Onward I stumble in my AFC previews. They’re tough work and frankly may well be entirely incorrect come the end of the season, the North and East ironically are the easier of the AFC. Now comes the struggle!
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#1 Houston Texans – Last year – 4-12, SB Odds – 25/1, Division odds – 21/10 (RedzoneSports) – o/u – 8.5
The Texans had such a poor record last year due to nothing more than some pretty awful injury luck. Deshaun Watson took over in week 3 against the Jags and was looking like a revelation until he did his ACL in training. He was on a crazy rate, and was also good on the ground. The thing is, his record was only 3-3 in his 6 starts, throwing 19 TDs and 8 INTs. Because of the defense being so poor due to the injuries he was forced to throw and throw. Now, I’m inclined to say that was a small sample size and he will regress to the median. Frankly, I don’t know. Time will tell. One guy who didn’t seem too affected by the awful QB play around him all season was DeAndre ‘Nuk’ Hopkins. 13 TDs, 1,400 yards with the shower of crap who was under centre is rather impressive. Again, this could change, rookies and backup QBs tend to hammer one guy with targets. Watson targeted him over 10 times a game in his starts, he’s stupidly good on contested catches, so we shall see how it goes this year. Will Fuller had a ridiculous record with Watson, 7 TDs from 16 receptions. Again, that probably won’t carry on, but he will still be the downfield target. Lamar Miller will be the starting running back for them with D’onta Foreman likely starting on the PUP list because of his achilles injury. He was also good with Watson. So… long story short. With Watson back there the offense SHOULD be good. The defense welcomes back JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus to go alongside Jadaveon Clowney, if they can play more games together than usual then that defense takes a huge upgrade. If it all comes together I think they’re the best team in the division.
#2 Jacksonville Jaguars – Last year – 10-6, SB Odds – 20/1, Division odds – 15/8 (Skybet) o/u – 8.5 – 9
The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league. It nearly got them to the Superbowl last year, and arguably should have done “MYLES JACK WASN’T DOWN!” They’ve got the best CB duo in the league and Calais Campbell wreaking havoc in the middle of the defensive line, that area of the team won’t change. The offense will probably be similar this year too, the main upgrade for them there was the addition of guard Andrew Norwell, he will help open up gaps for Fournette who will be the most used weapon for them, my worry with that is that he has suffered with ankle injuries during college and his first season in the league. If he’s out the backups aren’t awful, but they can’t carry the team. Carrying the team is something that I don’t think Blake Bortles can do. He’s just not good enough, and his favourite target, Marquis Lee is likely out for the season as well. Keelan Cole did well in the passing game last year, mainly on big plays and got a lot of receptions towards the end of the year, Dede Westbrook had an interrupted rookie season, only managing 6 games, but they like him and he’s got the talent. They paid Donte Moncrief a lot of money, he’s mainly a redzone threat, well he was for Indy anyway so I’m assuming they’ll use him in a similar way, and they draft DJ Chark (do do do do do do) who has been getting good reviews in the pre-season. Finally at TE they lot Marcedes Lewis go and brought in Austin Sefarian-Jenkins who should give similar numbers. They had the easiest schedule in the league last year. Admittedly it’s not much harder this year, but the division as a whole has upgraded so it will be interesting to see how it ends.
#3 Tennessee Titans – Last year – 9-7, SB Odds – 40/1, Division odds – 15/4 (Betway) o/u – 7.5 – 8
I’m high on the Titans this year, they’ve got a new head coach in Mike Vrabel who brought with him Matt LeFluer as offensive co-ordinator. This is the area that interests me. He’s from the Shanahan and McCoy coaching tree so he should have some rather interesting ideas, definitely more so than Mike Mularky and his “smash mouth” offense. They have the weapons. Marcus Mariota was a #2 draft pick and has the talent to do well with some decent coaching. They signed Dion Lewis from the Patriots to go alongside Derrick Henry in the backfield, a little smash and dash back there. The passing game is looking in good shape too, Corey Davis was #5 pick last year, he set records in college and if he stays injury free he’ll be the main target for Mariota and I think he’ll have a decent season. Rishard Matthews was one of his main targets last year, but he’s not practised for a lot of the pre-season after knee surgery, so Taywan Taylor looks like he’ll be a fairly decent beneficiary in the slot. Tajae Sharpe is still there too, has had a few catches in pre-season. Delanie Walker should get 800+ yards receiving and I think more TDs this season, IF he plays the full 16. He has a toe injury which is a little bit of a worry for him and the team. Jonnu Smith is the backup at TE and he showed a few good sparks last year so we’ll have to see how that goes. They have a top 5 offensive line, and the defense is one of the most underrated units in the league as well. Adoree Jackson specifically is someone I expect to make a leap this season. Titans over 359 points 2.40
#4 Indianapolis Colts – Last year – 4-12, SB Odds – 80/1 (Betstars), Division odds – 6/1 (Betway) o/u – 6-6.5
This team revolves almost entirely around how Andrew Luck does coming back from a year and a half off the field. He has had a decent enough off-season, is at least back throwing a full size ball, and he’s taken a few hits which is something he needed to do. He had a report out recently that he had landed on his previously injured shoulder but didn’t realise it until he had got back up. That’s a positive sign. He does seem to have lost a little zip which isn’t a huge surprise and something that I’m sure will return the more he plays. He will need better protection than he’s had before, and the Colts worked towards that in the draft picking up what some considered the best player in the draft in Quenton Nelson, as well as a Guard in round 2. They lost Frank Gore in free agency, he wasn’t too exciting, but was reliable as hell. So they would have been going into the season with Marlon Mack as the de facto choice he doesn’t look like he’ll be fit for week 1 and obviously they drafted a few more offensive players, 2 RBs in Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Hines was the higher rated coming out of the draft, but Wilkins has been impressing over the summer and got the start in week 3 of the pre-season. Hines is a speedster, but can go between the tackles, Wilkins is a between the tackles guy who is being worked up in the passing game. They also have Robert Turbin there who would probably be starting was it not for a suspension to start the season. The passing game will rotate around TY Hilton, he’s had 1,000 yards in every season with Luck including leading the league in their last full season together, he could be in for a big year. outside of him they were looking at rookie Deon Cain to step up but he’s now out for the season, so Ryan Grant, signed from Washington and Chester Rogers look like they’ll be 2 and 3 for them. Which probably means more looks for Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, their two tight ends for the season. They will need this offense to click as their defense is still pretty useless, especially if preseason week 3 is anything to go on. The 49ers constantly opened up gaps for their run game. I just can’t trust them enough to have them higher in the division.
This is an incredibly hard division to call, I could well have the whole thing upside down.
I’ll admit I don’t rate the Jaguars too much, I’ve probably bought into the “Blake Bortles is poor” narrative far too much, and I’m probably putting too much into them having the easiest schedule last year. They could finish on 8, they could hit 12. I don’t know! I like the Titans this year, but again, they had it easy last year with every other team in the division having their 2nd (or 3rd) choice QB in place, they also finished on a negative points difference, but still got into the playoffs and won a game there. The Texans were touted last year as a potential Superbowl team if they got their defense sorted, the injuries ruined that for them, if they stay fit I think they’ll be top (hence why they are in this write up) as for the Colts, I alluded to it, I just think they need too much to go right for them to be up there.
- Titans o359 points – 7/5 (365) – 2 points
- Deshaun Watson 5+ Rushing TDs – 4/1 (Skybet) – 2 points
Watson ran for 269 yards and 2 TDs in his 6 starts last year. The main worry against this one would be his knee. If he’s worried about it, they’ll try and stop him rushing. But it’s a hard thing to stop a guy doing when he’s used to doing it.