Is Tennessee worth the hype?
The AFC South could actually be one of the more intriguing races in the NFL this coming season. You've got everyone's favorite Tennessee, a team that most believe have taken the steps needed to win the division.
There's also Indianapolis and Houston, who each have the pieces in place to contend if they stay healthy. Finally, Jacksonville appears to be getting closer, but still needs to figure out that pesky quarterback position. A lot of these predictions could change depending on Andrew Luck's status. Let's take a look at what the South Point Casino thinks of each team's win chances this season
Over 8.5 wins EVEN...Under 8.5 wins -120
Offense: It's only a matter of time before Deshaun Watson takes over at quarterback and sends Tom Savage to the bench. The rookie probably needs a little more seasoning before Tom O'Brien pulls the trigger. Whoever is under center has a pretty solid run game with Lamar Miller and rookie D'Onta Foreman out of Texas. The wide receivers are led by DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, who is out indefinitely because of a broken collarbone, while tight end C.J. Fedorowicz stepped up as a weapon in the passing game late last season. The offensive line is pretty solid although left tackle Duane Brown’s holdout could become more of an issue the longer this remains unresolved.
Defense: The health of J.J. Watt is very important after playing in just three games last season. He makes things so much easier for his teammates, who benefit from him being double-teamed. Jadeveon Clowney proved to be very stout up front along with the underrated Whitney Mercilus, who has 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons. The secondary has two good corners in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Losing safety A.J. Bouye in free agency to the rival Jaguars hurts, but Kevin Johnson could emerge as a more than adequate replacement.
Selection: The team didn't do very much in free agency which would have only helped an already solid core. The Texans are in a group with several other teams that are a quarterback away from taking the next step. Four of the Houston’s first six games are at home including three straight before a Week 7 bye. September includes back-to-back road games at Cincinnati and New England, so a good start could end up being pivotal. The Texans also play at Seattle and Baltimore to add to a difficult road slate. I think the over is worth a look for Houston especially at this price. Health will be very important as well as when the quarterback change is made. Watson will have his growing pains, but he's still better then Savage.
(No win total)
Offense: The reason why there is no win total for the Colts is the uncertainty around Andrew Luck's health. There have been whispers and rumblings that he may not be ready for the regular season after undergoing shoulder surgery in January. Even if he is, it will be without a ton of practice during the preseason. The team's backup situation features Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris and Philip Walker so that’s a big step down. Frank Gore is a timeless treasure at running back and continues to be productive. Indianapolis can now spell him with Marlon Mack, who may end up being a steal as a fourth-round draft pick. Dwayne Allen is gone so the tight end duties fall to Jack Doyle, while wide receiver shouldn’t be an issue with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Philip Dorsett and Kamar Aiken.
Defense: There was a lot of turnover on this side of the ball as the team added five linebackers and three defensive linemen in free agency. The Colts also used their first three draft picks on defenders, highlighted by first-rounder Malik Hooker. The former Ohio State safety should provide cornerback Vontae Davis with some much-needed support. Johnathan Hankins will be expected to anchor the front line after signing a big free-agent contract. Kendall Langford, who played in just seven games last season because of injury, was released early in training camp after failing his physical, so someone will need to fill his spot at defensive end. I still think this is a shaky group that will need time to gel.
Selection: You may never see a win total for Indianapolis before the season begins. Vegas will wait until there is definitive word on Luck and his shoulder. The team doesn't get its bye until Week 11, which may be a little too late for an older roster in spots. The Colts get their four NFC West crossover games over in the first five weeks. To me, this team is the picture of mediocrity and will finish no better than third in the division.
Over 6.5 wins -140...Under 6.5 +120
Offense: Much like the Texans, the Jaguars are a quarterback away from really taking off. This is a big season for Blake Bortles, who continues to underwhelm. He's got a viable run game to turn to with the addition of first-round pick Leonard Fournette, who already has said that playing in the SEC is really no different than the NFL. Allen Robinson took a step back after his fantastic 2015 campaign and will be counted on to help the offense. Jacksonville also has Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and rookie Dede Westbrook as part of a receiving corps that has the potential to make a lot of plays. The offensive line isn’t bad, but the left tackle spot is unsettled following Branden Albert’s decision to retire. The Jags ended up releasing him after he changed his mind just a few days later.
Defense: Getting cornerback A.J. Bouye from a division rival accomplished two things and both are good. It weakened Houson’s secondary while strengthening Jacksonville’s. Bouye will pair nicely with Jalen Ramsey. Signing Calais Campbell in free agency adds another established veteran to a defensive line that also has Malik Jackson. The team’s focus on defense in the draft and free agency is starting to pay off. The Jaguars were fifth in the league against the pass, but struggled to come up with many turnovers (just seven INTs, last in NFL) and keep opponents off of the scoreboard (25th in scoring defense).
Selection: The Jaguars continue to take steps forward, but are being held back by Bortles and his lack of development. It's a rough start to the 2017 campaign with five of the first seven games away from home, including a Week 3 trip to London that won’t be followed by a bye. After their Week 8 bye, there’s a stretch of five of seven games at home. I think the over is the play here although not at this expensive price. You could try and make a case for the under as I only came up with seven wins.
Over 8.5 wins -135...Under 8.5 +115
Offense: Marcus Mariota was fantastic last season and should continue to improve with the upgrade of weapons around him. First-round pick Corey Davis brings some size and good hands to the wide receiver group. Taywan Taylor is another rookie and has gotten rave rave reviews early. That youth is paired off nicely with former Jet Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker. The offensive line returns intact as well as DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, who flourished in this offense last season
Defense: What was once a weakness, the secondary could now be considered a strength. Adoree’ Jackson was taken late in the first round and former Patriot Logan Ryan was signed in free agency. Jonathan Cyprien, another offseason signing, lends some credibility to a young safety group. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan had a combined 19.5 sacks from the outside linebacker position. The addition of Sylvester Williams up front will help those guys roam free once again. This defense was second against the run last year and should be solid in that department again this season.
Selection: Expectations for the Titans are so high right now, it's almost out of control. Yes, there are improvements and Mariota is going to be a good quarterback, but we may need to slow the hype train down. Tennessee has a stretch in November/December of four road tilts in five weeks. The Titans’ bye is in Week 8, a good spot after playing three games over a span of 14 days. I think the over is the play here although I only came up with nine wins so change one result and the under becomes worth it.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.