The AFC South has earned a reputation of being one of the weakest divisions in the NFL over the past several seasons. That could change in 2017.
The division should be one of the more tightly contested groups in the league, with all the teams possessing plenty of youth that should continue to progress. There isn’t an elite team in the AFC South, but at least two, if not three, of them should be pretty good.
Let’s discuss where these teams head into the 2017 regular season, then decide our betting predictions where you should place your bets for the AFC South with which of the best USA sports betting websites.
Tennessee Titans (2016 record: 9-7, No. 2 in AFC South)
The Titans are one of the AFC’s top up-and-coming squads. It all starts with Marcus Mariota, a 23-year-old star quarterback who has steadily improved in his first two years. He should have a devastating running attack, led by DeMarco Murray (the AFC’s leading rusher in 2016) and Derrick Henry, a second-year back who won the Heisman Trophy two years ago. The receiving corps are decent, especially when you include tight end Delanie Walker.
The defense is where the struggles could come. There are no major stars to watch out for, with the possible exception of defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. It should be an average or slightly below-average unit.
My prediction for the Titans doesn’t look like much improvement for the young squad, but they will be better. The AFC South should be tougher this year, though, and expect more blowouts — just one of Tennessee’s victories last year came by more than 14 points.
- Record Prediction: 10-6
- Best Odds: +200 at Bovada.
Indianapolis Colts (2016 record: 8-8, No. 3 in AFC South)
The Colts’ season hinges on the health of Andrew Luck. When the 27-year-old signal-caller is 100 percent right, then he is in the conversation for the best quarterback in the game. Heck, he was still one of the best last year despite playing the entire season with a partially torn labrum in his shoulder.
He’s still not on the field after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, though, and his status for Week 1 is uncertain. If he can go at that point and is close to full health for the whole year, the Colts have a high ceiling in 2017. Indy’s offensive line looks better than it has been for quite a few years, which bodes well for Luck’s chances to stay healthy and play well.
Indianapolis were below-average against both the run and the pass. Losing star punter Pat McAfee to retirement is a definite blow, but the accurate and ageless leg of Adam Vinatieri should keep the special teams respectable.
The Colts have an elite offense if Luck is healthy and plays at an MVP level. Indianapolis will win the division if that happens, but it’s by no means a sure thing.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +270 at 5Dimes.
Houston Texans (2016 record: 9-7, No. 1 in AFC South, Lost in AFC Divisional Round)
The Texans have a quarterback battle brewing in the preseason between rookie first-round pick Deshaun Watson and veteran Tom Savage. Whoever gets the nod for most of the season should still be a below-average starter – neither player has thrown a touchdown in a regular season game before. The running game and receivers are both decent.
Houston’s defense will be one of the best in the league in 2017 under new defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. All-world defensive end J.J. Watt should be healthier than he was last season, when he played just three games. Other stars on that end include outside linebackers Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
Will the offense be good enough to capitalize on the good field position the defense gives it, though?
Houston has won nine games in three straight years, and now it gets Watt back. But the rest of the division is better this year, too, and the Texans were outscored last season by 49 points despite posting a winning record. A slight regression to the mean could be in the cards.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +200 at 5Dimes.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2016 record: 3-13, No. 4 in AFC South)
The Jaguars will be better than they were last season. A young defense should continue to progress with the additions of veteran stars A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell, and the offense will get a shot in the arm with rookie first-round pick running back Leonard Fournette joining the fold.
Now, the team will still not be great on either side of the ball. The defense should be slightly above average, but the offense will likely be quite poor. Quarterback Blake Bortles took a major step back last season after showing promise in his second season, and he’s completely useless when throwing deep balls.
The Jaguars are a dark horse to win this division if Bortles reverses the trajectory of his career, and Fournette has a similar rookie season to the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott last season.
- Record Prediction: 6-10
- Best Odds: +650 at 5Dimes.
Our Preview’s AFC South Picks & Betting Predictions
The Texans’ odds are the ones I like the least. Savage could be the worst starting quarterback in the league, and it’s hard to win a division that way. They did survive a bad season from Brock Osweiler last season, but the division was weaker then and Houston won’t likely have as much late-game luck again (all of their wins were by single digits).
Tennessee has the balance on both sides of the ball that most division winners have. The Titans are the only team in the division that looks like it could be in the top half on both offense and defense, though that would be a good year from the defense.
Indianapolis is a major boom-or-bust team because of Andrew Luck’s health. If he’s not healthy, they could be bad on both offense and defense and have no shot at winning the division. Their odds weren’t quite as long as I’d like, considering the risk factor.
The Jaguars don’t look worse enough than the Texans and Colts to warrant the huge difference in odds. For the chance that they become a smash-mouth defensive-minded squad that relies on Fournette to anchor the offense, I like their odds.
This preview’s idea of the likely finishing order for the AFC South is the Titans, followed by the Jaguars, Colts and then the Texans.
- So while I think it’ll be hard to topple the Titans, it is the Jaguars who appeal as the best value pick for a bet @ +650 with 5Dimes.