The Houston Texans have taken over as the cream of the crop in the AFC South, and things aren’t expected to be much different this season. The Titans, Colts, and Jaguars all head into this season with inexperienced quarterbacks running the show. Consequently, the Texans have been installed as heavy favorites to win the AFC South crown as seen in the odds comparison below.
When we convert these betting lines to percentages we see that major sportsbooks believe that the Texans will win the AFC South more than four fifths of the time.Houston is heavily favored to win the division, and they should be. The Texans are playing at a higher level than any of the other teams in the AFC South and should win the division in a walk. The question we’re concerned with involves value, and where it can be found.
The Indianapolis Colts drafted Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Entry Draft. He looks like the real deal and should make the team better immediately. Question marks remain around Austin Collie after he suffered his fourth concussion in 15 months during the preseason, but the Colts plan to move Reggie Wayne around to better utilize his talents, while Luck’s Stanford teammate Coby Fleener will catch passes as well.
Donald Brown will get a chance to be the lead back for the first time. He’s shown flashes of the talent that made him a first-round pick, but he needs to figure out how to stay on the field. New head coach Chuck Pagano will try to fix the defense, but this was a flawed unit when Tony Dungy was around and it hasn’t gotten any better. The Colts improved offensively in the offseason, but they’ll be spending a lot of time playing catch-up this year.
In Jacksonville, the mess with Maurice Jones-Drew has overshadowed the fact that Mike Mularkey seems to have kicked the team’s passing game up a notch, at least in the preseason. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert received an abbreviated lesson on the team’s playbook last year because of the lockout, and his play suffered. A full camp this year has him looking like a new man (the haircut didn’t hurt either).
With the additions of Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, Gabbert now has the tools to make the Jaguars’ passing game respectable. However, it’s too early to count on him. Until he’s put together some quality starts in games that actually matter, we’ll take a pass on Gabbert because offense will continue to rely on its running game. Rashad Jennings is a capable replacement at running back, but MJD’s absence will definitely be felt.
One of the softest games on an otherwise tough schedule for the Jaguars comes right out of the gate against the Minnesota Vikings, and they aren’t in a position to even take that game without their best offensive weapon. Mel Tucker is back to coach the defense after a stint as the team’s interim head coach, and his unit was able to get some stops last season, but opposing teams were able to score when they needed to more often than not. Expect another down year in Jacksonville.
As you can see from the chart above, a couple sportsbooks have projected both the Colts and Jaguars at less than four percent to win the division. If we can safely rule those teams out as contenders, we’re left with the Texans and Titans.
The odds would indicate that the Titans have a hair less than a one-in-five chance of winning the division. Tennessee ended last season on a 4-2 run, but elected to start Jake Locker at quarterback this season in place of Matt Hasselbeck. That decision will cost the Titans a chance to make the playoffs this season while Locker learns the pro game. Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright will likely carry the receiving duties while Kenny Britt does all he can to keep from becoming one of the league’s elite receivers.
Mike Munchak’s offense will once again run through Chris Johnson. The days of asking whether or not Johnson will revert back to the form that saw him rush for 2,006 yards in 2009 are over. The offensive line isn’t opening up holes for him anymore, and he doesn’t have any confidence running behind them. He’ll rush for a respectable total, but do it for a losing team. Defensively, the Titans had success stopping the pass last season, but the loss of Cortland Finnegan is significant, especially when you consider the team’s first three opponents: New England, San Diego, and Detroit. After that, they’ll travel to Houston, so don’t be surprised if Tennessee has to work their way out of an 0-4 hole once October rolls around.
The Texans are the heavy favorites in this division. Once we’ve trimmed the fat, they’re all that remains. But is there any value in backing a team at those odds? If there is a heavy favorite this year worth supporting, it would have to be the Texans becasue they aren’t a team that’s one injury away from becoming irrelevant like some of the other heavy favorites.
Houston showed an ability to overcome injuries last season, playing stretches without Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub, and Arian Foster missed some time as well. They finished 10-6, winning the AFC South for the first time with the offense showing an ability to overcome those injuries, while the defense remains largely intact this year under coordinator Wade Phillips. They have healthy players returning to the lineup, and the other teams in the division are as weak as ever, so it’ll be surprising if Houston doesn’t repeat.
Here’s how I see the AFC South breaking down:
1. Houston (11-5) – Solid in all facets of the game; a strong candidate for a first-round bye.
2. Tennessee (7-9) – Divisional games will boost their win total; CJ1k’s best days are behind him.
3. Indianapolis (5-11) – Luck makes them better immediately, but offense isn’t Indy’s problem.
4. Jacksonville (3-13) – Strong-arming MJD is a mistake, and defensive weaknesses will be exposed.
The Texans are probably the safest pick to win their division, but you’ll have to pay for it, and I wouldn’t take a flier on any of the other teams in this division. They are all installed at long odds for a reason. If you play the AFC South, I’d advise a small wager on Houston. It would be best to place this wager on Sportsbook.com as their odds for this play are better than any of the other major sportsbooks.