The AFC South might has well have been called the “replacement” division last season. While there was no Falco to quarterback either roster, the AFC South saw two of the best quarterbacks in the division go down due to injury. Both of those injuries had a significant impact on the division. The Colts and Texans were never able to recover without their star men. With both teams getting their signal callers back at full health this season, this looks to be one of the deepest divisions in the NFL. See below for our odds to win the AFC South preview with odds provided by BetOnline.
The Jacksonville Jaguars winning the AFC South was one of the last things anyone would have expected heading into the 2017 season. The Jags looked to have a major talent disadvantage at quarterback relative to the rest of the division. Injuries to Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson combined with some incredible play by the Jaguars resulted in a Jacksonville team that was one of the best in the NFL.
The Jaguars face an uphill battle this year if they want to return to their 2017 status. Luck and Watson return to the division and that will make the road more difficult. Perhaps the toughest thing to live up to for the Jags will be expectations. This is green space for the Jaguars. They’ve never had this type of success as a franchise.
Jacksonville will be looking to improve on a 10-6 record in 2017 and should do so in 2018. The team returns 21 of 22 starters from last year's playoff roster.
Jacksonville returns another key asset in Leonard Fournette who rushed for over 1,000 yards an 9 touchdowns last year. The run game will be key for Jacksonville’s ball control and low scoring style. The rushing offense for the Jags last year ranked #1 in the entire league.
While the rest of the division gets QBs back, it’s not like the skies will be clear when facing the Jags. Jacksonville was #2 in interceptions last year with 21 on the season and their turnover differential was +10, good enough for 5th.
Jalen Ramsey might be the best player in the entire division. He has emerged as a lock-down corner in a game where not many lock-down corners still exist. The league rules are offense-friendly but it didn't matter for the Jags. Jacksonville’s defense allowed a league-best 5.6 yards per pass attempt last season.
Blake Bortles remains the biggest question mark for the Jaguars. If he can improve and provide some depth to an offense that has a star running back in Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars could win the AFC South again this year and more. The defense is good enough.
NFL fans fell in love with Deshaun Watson last season and just like that their joy was ripped away (literally). Watson was lost to a knee injury and the Texans sputtered the rest of the season on their way to a 4-12 year.
What a shame it was. Once a national champion at Clemson, Watson put up huge numbers against the Patriots in New England and the Seahawks in Seattle. He looked like a franchise player for the Texans in the process. It all fell apart quickly last season, but there is a lot of hope for Houston now that Watson is back.
Houston was bit by the injury bug last year. With Watson’s return also comes the return of All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt. When healthy, the pass rushing combination of Watt and Whitney Mercilus is one of the best in the league. For a team that was one of three to allow over 7.5 yards per pass attempt last season, Watt’s continued health will be key for the team to improve and compete for a division crown.
The Texans hope that they can return to their #1 defensive form of 2016. They finished worst in the league in scoring defense last year.
The season rides on how well Deshaun Watson plays coming back from injury. He showed that he has all of the talent in the world but it won’t mean anything if he doesn’t get help. The rest of the roster was incompetent without him. To win the division, Watson will need to carry the entire team on his back. That could prove to be too much weight to put on a bad knee.
The Titans have re-branded their franchise and will be looking to create a winner this season that goes deep into the playoffs. Not only did the team change uniforms in the off-season, but they also hired a brand new head coach in Mike Vrabel.
Vrabel is a household name. The former Patriots linebacker has learned from great coaches in Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick. He promises to be an upgrade over Mike Mularkey. Mularkey was a tough coach to fire. He led the Titans to an AFC Wild Card win but was fired when he wouldn't alter his run-first style of football to better match Tennessee GM Jon Robinson’s wish for the players they had drafted.
Vrabel brought in offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. He recently crafted Jared Goff with the Rams and Matt Ryan with the Falcons.
Tennessee is a confusing team. They rely on Marcus Mariota but he has been inconsistent as a pro and tough to rely upon. Tennessee is no doubt hoping that LaFleur can have an impact on the still young quarterback from Oregon. Mariota had a tough preseason. It still remains to be seen if LaFleur can make him into a top 10 starting QB.
At the skill positions on offense, the Titans lose DeMarco Murray. That means that Derrick Henry will finally get a chance to shine as the full time ball carrier. The Titans have one of the best O-lines in the business. It’ll be interesting to see what their offense looks like mid-season in terms of play selection. Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews will be the target receivers. It remains to be seen if they’re a viable one-two punch.
The strength of the Tennessee football club is on defense. It shows flashes of being one of the best sides in the NFL. The run defense is stellar and ranked #1 in the AFC last season. The pass defense is where the Titans got burned. They gave up 239.3 YPG despite facing backups in half of the division. The defense can be leaky, more so than you’d like a playoff contender to be. They don’t have the offense to overcome it either.
Luck returns for the Colts and has an improved offensive line.
While the Jaguars are the favorites to win the AFC South again, the Colts may be the most intriguing bet on the board in this division. Andrew Luck is back from injury after he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign and even thought about retiring.
Indy drafted two guards in the first 37 picks of the 2018 draft to help protect Luck. Their adjusted sack rate of 10% was worst in the entire NFL in 2017.
Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson will help immediately and the line should be improved. Protecting Luck has been the biggest problem for the Colts over the years. Addressing the problem in the trenches is a great start to improving a 4-12 record from last year.
The Colts defense should be a real wild card in 2018. The unit was abysmal in 2017, ranking 30th overall in points against and total yards. It won’t be the same system in 2018 as the Colts shift from a 3-4 base scheme to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Matt Eberflus. He was last with the Cowboys.