2014 AFC South Predictions with Odds and NFL Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/1/2014
Much like the AFC East , the AFC South is ostensibly a one-horse race. With one franchise dominating this division for over a decade and three floundering organizations scrambling to catch up, the South is a pretty cut-and-dried example of how parity has not completely enveloped the NFL.
Indianapolis has won the division eight times in the past 11 years and they are significant favorites to do so again this year. The Colts are -180 to win the South mainly because they have the most stability at quarterback, and none of the other three teams has a signal caller to match Andrew Luck. In fact, the Jaguars, Texans and Titans seem to have three of the worst quarterback depth charts in the NFL.
The Texans were an overwhelming favorite to win this division last year at -250. They posted the worst record in the NFL. So it is not outside the realm of possibility that we could see an upset here. But I know I won't be running to the window to bet against the Colts making it nine of 12 South banners.
Here are my 2014-14 AFC South predictions with odds courtesy of 5Dimes:
Indianapolis Colts Predictions
2013 Record: 11-5 (7-1 home, 4-4 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 11-5 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 10th offense (7th pass, 22nd rush); 26th overall (21th pass, 29th rush)
2014 Odds: 19/1 to win SB, 10/1 to win AFC, 1/1.8 to win AFC South, 9.5 wins O/U
Offense: Andrew Luck is the new Brett Favre. He shouldn't be as good as he is because of his recklessness with the football. But there is also no denying the magic that both guys possess. We'll see if Luck can continue building on his already stellar resume. And we'll also see if last year's 14 offensive turnovers were a fluke or a stepping-stone for Luck and Co. after they coughed it up 25 times in 2012.
The Colts weren't satisfied with having two Pro Bowl receivers in Reggie Wayne (who is coming back from injury) and T.Y. Hilton. So they went out and grabbed Hakeem Nicks in free agency to further stack this attack. If the Colts can get anything out of the running back position, where Trent Richardson should be better with a full offseason to learn the system, then Indy's skill people can be as good as any group in the NFL.
Indianapolis suffered a blow this preseason when it lost guard Donald Thomas for the year. They have two strong tackles, but now interior line play and depth are both question marks for this group. The Colts want to go to a more up-tempo attack. But without consistent line play that could be more of a challenge.
Defense: Chuck Pagano has gotten his defense to overachieve in his time in Indy. They have finished No. 20 or worse in total defense the last four years. But after three years of comparable, bottom-tier performances in scoring categories, the Colts jumped up to No. 9 in points allowed last season thanks to a fortunate yards-per-point average.
The Colts had one of the worst rushing defenses in football last year, allowing 4.7 yards per carry. End Cory Redding is the line leader, and they have nice depth with guys like Fili Moala and newly-acquired Arthur Jones. But this group has to do a better job of occupying blockers to free up the linebackers.
Indy also added D'Qwell Jackson this offseason to bolster the linebacking crew. Jerrell Freeman has led the team in tackles the past two years, and Robert Mathis notched 19.5 sacks last season. Mathis will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension, but that trio offers a solid core.
Finally, the secondary is mediocre at best. LaRon Landry didn't have the impact that I expected in his first year as a starter at safety. The Colts are banking that Mike Adams still has something left in the tank after two years in Denver, but he won't be able to replace Antoine Bethea. Corners Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are steady but unspectacular.
Skinny: I still have not completely bought into the Colts. I know I'm on an island here. But there is something that I don't trust about this group. Maybe I am missing the boat and Indianapolis. But I just don't believe that they can continue their incredible ATS success (22-12 ATS the past two seasons).
I really liked what the Colts did this offseason, and they continue to be one of the top organizations in pro football. Jones, Jackson and Nicks all have Pro Bowl potential. And there is still untapped potential on both sides of the ball.
The public loves Indianapolis, and all the Super Bowl talk has probably sucked out some of their value. But they are obviously the most complete team in their division. The Colts benefit from one of the easiest schedules in the NFL . And while their South rivals have improved, Indy still has the inside track to a third straight postseason appearance.
Tennessee Titans Predictions
2013 Record: 6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 6-10 ATS, 9-7 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 26th offense (22nd pass, 21st rush); 27th defense (26th pass, 24th rush)
2014 Odds: 110/1 to win SB, 50/1 to win AFC, 7/1 to win AFC South, 7.0 wins O/U
Offense: New head coach Ken Whisenhunt will be completely overhauling the Titans attack. Whisenhunt has led lethal attacks in Pittsburgh, Arizona and San Diego and is one of the top offensive minds in the NFL. However, he has to work with substandard quarterback Jake Locker rather than the Pro Bowlers he had in his previous stops.
Whisenhunt's scheme will put the focus on short and intermediate passing that requires timing, accuracy and decision-making. Unfortunately, those are the areas where the injury-prone Locker has been lacking. Locker was showing some signs of progress last year. But he's played only 18 games the past two seasons because he is always hurt.
The Titans have a receiving corps bursting with potential. Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright have big-time talent, while Delanie Walker and Nate Washington offer veteran presence. The Titans moved on from Chris Johnson at running back. But they are hoping that either overrated Shonn Greene or rookie Bishop Sankey can emerge.
Tennessee's offensive line is quietly excellent. Their five starters are pillars. They wisely used their No. 1 pick on Taylor Lewan, and they have several veterans with starting experience on the bench. This position group is a strength.
Defense: Tennessee made a brilliant hire by grabbing Ray Horton. The former Cleveland (and Arizona) DC is one of the top coordinators in football and will be a head coach sooner rather than later. Horton transformed feeble groups into Top 10 stop units at his previous two stops. I think Tennessee has the talent to make a similar leap this season.
End Jurrell Casey is a future Pro Bowler and toils next to a really nice, experienced rotation of defensive tackles. The Titans have six linebackers that started at least 10 games for their respective teams last year. And that doesn't count rush specialist Kamerion Wimbley, who was moved to defensive end. The front seven in Horton's 3-4 base will be very stout.
Further, Tennessee has a pair of tone-setters at safety with hard-hitting Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard. The Titans let corner Alterraun Verner walk. But they are counting on further improvement from Coty Sensabaugh and Jason McCourty.
The defense will be physical. It will be violent. And I expect Horton to sharpen an edge on this group.
Skinny: Everything but. The Titans have everything a team needs to make a surprise leap in the standings and steal a playoff bid. They have everything - but a quarterback. Locker stinks. He is injury prone and inconsistent and is another perfect example of a guy that should've sat the bench for a few years before becoming a starter.
But despite having a loser at quarterback (and a pathetic pile of backups), I would still offer a buy recommendation for the Titans. I think Whisenhunt is an upgrade. And when I look at the roster I think it is bursting with potential.
The Titans have to play three of their first four games on the road - all against 2013 playoff teams. But then things really soften up. If Tennessee can hold up through that brutal September then I think this team can make some noise. I like the Titans to become a sleeper team in the AFC , and this is a team I will have my eye on.
Houston Texans Predictions
2013 Record: 12-4 (6-2 home, 6-2 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 7th offense (11th pass, 8th rush); 7th defense (16th pass, 7th rush)
2014 Odds: 65/1 to win Super Bowl , 25/1 to win AFC, 3.2/1 to win AFC South, 7.5 wins "Over/Under"
Offense: It has been very difficult to pin down exactly how the Texans offense will look under new coach Bill O'Brien. He made his name in New England and did some really effective things while at Penn State. But until we see the Texans in action it will be tough to say how these pieces will fit together.
Noodle-armed turnover machine Matt Schaub has been jettisoned after leading Houston in passing for seven straight years. Houston replaced him with noodle-armed turnover machine Ryan Fitzpatrick. He will try to hold off Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage. Fitzpatrick is clearly the weak link on an otherwise decent offense.
Plenty of offseason attention was thrown on receiver Andre Johnson, who demanded a trade and threatened to retire. His return is key, even though he may no longer be the No. 1. I think DeAndre Hopkins is poised for a breakout season. And he needs to be good because the talent level beyond the starters is pathetic.
Arian Foster is another player to watch. He excelled in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. How will he adjust to whatever O'Brien's running? Foster had his 2013 season cut short by injury and ran for just 542 yards. He's logged a lot of carries the last four years, and he will be another key to this year.
Defense: Romeo Crennel may have been a dumpster fire as a head coach. But he has a proven track record as a defensive coordinator. And Crennel has a lot of talent to play with on this side of the ball. Houston is making a big shift to a two-gap 3-4 base defense. But if everyone stays healthy this group could be one of the best units in the AFC.
J.J. Watt is one of the best defensive players in all of football and the ringleader. He will anchor a line that is not particularly deep. The real potential is at linebacker, where No. 1 draft pick Jadaveon Clowney will learn to play the outside. Brian Cushing absolutely has to stay healthy. And Brooks Reed needs to improve. But if things come together this group could be rock solid.
The secondary is still shaky. Jonathan Joseph is a true professional and a quality cover man. But he is surrounded by a lot of unproven, inexperienced guys. Kareem Jackson can play. But the safeties are garbage, and this defense will have to work hard to avoid giving up the big play.
Skinny: Houston is a tough team to get a read on. There are several very good individual players on this team. They probably weren't as good as their 2012 record (12-4) suggests. But they definitely weren't as bad as last year's 2-14 debacle.
Every statistical indicator I use to track teams suggests that Houston will be much better this year. They were massive Pythagorean underachievers. Their offensive and defensive yards per point were comically skewed. Their schedule is easier, and their 2-9 record in games decided by a touchdown or less (1-5 in games by three points or less) suggests a huge bounce back.
The Texans will be a player in the South. I wouldn't bank on them going the distance because their quarterback situation is so ugly. But their skill position players can make up some of the difference, and if the defense clicks under Crennel that could release some of the pressure. Keep an eye on this group.
Jacksonville Jaguars Predictions
2013 Record: 2-14 (1-7 home, 1-7 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 29th offense (20th pass, 30th rush); 30th defense (22nd pass, 30th rush)
2014 Odds: 225/1 to win SB, 120/1 to win AFC, 25/1 to win AFC South, 4.5 wins O/U
Offense: These guys were just painful to watch last year, and the Jaguars offered a comically inept 15.4 points per game. Jacksonville shuffled the deck chairs on this sinking ship in the offseason. But while the end result may be statistically better (it can't get much worse), I'm not sure if the Jaguars offense is objectively better heading into this season.
Blaine Gabbert, who was a massive loser, is gone. But Chad Henne, who has 55 career touchdowns to 62 career interceptions, is still under center. That's a problem. Jacksonville drafted Blake Bortles No. 3 overall. But they are very, very wisely going to keep him on the bench to learn and develop in his rookie season. That has become the road less travelled with young quarterbacks, but it is almost always the right decision.
The Jaguars have four new starting offensive linemen and jettisoned Mo Jones-Drew for lumbering Toby Gerhart in the backfield. Jacksonville has also lost Justin Blackmon to suspension and is trying to replace his production with two highly-touted rookie wideouts.
Defense: Gus Bradley raided his old team, Seattle, for a pair of starting defensive linemen this offseason. Red Bryant and Chris Clemons bring veteran savvy, leadership, and scheme familiarity to the table. Now the Jaguars have a load of experience and depth along the line, and they are hoping that group can set the tone for one of the worst units in football last year.
The problem is that Jacksonville is still pretty bad in the back seven. Paul Posluszny has turned himself into a Pro Bowler. But the other two starting linebackers are just OK, and there isn't a lot of upside on the bench. The Jaguars secondary is also one of the youngest units in the league, and there are more questions than answers in the pass defense.
Bradley has said he's trying to build a defense comparable to what he worked with in Seattle. But these guys are a LONG way away from having that type of talent.
Skinny: I've heard a lot of glowing reports about the Jaguars and about the direction of their franchise. And some prominent NFL writers feel they will be very competitive this year. But I just don't see it.
As long as Henne is under center this offense is going to be weak. And you can't really sell me that the Jags are better at receiver or along the offensive line. The defense still has a ton of work to do, and there aren't a lot of impact players on either side of the ball. Some other bottom-feeders, like Buffalo, Cleveland and Oakland, at least have some top-end players to point to for hope. But there really aren't many of those guys on this roster.
Some analysts are pointing to Jacksonville's competitive close to last season as a reason for optimism. But the Jaguars played other pathetic teams (Houston, Cleveland, Buffalo) tight and got bombed by any good team they faced. The Jags do have an easier schedule this season. But they have a ton of ground to make up. Jacksonville was 0-8 straight up and 1-7 against the spread last year against teams that finished over .500, with an average margin of defeat at a whopping 23.8 points per game.
The one spread they covered was in Denver. They were catching 24 points.
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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