AFC South Predictions and Futures Odds with Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/2/2013
The first thing you do when handicapping a team is look at the coach and the quarterback. That gives you a baseline of the franchise and is a determinant as to how good that team should be.
With that in mind, let’s do a quick rundown on what the AFC South is packing.
Houston Texans – Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub
Kubiak is a poor coach with a great system. He learned everything he needed to from Mike Shanahan. That is to say he learned enough to field a team that will win between 8-11 games each and be just good enough to delude people into thinking they are a contender, just in time to get slammed in the face by the real contenders. In a way, Schaub is the perfect compliment at quarterback because he is also just good enough to keep the team above water but not good enough to get to the next level.
Indianapolis Colts – Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck
I have made my feelings about Luck very clear, and I’m not buying into the hype of him being The Next Big Thing. We really have no idea if Pagano is a good coach or not because Bruce Arians did most of the heavy lifting for this organization last year. I don’t fault Pagano for his circumstances, and I wish him good luck with his battle against cancer. But it will be really awkward for fans, players and media members if he turns out to be a terrible coach.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Munchak and Jake Locker
Munchak is 15-17 as a head coach and hasn’t shown a shred of innovation or, well, even basic competence in running a team. And I don’t know how many more times the Titans front office needs to see Locker go 15-for-28 for 154 yards and two interceptions before they realize he’s not an NFL quarterback.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Gus Bradley and Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne
Speaking of not an NFL quarterback, Gabbert is pathetic. And Henne is the guy you start when you are trying to go 4-12 and make a run at a Top-5 pick. I don’t know whether Bradley will be a decent coach or not. I know he built a hell of a defense in Seattle. But that becomes a whole lot easier when the front office hands you four Pro Bowlers in the secondary.
Conclusion: the AFC South is the worst division in football. Hands down. And if five or six of these eight guys aren’t toiling in this division next year I’ll be the least surprised guy in the room.
2013-14 AFC South predictions with odds courtesy of 5Dimes:
Houston Texans Predictions
2012 Record: 12-4 (6-2 home, 6-2 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 7th offense (11th pass, 8th rush); 7th defense (16th pass, 7th rush)
2013 Odds: 12/1 to win Super Bowl, 6/1 to win AFC, 1/2.5 to win AFC South, 10.0 wins “Over/Under”
Offense: The Texans got a rare full season from Andre Johnson last year, and, oh boy, did it make a difference. Johnson essentially IS the passing game. But he is 32 years old and can’t be counted on for 16 games and 1,600 yards again this season. Houston drafted DeAndre Hopkins to study under Johnson. But rookie receivers rarely meet expectations, and Hopkins may be a year or two away from really being a factor.
Arian Foster is a big-time running back. But he also benefits from the proven zone-blocking scheme that routinely created 1,000-yard rushers out of thin air in Denver during the 1990s and early 2000s. Houston’s offensive line is talented and experienced, and they know this system inside and out. This running game is the core of what this team does.
Then there is Schaub. I like Schaub. I do. He is accurate and steady. But has he ever really proven that he’s more than just average quarterback helped by a top-flight receiver in Andre Johnson? Schaub disappears against the best defenses, and his lack of arm strength often gets exposed. Again, I like the guy. He is solid and dependable and doesn’t piss away games for this team. But he’s not good enough to go out and singlehandedly take them over, either.
Defense: Much like the offense, the defense runs on scheme more than raw talent. Wade Phillips was a laughingstock as a head coach. But the guy is still a solid defensive coordinator, and he has done well with this unit.
J.J. Watt is an absolute beast and sparks the defensive line in their 3-4 set. Houston has experienced a lot of turnover in its linebacking group. But they have a decent crop of experienced players holding down the middle. What the defense is lacking is a playmaker from the linebacking spot. Brian Cushing is trying to come back from injury. But there is a lot riding on him coming back 100 percent. Young OLB Whitney Mercilus could be. In fact, he needs to be.
Houston’s big offseason move was to bring in Ed Reed. Reed is one of the best defensive players that I have ever seen. But he was on his last legs in 2012, and I don’t know that he really has anything left in the tank. Even without Reed, the secondary is still well above average, with Jon Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Daniel Manning leading the way.
Skinny: Houston has settled in as a franchise. They have great schemes and systems on both sides of the ball and are on cruise control at the head of a bumbling division. Last year this team won 12 games without playing great football, and at times they simply coasted.
But all three defensive ranks dropped off from 2011. And the rumors about Schaub’s time running out are swirling. I also know that Kubiak is not in that top tier of NFL coaches, and I don’t trust him to get the better of guys like Belichick, Fox, or Tomlin.
Houston is 20-12-1 ATS in its last 33 regular season games. They are a heavy favorite in their division and on the short list of AFC favorites. They also have one of the easiest schedules in football and could fall out of bed and win 10 games. But unless I see a lot more urgency and killer instinct out of this team, rather than a team that simply yawns its way to a division title and is content, I don’t believe they have much value for bettors this season as a heavy chalk.
Indianapolis Colts Predictions
2012 Record: 11-5 (7-1 home, 4-4 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 10th offense (7th pass, 22nd rush); 26th overall (21th pass, 29th rush)
2013 Odds: 35/1 to win SB, 20/1 to win AFC, 2.5/1 to win AFC South, 8.5 wins O/U
Offense: Andrew Luck was given most of the credit for Indy’s No. 10 offense last year. But former coach Bruce Arians did an amazing job of developing the Indy attack. And 12 of Indy’s 17 games came against teams in the bottom half of the league in pass defense. That helps.
Reggie Wayne was an absolute man for the Colts last year. He made 106 catches for 1,355 yards to produce one of his best seasons ever. The Colts acquired capable No. 2 wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, and they also have electrifying slot man T.Y. Hilton.
Luck will be reunited with former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. I expect a bit more conservative game plan from Hamilton and more focus on the running game after watching the Colts throw the ball 61 percent of the time last year, No. 8 in the league. Indy has a cadre of capable running backs, including free agent addition Ahmad Bradshaw. But they need someone to distinguish himself to take the pressure off Luck.
Defense: Head coach Chuck Pagano has a defensive background. So you know it has to bother him having the No. 26 defense in the NFL. What’s worse, the Colts didn’t exactly face a who’s who of top offenses last year. The good attacks that they did face – New England, Green Bay, Detroit, and Houston – lit them up for an average of 32.8 points in five games.
The Colts front seven has been one of the softest in football, finishing No. 26 and No. 29 against the run in the last two years, respectively. They are still adjusting to the 3-4 defense. But they need to find a way generate a lot more pressure than they did last year while finishing No. 26 in sacks. Their free agent moves were more for run-stuffers, so they shouldn’t get much help in the pressure department.
Indy made some nice additions in the secondary. LaRon Landry is someone familiar with Pagano’s schemes and is a veteran safety that has a lot of good football ahead of him. He is a playmaker on a defense that desperately needs some. The Colts also picked up Greg Toler for corner depth, and last year’s last-minute preseason addition, Vontae Davis, should benefit from a full training camp with the club.
Skinny: I have made my feelings about the Colts very clear. So I’m not going to continue to rehash why I think that the Colts are due for a serious regression this season. Their expectations are inflated, and they are not nearly as good as their 2012 results suggest.
I don’t expect Indianapolis to benefit from all the good fortune and lucky bounces that they experienced last year. The schedule is more difficult – although still among the softest in the NFL – and the Colts are going to find it much harder to play with a target on their back this time through.
Indy has four nationally televised games this year, including two short weeks because of Monday and Thursday games. They also have several high-emotion matchups, such as the Week 7 return of Peyton Manning and the Week 12 trip to Arizona to face Arians. Not only are those tough games, but also you have to account for the letdown factor the following weeks as well.
Tennessee Titans Predictions
2012 Record: 6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 6-10 ATS, 9-7 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 26th offense (22nd pass, 21st rush); 27th defense (26th pass, 24th rush)
2013 Odds: 110/1 to win SB, 50/1 to win AFC, 6/1 to win AFC South, 6.5 wins O/U
Offense: Jake Locker simply isn’t an NFL quarterback. People get enamored with his arm strength. But that does no good when you’re spraying the ball into the fifth row. Locker was woefully inaccurate during his entire college career and has completed just 55.5 percent of his passes in two years (16 games) at Tennessee. That’s not even close to good enough, and I don’t see him magically becoming a 65-percent hurler overnight.
The shame of it is that the Titans have a potentially explosive receiving corps. If Kenny Britt could ever stay healthy the guy could put up some monster numbers. Nate Washington is a serviceable No. 2, and Kevin Walter is an experienced slot guy. Mix in the raw talent of youngsters Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, along with multidimensional tight end Delanie Walker, and you’ve really got something here.
They just need someone to get them the ball.
I am not a Chris Johnson fan at all. He shies away from contact and is too soft to dig in and grind out three- or four-yard gains to set the Titans offense up in favorable down and distance. Tennessee has a decent offensive line. But all Johnson cares about is breaking long TD runs and not taking any hits. He ran for 1,200 yards last year and cracked 120 yards five times. But he also had games with four, 17, 24, 24 and 44 rushing yards, averaging less than two yards per carry, collectively, in those five games.
Defense: This defense is awful, but not for lack of trying. In 2011 they inexplicably finished in the Top 10 in points allowed on sheer grit and effort. But they came back to reality last year, allowing the most points in the league – a shocking 29.4 per game.
The Titans brought in heavy-hitting Bernard Pollard to give them some credibility and a bit of attitude. And I’m sure he’ll do an admirable job. But other than Colin McCarthy, who can’t stay healthy, and maybe Kamerion Wimbley, the front seven is a sieve.
Skinny: I’m kind of torn on the Titans. Are they an accident waiting to happen; another example of a team trying (and failing) to buy their way out of mediocrity through the free agent market? Or are they a group that is poised to bust out thanks to a terrible division and a manageable schedule?
The Titans have the potential to have the best offense in the division. Except for Locker and Johnson. Unless they exceed my modest expectations and find just a shred of consistency, this attack will be up-and-down all year long. If the Titans are planning on the defense carrying the day, it is going to be another long season.
The Titans open with two brutal road games, at Pittsburgh and at Houston. Then they get three at home against the Chargers, Jets and Chiefs, three pretty bad non-playoff teams in 2012. If Tennessee can start off 3-2, they have a chance to crack .500 on the season. But if they get creamed coming out of the gate I’m sure this locker room will fall into every-man-for-himself mode with Munchak playing the role of lame duck.
Jacksonville Jaguars Predictions
2012 Record: 2-14 (1-7 home, 1-7 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 29th offense (20th pass, 30th rush); 30th defense (22nd pass, 30th rush)
2013 Odds: 175/1 to win SB, 75/1 to win AFC, 30/1 to win AFC South, 5.0 wins O/U
Offense: I’m just not going to spend a lot of time here. Gabbert and Henne are terrible. Maurice Jones-Drew is a one-man-gang, but he is advancing in age and only has so many carries left in those tree trunk legs. I had a feeling Justin Blackmon would be a very good pro. And he could be, eventually, but drops and off-field issues are sabotaging the early stages.
New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is coming from the University of Miami and has no real experience at this level. Who knows what he is going to incorporate. But he doesn’t exactly have a track record of success to point to. I’m curious, but not optimistic.
Defense: This entire unit was lost last year. But they bolstered this side of the ball with several daring offseason free agent signings and a savvy draft. Wait, that’s right, they didn’t actually do any of those things, and they will go into 2013 with pretty much the same core that was throttled last year.
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and Jason Babin might be the only two guys in the starting 11 that could start on many other NFL teams. I think that Bradley will do some interesting and helpful things with his scheming. And he has the benefit of being a 4-3 coach inheriting a defense with 4-3 personnel. But the talent level in this group is so low that no amount of game planning is going to be able to fully compensate.
Their best defense might be handing the ball off to Jones-Drew about 550 times.
Skinny: Last year I got excited about this team as a potential out-of-nowhere sleeper that would win six or seven games, cover the spread in nine or 10, and be a bettor’s best friend all season long. (Little did I know that another team from the same division, Indy, would end up being That Team instead. Missed it by that much!)
Clearly, I was wrong. This team was – and still is – a bigger mess than I thought. They have a decent mean streak and a little toughness to them. But they are just so pathetic at so many crucial spots that they can’t be competitive on a week-in, week-out basis. Their quarterbacks are a joke, their pass defense is terrible, and they are breaking in their third coach in three years.
Jacksonville has gone 5-1-1 ATS the last two years as a double-digit underdog. So they aren’t as bad as people think. But they are just 9-20 ATS in the rest of their games since December of 2010, so they aren’t very good either. Any improvement from this group will be negligible.
Other stories in this series:
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.
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