the next Mike Iupati. The running back rotation is still in flux behind Arian Foster, but RBs are a dime a dozen in this league anyways. In the passing game, Andre Johnson is back after trade rumors and DeAndre Hopkins looks to improve upon his rookie year. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz could be a big time sleeper for fantasy players.
On offense, QB is the big question mark. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage are the candidates, with Fitzpatrick getting the first crack at the starting job. Savage was great at Pitt, and my gut says he ends up with the job. New coach Bill O’Brien came over from Penn State and I have faith he’ll get whichever QB he chooses in a good position to succeed.
On defense, the Texans added Jadeveon Clowney with the 1st overall pick in the draft to team up with J.J. Watt. Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph are a fantastic combo at corner. If Brian Cushing can stay healthy (big “if”) this defense should bounce back in a big way after only recording 11 takeaways last season, the lowest takeaway total in NFL history.
We may sound crazy, especially with a rookie head coach and an unknown QB situation. Vegas doesn’t think it’s that crazy, with Houston as a 3 to 1 shot to win the South, 2nd only to Indy at 5 to 8. We like a lot about that defense, they have a reasonable schedule (four of last six at home), the low number and fairly cheap price. Add in our thoughts on Indy has a good but not great team. Give us Houston!
Gun to head: Put the gun down, we love Houston over 7.5
Our own free will: Houston over baby…sprinkle a few Bitcoins on the division title as well at 3 to 1. Also, Texans -2.5 vs the Skins week one is a lock.
Next up, the NFC North.
Las Vegas win totals:
Lions 8.5 wins (-105/-115)
Packers 10.5 wins (+100/-120)
Vikings 6 wins (-150/+130)
Bears 8.5 wins (-175/+150)