Last season the AFC South was a rollercoaster ride to say the least. The Titans started 7-3, but lost every one of their last 7 matchups. While the Jaguars were 3-7 before the bye, and came back to finish with a 5-game win streak to steal the Wild Card spot.
The rest of the division wasn't a pretty sight either. The Colts and Texans were in such despair that they both changed their head coaches and quarterbacks midseason.
If there's anything to be said for these teams, it's that they're about as unpredictable as it gets. But despite that fact, today we'll be breaking down the odds, analysing each squad and doing our best to call the outcome of the AFC South this season.
AFC South Best Odds
Jacksonville Jaguars (-154)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are strong favourites to win the division at -154 in the BetMGM sportsbook.
First off, Doug Pederson deserves some credit for putting together a winning record after Urban Meyer left Jacksonville in pieces. Not only did the Jags close out the regular season with 5 consecutive wins, but they followed it up with a ridiculous 27-point comeback against the Chargers, before being knocked out of the postseason by the eventual Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs.
If we're all being honest, Tennessee gifted them the division, but with that being said, there's plenty of optimism surrounding Jacksonville and for good reason. Trevor Lawrence thrived in just his second year on NFL turf after struggling under Meyer's shoddy coaching. And what's more, his supporting cast has only improved this offseason. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley and running back Tank Bigsby will bolster the existing lineup of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram and Travis Etienne Jr.
Ridley will be returning to the field for the first time after being suspended indefinitely back in March 2022. The star WR should take a leading role in the passing game, freeing up more space for the rest of the offense.
The only worry is losing tackle Cam Robinson for the first four games due to a suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. For an o-line that ranked 31st in pass-block win rate last season, this could definitely be an issue. Then again, if Lawrence has already succeeded in spite of such terrible protection, how much worse could it get?
Meanwhile, the defense will look pretty much the same as last year. They may have lost edge rusher Arden Key to the Titans, but Josh Allen now has a full offseason under his belt and will fill the gap alongside Travon Walker, 2022's first overall pick.
All-in-all, I'm predicting good things for the Jags in the coming years. Losing to playoff-machine Patrick Mahomes is no stain on their record, and they've clearly shown that once they find their feet, they're capable of competing with the best. Odds of -154 doesn't provide the biggest return on your investment, but Jacksonville are easily the safest option here.
Tennessee Titans (+350)
The Titans are second in the odds to win the AFC South this season at +350 in the DraftKings sportsbook.
After getting off to a strong 7-3 start, quarterback issues led to the Titans throwing the division with a 7-game losing streak to close out the year. The way the Titans tanked their lead was mirrored so clearly in their week 18 matchup with Jacksonville - going from 10-0 up to lose 20-16, blowing their spot in the Wild Card round.
Ryan Tannehill had a fairly solid few weeks to kick things off, but after throwing for 117 yards and two interceptions against the Bills, Mike Vrabel quickly lost confidence in his offense. What followed was a game of quarterback musical chairs between Tannehill, Malik Willis and Joshua Dobbs. Tennessee went 6-6 in Tannehill's 12 starts, while only going 1-4 in starts by Willis and Dobbs, so you could say No.17 deserved to keep his spot...
In any case, this is still the biggest concern for the Titans. Their signing of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins suggests they're still trying to contend with Ryan Tannehill as the listed starter. But knowing that Mike Vrabel is willing to bench him at a moment's notice, I don't have faith in a consistent offense this season. Not to mention, Derrick Henry may be nearing a workload so heavy that even 'The King' himself can't keep up.
In all honesty, I'm against the sportsbooks on this one. I may be sceptical because they cost me a spread bet that looked like a sure thing after starting 7-3. But even with my bitterness aside, they should be at longer odds than +350 and maybe even lower than the Colts. The Titans ranked in the bottom 10 teams for both offensive and defensive EPA last season... Expecting them to improve both sides of the ball enough to compete with Jacksonville is unlikely to say the least.
Indianapolis Colts (+700)
The Indianapolis Colts are third in the odds to win the 2023 AFC South table at +700 in the bet365 sportsbook.
After struggling with Carson Wentz at the helm in 2021, the Colts expected big things from Matt Ryan in 2022. Little did they know Ryan would show them what rock bottom really looks like. The disaster that was last season saw Indy rank an embarrassing 31st in offensive EPA per play.
This level of play was the final straw for Frank Reich who departed midseason, leaving Jeff Saturday to take over as interim head coach. It was a nice story to have an ex-player leading his old team, but as we all could have guessed, it did not work out. Under Saturday's leadership, Ryan produced the lowest low in history as he blew a record 33-0 lead against the Vikings in Week 14 and to no surprise, he hasn't played a game since.
Now, Indianapolis are wiping the slate clean. Shane Steichen is the new HC and after signing Gardner Minshew in free agency, the Colts also picked up Anthony Richardson with the 4th overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Richardson is a freak athlete with insane arm-talent and he knows it, claiming that he is "not from Earth". The only worry is that he had limited playtime in college and may need to improve his football IQ to truly succeed. Regardless, he could have a huge impact in the ground-game. Colts running-back Jonathan Taylor led the league in rushing yards in 2021 by nearly 600 yards, but was unfortunately injured in 2022. Now, he'll return with an athletic QB that should take away some of the pressure and provide a boost to the overall running efficiency of the offense. The former Florida QB has all the measurables to be a top-tier dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, but only time will tell.
So, we should be seeing an entirely different kind of offense from Indy this season, and Steichen's expertise should reduce the sheer number of blown leads that led to such a poor record last year. They may be on the right path, but I don't expect them to be a division winner anytime soon. That being said, Taylor and Richardson could produce a run-game that opponents simply don't know how to stop.
Houston Texans (+1000)
The Houston Texans have the longest odds to win the AFC South at +1000 in the FanDuel sportsbook.
The Texans are undoubtedly in a rebuild phase at the moment, but they are already taking steps in the right direction.
DeMeco Ryans has signed on as the new head coach and will provide far more stability than David Culley and Lovie Smith did. Ryans can certainly be trusted to run a stable defense after producing the best results in the league as San Francisco's DC last year, but this will be his first stint with the top job.
The Texans also had a very successful draft day. It may have come at a hefty price, but they made investments that are bound to pay off in the long run. Second overall pick C.J Stroud is now the starting QB in Houston, while third overall pick Will Anderson Jr will be a core piece in the defense from week 1.
Don't get me wrong, these are some great offseason moves, but none are the kind that will lead to a successful campaign this season. It will be some time before we see a well-rounded roster that can help the likes of Young and Anderson shine. Sure, they'll make plays this year, but they can't do enough to win the division all by themselves. Check back in a few years to see what the Texans are really made of.
Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars
Now I know that picking the favourite is never very fun, but it's hard to bet against Jacksonville this year. They have the most complete roster in a division that features 2 teams with rookie quarterbacks and one that may just keep playing musical chairs in the backfield.
I don't expect to see any of these teams lift the Lombardi next year, but the Jags have the best chance to top the division and make another run at the players. Lawrence should continue his success with a brand new WR1, despite the troubles on the offensive line, and there's no reason the defense will struggle to maintain last year's form.
If you're not one to bet on the favourite, the Colts could be the next best. It could just be my biased scepticism towards Tennessee, but Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor create a scary duo that could turn losses into wins all by themselves.
Will the Jags win back-to-back division titles? Or will the Titans shock the sportsbooks (and me)?
(Header Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports)
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