AFC South Division Betting Preview: Don't Write Off the Colts
This is another in our series of division betting previews as we edge ever closer to the new NFL season.
This time, we are focusing our attention on the AFC South. All odds are courtesy of NFL odds, which has odds for every division winner in addition to a whole lot more. You should check them out for a whole host of markets to explore -- right after you've read this piece, of course.
Looking Back to 2020
The AFC South was a dogfight all the way to the finish line a year ago. In the end, the Tennessee Titans took the division crown despite finishing with an identical 11-5 record to the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans hadn't won the division since 2008. They hosted the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round but fell 20-13.
The Colts haven't won the division since 2014, and 2020 marked their third second-place finish in the last six seasons. They went on the road in the Wild Card round but were beaten by the Buffalo Bills. Their quarterback for the 2020 campaign, Philip Rivers, retired at the end of the season, and the Colts swung a trade to reunite head coach Frank Reich with former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
The Houston Texans finished 4-12 for the second time in four seasons, with head coach Bill O'Brien fired during the campaign. They got off to a 1-6 start before their bye week, then won three of their next four games after the break. But they ended the season on a five-game losing run. The Texans appointed former Ravens assistant coach David Culley to replace O'Brien.
As for the Jacksonville Jaguars, they beat the Colts in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Then did not win another game as they limped to a 1-15 record, the worst in the NFL last year. Doug Marrone was fired, and in his place, the Jaguars hired former college coach Urban Meyer. With the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jacksonville selected former Clemson signal caller Trevor Lawrence in the hopes of landing a true franchise quarterback.
2021 Strength of Schedule
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|2021 Strength |
The Titans are the current favorites to take the division, probably due to their offensive strength. In Ryan Tannehill, they have a quarterback who has enjoyed quite the career revival since landing in Nashville. They can also boast two top-tier wide receivers in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. But the workhorse of the team is undoubtedly running back Derrick Henry. Henry rushed for 2,027 yards in 2020 on a massive 378 attempts. The Titans' defense is nowhere near the top of the NFL, and maybe the team will have to take to the air some more in the coming season. But Henry should see plenty of work.
The Colts, given the solid nature of their roster despite seemingly being short of superstar names, would be a decent shout to claim the division. But there are legitimate concerns surrounding the availability of Wentz and All-World offensive guard Quenton Nelson. Wentz struggled with the Eagles last season, leading the NFL with 15 interceptions and 50 sacks. He averaged the second-lowest Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play among the 32 quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs a year ago. But in his absence, the Colts have to choose between Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger. Unless one of those two surprises, the Colts will likely be up against it early on until Wentz gets back.
The Jaguars should be much more competitive in 2021, with their new coaching staff, front office and quarterback all significant on-paper upgrades on their predecessors. But their defense appears to be a work in progress. Plus, expecting a division title a year after going 1-15 is a bit much -- even for someone as upbeat and optimistic as me. However, they do have the fourth-friendliest schedule in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats.
As for the Texans, they appear to be operating almost like a rogue state within the NFL. They have been surrounded by turmoil, starting with quarterback Deshaun Watson wanting out of town before his off-the-field issues burst into the public consciousness. Sans Watson, the Texans appear to have the worst roster in the entire league and are the favorites to own the worst record in the NFL. Winning a division title is not something this team looks like they'll need to worry about for a while, especially if Watson has played his last down as a Texan.
As I type these words, I would give the edge (and therefore my dollars) to the Titans. They have the offense I trust the most out of these four teams, with the most stable quarterback situation, the best pass catchers and an elite ground attack. \
With that said, if -- and it's a big if -- Wentz is healthy enough to start almost all of the Colts' games this season, then I would back them to take the division.
The Colts are well-coached and have a vastly underrated defense, one that finished as the ninth-best unit in the NFL last season in terms of Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Given their odds and the slightly friendlier schedule that Tennessee's, the Colts might surprise a few people in the coming year.