The South was unequivocally a worst of the four AFC divisions last season. The four teams combined to go a dismal 25-39 (.391). Houston won the division title with an uninspiring 9-7 record. They were able to accomplish it by going 5-1 within the division. Houston went on to get crushed at home by Kansas City 30-0 during its lone playoff game. Tennessee and Jacksonville have been bottom feeders in each of the last two seasons, evidenced by their cumulative record of 13-51 (.203) over that course of time. I look for both of those teams to be substantially improved in 2016. Then again, they have nowhere to go but up based on their recent futility.
Odds to Win AFC South
• Indianapolis Colts (+140)
• Houston Texans (+190)
• Jacksonville Jaguars (+300)
• Tennessee Titans (+1000)
Note: All betting odds are provided courtesy of OddsShark.com
Bill O’Brien has done a terrific job in his first two seasons as head coach in Houston. His teams have put together consecutive 9-7 regular seasons, including capturing the AFC South crown last year. Considering those accomplishments, expectations will be high for O’Brien and the Texans heading into 2016.
If they can remain relatively healthy, Houston’s defense is capable of being a top five stop unit. However, there are some valid question marks in that regard. Star defensive end J.J. Watt is currently on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason back surgery. Linebackers Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney have encountered recent injury issues, resulting in keeping them both off the field for extended periods of time. Veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork will turn 35 in November, and one has to wonder how much is left in his tank. The Texans secondary is an underrated group, and should be nothing less than rock solid.
Brock Osweiler will enter a season as a NFL starting quarterback for the first time. Osweiller signed a huge free agent contract during the offseason, and in all likelihood, he’ll be a sizable upgrade over last year’s signal caller Brian Hoyer. The former Arizona State alum started seven games for defending world champion Denver a year ago. He did so while filling in for an injured Peyton Manning, and acquitted himself very well. Realistically, from a statistical standpoint, he far outperformed the future Hall of Fame inductee.
Houston bolstered their wide receiver position during the 2016 draft in an attempt to compliment superstar DeAndre Hopkins. They were able to pluck former Notre Dame All American Will Fuller with their first pick. Houston also snagged a raw but very talented Braxton Miller of Ohio State with its third selection. Furthermore, the Texans signed unrestricted free agent running back Lamar Miller, and have the ex-Dolphin penciled in as their starter. By the way, I’m not enamored at all with Lamar Miller’s signing, and am even less enthralled with their running backs as a whole.
The Colts run of three straight playoff appearances came to an end last year. They finished a mediocre 8-8, and that lack of success coincides with quarterback Andrew Luck being sidelined for nine games due to injury. Many experts are predicting Indianapolis to rebound in emphatic fashion. Nevertheless, I’m not one of those pundits.
Hypothetically, if Andrew Luck was to be available for all sixteen games, the Colts offense will score plenty of points. Their skilled position personnel borders on being top notch. Nevertheless, I do have some reservations about having a 33-year-old feature running back (Frank Gore), and an offensive line which is suspect at best.
If Indianapolis is going to be a playoff team, they’ll need its defense performing considerably better. Last year, they ranked 26th in total defense by allowing 379.1 yards per game. There’s nothing that jumps out at me when surveying the Colts current defensive roster, leading me to believe this unit has been enhanced whatsoever.
It’s put up or shut up for enthusiastic head coach Gus Bradley. He’ll be entering his fourth season in charge, and Jacksonville has gone a dismal 12-36 through his first three. There are some signs of hope despite last year’s dismal 5-11 record. Six of their eleven losses came by 7 points or less. It’s time for Bradley and his team to exhibit a meaningful improvement for the upcoming season. Personally, I believe that Jacksonville has a legitimate chance to contend for a division title.
The Jaguars possess what appears to be a franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles. After a less than inspiring rookie year, Bortles’ sophomore campaign was extraordinary, and especially when considering his team’s poor record. Bortles threw for an outstanding 4428 yards and tossed 35 touchdown passes.
Bortles will once again have the luxury of throwing to his favorite target from a season ago, and that’s third year wide receiver Allen Robinson. The former Penn State Nittany Lion hauled in 80 receptions for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Similar to Bortles, Robinson seems to be right on the cusp of stardom. Tight end Mercedes Lewis is a superb athlete who’s not only an adequate blocker, but also gives the Jacksonville passing game an additional vertical threat. The running back position will be in good hands with former New York Jet Chris Ivory, and former Alabama star T.J. Yeldon. The offensive’s biggest question mark will be its offensive line. If those big bruisers up front are able to hold their own, Jacksonville has a chance to be offensively special.
I love the Jaguars first two picks of this past draft. They grabbed cornerback Jalen Ramsey of Florida State in the first round. Ramsey will make an immediate impact, and can surely develop into one of the league’s elite shutdown corners. Jacksonville may have snagged an absolute steal with their second choice Myles Jack of UCLA. Make no mistake, he was undeniably a top pick talent, and Jack’s stock dropped only due to a knee injury sustained during his final collegiate season. Those two players alone, will be provide a huge upgrade for a stop unit which struggled mightily last year.
I’m not crazy about either of the two AFC South favorites. Nonetheless, they’re the safest choices. Playing it safe has never been an appealing attribute to me. Subsequently, I’m willing to take a calculated risk on the Jacksonville Jaguars at 3-1 odds.