For years the AFC South has been the laughing stock of the NFL. Just once since 2008 has a team from the division earned a wildcard playoff berth, and in the last two seasons, Houston has won the crown with only nine wins. That said, last year, three AFC South teams recorded a record of .500 or better.
Sure, in our previews of other divisions like the NFC West, NFC North, NFC South, NFC East, AFC West and AFC North, there might be more Super Bowl contenders, but the point of this series is to handicap each division. Can we find an angle or price to help our ROI with an AFC South future wager? Maybe so.
The Titans beat Houston in the last week of the 2016 season, but at 9-7, lost a tiebreaker to miss out on the playoffs. Tennessee won five of their final seven games including victories over the Packers, Broncos, and Chiefs.
The fruits of the 2016 trade that landed the Rams Jared Goff continues for the Titans. After picking four times in the first two rounds last year, the Titans had two first round and two third round selections this year. Pass catchers Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith were added this season via the draft, and the secondary was aided by picking Adoree’ Jackson, and signing Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien. Though Tennessee lost linebacker Sean Spence and guard Chance Warmack, the additions outweigh the subtractions, and the arrow is pointing up in Nashville.
The Texans franchise has existed for 15 years and their leading passers over that time are David Carr, Matt Schaub, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, and Brock Osweiler. Therefore, moving up to draft Deshaun Watson made sense. Finally trying to acquire a franchise signal caller to go along with what was among the top defenses in the league last season makes sense. Houston lost Quintin Demps and AJ Bouye out of the secondary, but simply put, if Watson quickly adapts, they’ll be improved, and if he struggles, there will be better teams in the division.
After three consecutive 11 win seasons, the Colts have gone 8-8 in each of the past two years. Andrew Luck has been good and sometimes great, but the running game is generally mediocre, and the defense has been below average. GM Ryan Grigson was shown the door in January and Chris Ballard was hired in his place. He quickly scooped up below-the-radar pass rushers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon in free agency. The Colts first two draft picks were safety Malik Hooker and corner Quincy Wilson.
While Indy’s defense should be improved, the offensive line continues to be a major problem. Firing Grigson was overdo but undoing his mess in short order is a difficult task, though the division is wide open.
While experts routinely tell us the Jags are going to be dramatically improved, they’ve had losing records in six straight seasons and haven’t been better than 8-8 since 2007. Doug Marrone, who wasn’t particularly impressive as the head coach of Syracuse University or the Buffalo Bills, is the new head man in Jacksonville. Quarterback Blake Bortles regressed last year, and the Jags went from 5-11 to 3-13.
Tom Coughlin, who had more good times than bad with the Giants, is now running the franchise. They spent big dough in free agency on corner AJ Bouye, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and safety Barry Church. Drafting running back Leonard Fournette in the first round and Cam Robinson to block for him in round two should ensure offensive balance. On paper, the Jaguars are improved, but that’s something we’ve said before too.
This is a relatively easy call despite similar odds for three teams. The Jags are in “we’ll believe it when we see it” mode, and the Colts are really the same after constantly failing to live up to expectations. Expecting Watson to be a star right away is a lot to ask for the Texans. Meanwhile, the Titans keep adding talent, were really good down the stretch last year, and have double-digit wins written all over them.
Photo credit: By Ed Schipul (Flickr: Texans Offensive Line) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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