EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a series of weekly NFL Divisional betting previews. This week the AFC South.
The Houston Texans won this division by default last season because everyone else was terrible. You can argue the reason they even won a playoff game in the Wild Card round is because Derek Carr was absent at QB for Oakland due to injury. The Texans will have to be sharper and better, particularly on offense, this season if they hope to repeat as division champions again.
Houston was 6-9-1 ATS, a money loser in 2016 despite their division title. The Texans will need to improve on offense. It starts at QB where the team drafted Clemson star Deshaun Watson in the first round. Watson has great leadership qualities already despite being an NFL rookie, and unless he falls flat on his face in training camp, he should have a chance to be the opening week starting QB over Tom Savage who simply isn’t No. 1 QB material, and clearly the Texans agree. The Texans have an enormous hole at right tackle, thanks to Derek Newton’s double patellar tendon tear and that is just part of many questions along the offensive line.
Houston will again look upon their defense to lead the way. The Texans were one of the top defenses in the NFL last season and that was despite J.J. Watt’s absence as he missed most of the season due to back surgery. Watt says he feels great and the Texans sure hope he can be the same impact force he was prior to. The 8.5 win total seems about right to me.
Tennessee had a 9-7 record last season which tied Houston but they lost out on the playoffs and the division because they lost the tiebreaker to the Texans. Tennessee’s offense could be something very special in 2017. QB Marcus Mariota is back and poised to take the next step forward. He has a tremendous offensive line in front of him and the Titans went above and beyond in upgrading the skill position talent around Mariota. They drafted Corey Davis at WR out of Western Michigan in the first round and also spent draft picks on WR Taywan Taylor and TE Jonnu Smith while also signing former Denver and NY Jets WR Eric Decker to a contract and Decker can still produce if he stays healthy.
The defense is very good up front with Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan leading the way and the Titans were good against the run last season thanks to DaQuan Jones. The secondary is the big question mark on this football team but they made moves to address it signing Logan Ryan from the Pats and also drafting USC standout CB Adoree Jackson. I’m recommending Tennessee OVER 8.5 wins at a moderate price in the -140 range depending on where you shop and also think a wager on the Titans to win the AFC South is a bet worth placing.
Indianapolis finally made the right decision in getting rid of Ryan Grigson their former GM who made some woeful personnel decisions. The Colts will need their QB Andrew Luck to stay healthy which has been a challenge in large part due to a bottom tier offensive line that has been unable to protect the QB adequately resulting in numerous pressures and sacks on Luck. The problem for Indianapolis is that the mess that Grigson orchestrated will require plenty of time and patience to clean up.
There are still holes everywhere on this roster. The offensive line was not addressed enough in the offseason and remains a major problem area. The running game may not be there for Indy with aging Frank Gore leading them at RB and they will need to hope their 4th round pick Marlon Mack can be an effective option for them. If Luck receives time to throw the football, there are some decent weapons to throw to in WRs T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief along with TE Jack Doyle. On defense, the defensive front and LB corps were weak last season and figure to be areas of concern again in 2017. The Colts are rolling the dice on Jabaal Sheard at OLB to try and improve their pass rush.
It is difficult to make a futures or season wins wager on the Colts in my opinion.
Jacksonville finished at 3-13 SU last season but did manage a .500 pointspread record going 8-8 ATS and in fact the Jags were the only team in the AFC South last season to finish with at least a .500 record ATS. There seems to be a flock of bettors each season expecting improvement from Jacksonville but it has yet to happen. Gus Bradley was fired last season and Doug Marrone is now the head coach.
Jacksonville was busy in the offseason making a bunch of moves to upgrade on both sides of the football but none of it matters unless Blake Bortles improves significantly at the QB position after a disastrous campaign last year. He has largely the same receivers as last year including Allen Robinson but the big addition is their first round draft pick and former LSU RB Leonard Fournette who the Jaguars hope will open up the ground game and take some pressure off the shoulders of Bortles.
The offensive line should be better with Branden Albert being added from Miami and the drafting of Cam Robinson and if the Jaguars can run the football, it will help their beleaguered QB immensely. On the other side of the football, Jacksonville acquired Calais Campbell to bolster their pass rush which was not good at all last year. Jacksonville should be competitive and potentially a winning ATS team in 2017. The 6.5 wins is a tough number for me to trust at this point. A no bet for me.