AFC South Preview; Colts or Titans?

Tennesee Titans

Last year 11-5; First place

The Titans took the division on divisional wins last season after splitting their games with the Colts, and it looks like it will be those two teams battling it out for the division this year as well. It was their first divisional win since 2008 done mainly on the back of Derrick Henry.

Henry went over 2,000 rushing yards on the season with 250 yards in the final game of the season against the Texans becoming the first player to reach that mark since Adrian Peterson in 2012 and the 8th player of all time to top 2k, and it meant he was the leading rusher for the second year in the row with another 300+ carry season, actually increasing his workload from the previous year with a crazy 378 last year.

Normal players struggle in the season after having that many touches, but Derrick Henry isn’t a normal player, he’s a beast. I would naturally assume he’ll have fewer carries this year but probably not. He still hasn’t been involved much in the passing game which seems weird as he’s adept there when he gets the chances. That may change with a new offensive co-ordinator in place after Arthur Smith left over the summer to join the Falcons.

That’s not to diminish the role of Ryan Tannehill for the Titans, he finished last season 7th in TDs and 4th in QBR. The system worked and he is good enough to take advantage of the play-action and general power of Derrick Henry on the ground, he also rushed in for 7 TDs as well, 5 of them in the final 3 games of the season when they needed wins. I kind of “nothing” Tannehill. He obviously plays well in the system in Tennessee and you’d assume given they’ve promoted from within that the system will be largely the same this year and Tanny will have a good season again.

They’ve given him the best WR of his generation to throw to after signing Julio Jones from the Falcons. The worry for me is that it’s the down-turn of his career and that injuries may catch up to him after playing through them so many times in Atlanta. Despite his huge yardage seasons in ATL he never put up big TD numbers so it will be interesting to see if that number increases in a different team. He will still have boom games, and playing opposite AJ Brown who chose 11 because of Julio gives them, on paper, a great duo. Brown is very Julio in his game, a big bodied strong receiver who puts up a ton of yards after the catch, one of the more exciting receivers in the game now.

They signed Josh Reynolds from the Rams who will slot in as the WR3 after Adam Humphries left over the summer, he sparked in LA and with the other two guys getting all the attention will have a bit of input for them this year, other than them the likes of Chester Rogers, rookie Dez Fitzpatrick (named after two of the modern greats) and a host of others will chip in on occasion, oh, and I’ve got to mention Racey McMath because, well. He’s called RACEY McMATH, that’s his name. Racey. Mc… Math. Amazing stuff

They lost Jonnu Smith to the Patriots in free agency, he was one of the better pass catching tight ends in the league last year, but I’m a Firkser man and he should move up to TE1 with, I guess, Geoff Swaim coming in behind him as the TE2?

Defensively they’re average, at best. They allowed a lot through the air last season and haven’t done a whole lot to stop that, Janoris Jenkins has come in, and they’ll be hoping that the signing of Bud Dupree and the health of Jeffrey Simmons will give them more pass rush as one of the worst in the league at getting to the QB. That will help the whole defense if they manage to generate anything up front. However they did enough on both sides of the ball to lead the league in turnover differential.

It will be between them and the Colts for the division, they should hit double-digit wins. The poor defense meant they had to put up points and their games hit the OVER on 12 of the 16 games last season. They won 6 of 7 one-score games last year.

Indianapolis Colts

Last year 11-5; Second place

The Colts hit 11 wins with Philip Rivers last season, before losing narrowly to the Bills in New York in the playoffs. A game which could have gone either way. Rivers has put himself out to stud, so they needed a new QB and signed Carson Wentz from the Eagles over the summer in a deal which could cost them a first depending on his success.

It’s a small leap of faith hoping that Wentz can stay injury free and return to the MVP-elect form that he put up in his rookie year in the league. I was hopeful that he would be at least at the level of Rivers from last year, and paying what they paid he should surpass that but injury was always a worry and he’s already had to have surgery over the summer. The original prognosis was that he’d probably not play for the first few game, but he and Quenton Nelson who had similar surgery are both apparently ahead of schedule.

For me it’s a worry and while I still think the Colts will be OK with whomever is under center, the year will be a lot different with Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger there. I think we’ll be lucky to see Wentz for more than 12 games this year and that puts me off backing anything involving them. The first five games of the season provide their toughest stretch (Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins, Ravens) and if he’s not fully fit for those it could end their challenge before it’s even begun.

Whoever they have to use at QB, they should be handing the ball off to Jonathan Taylor more than in his rookie year as he showed more than enough to prove he can be a top 10 back in the league, especially behind one of the best offensive lines. He finished 3rd in yards last year (in 15 games) after a mammoth end to the season which saw him 7 TDs and 560 yards (half his years total) in the final 4 games including a 253 yard game against the Jags in the finalé. Behind him they welcome back Marlon Mack who missed last year with an ACL and Nyheim Hines is a James White-type pass catching back who does well when needed as well.

Pass catcher isn’t the most stacked unit in the league and they need Michael Pittman to step up in his second season after an injury hampered debut to help spread the load from the aging TY Hilton. I think he can do that as one of my favourite prospects coming into last year but finishing with just 1 TD last season wasn’t good enough. Zach Pascal stood up when needed and they’ll be hoping Parris Campbell returns from injury to add some pace to the group.

Jack Doyle has shown in his career that he can be a useful tight end target for them, as shown with the 7 of 9 for 70 yards in the playoff game, but concussion took a lot of his regular season away last year. I’d like to see more of Big Mo Alie-Cox as you’d know if you read my weekly write-ups, he’s a large fella who should be a good redzone weapon for them.

The offensive line is one of the best in the league thanks mainly to Quenton Nelson who got rewarded for being the best guard in the league with a big contract over the summer. They did lose their LT and got Eric Fisher in from the Chiefs to play there this season, providing he returns from injury.

Defensively they were one of the best run-stoppers in the league last year, impressive when you realise they have to play Henry twice a year. They made sure they locked down Darius Leonard at linebacker giving him a big deal but will be hoping they get more from their secondary this year.

As one of the better coached teams in the league it’s tough for me to not take the Colts to win the division and make the playoffs, but with worries over Wentz I can’t back them to beat their win total, let alone any other related bets. Interestingly they won 11 first halves, and 12 second halves last season, winning both halves in 7 of their games. When they get ahead they keep their foot on the gas.

gettyimages via Bostonglobe.com

Jacksonville Jaguars

Last year 1-15; Fourth place

The Jags earned the first overall pick in the draft and took a “generational talent” in Trevor Lawrence who’s been the #1 pick-elect since he played in high school. He put up over 10,000 yards and 90 TDs in 40 games in college, tall, sneaky athletic and with a huge arm he will be fun to watch this year. Well, providing he beats out Gardner Minshew for the starting job as new HC Urban Meyer for some reason won’t tell us who’s starting in week 1.

The worry for me is that the Jags are still miles away as a roster. The offensive line is poor and didn’t get much help over the summer, they have bits of talent over the roster but on the whole I don’t think there’s a huge amount around.

People love DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault and they will have better seasons than they have done with a talented QB under center for the first time in Jacksonville, they also signed Marvin Jones from the Lions who gets the chance to be a WR1 for them this year and should thrive with the arm of Lawrence dropping bombs downfield for him. Chark is more of a prototype WR while Shenault is great with the ball in his hands and should get involved all over the field. Collin Johnson comes into his second year looking to show he can become a redzone threat as he has done in training camp.

They ruined by u1.5 first round running backs bet by picking up Lawrences’ Clemson team-mate Travis Etienne in the first round this year meaning the QB and RB have a good connection and should do well from the off in the league. Etienne may get more of the passing work than on the ground after James Robinson impressed last year with just over 1,000 yards rushing. I would imagine they’ll use a committee backfield with Robinson, Etienne and Carlos Hyde all getting some action.

Tim Tebow is trying to be a tight end. If you really want to bet on anything involving him (which you shouldn’t) then make sure it’s the unders on everything you can.

They are apparently shopping CJ Henderson, their first round pick from 2 years ago as they feel they have good depth at CB, while they are able to get good pressure up front from Josh Allen who looked good last year despite the defense as a whole being pretty damn terrible.

All in all it’s not a good roster, it hasn’t been a good franchise but this is the start of them turning it around. I’m not sure why there’s not been more made of Lawrence having his career ruined, but that’s just me being a bitter Bengals fan and the reaction that everything they do receives. They will be better this year, obviously. However I’d still be looking to the under on their win total.

Houston Texans

Last year 4-12; Third place

Talking of franchises not in the best shape… the Texans have shown over the last few years that they’re shambolic. They somehow won 4 games last year mainly because Deshaun Watson is one of the best QBs in the league but the summer has been a mess with Watson asking for a trade and then having law suits against him. If he plays they might cover their win total of 4. If he doesn’t play I think they struggle to win 2 games.

If Watson stays, and he is in training camp, probably to avoid being fined, then they have at least a little hope of being able to sneak a few wins. Although it all depends on whether the league ban him for the very serious sexual assault accusations against him. If Watson isn’t there then they’re starting Tyrod Taylor with Jeff Driskel behind him. That’s not going to be effective.

They are fairly well off at running back with David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Philip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead there. If it was 5 years ago that would be a great group. I would expect them to become a running team giving the expected lack of good QB play and rotate between these guys who are all good catching the ball as well as on the ground. I have read reports that Ingram could miss out if they just keep three, but he is officially listed as RB1 at the moment so I’ll hold off on that choice in fantasy.

The pass-catching corp isn’t stellar either led by Brandin Cooks who in fairness has shown he can put up good yards in proper teams and had another 1,000 yard season last year despite their poor record. The worry for me is that he’s one hit away from having to retire after suffering some terrible concussions in his time. That leaves them with Chris Conley who struggles to stay healthy but isn’t the worst in the world and recenlty signed Anthony Miller who has shown promise in the slot, but suffered a dislocated shoulder in week 1 of the pre-season last night which could hamper him for a while. Nico Collins was taken in round three and has had good reports in camp.

Laremy Tunsil has shown he’s a very good offensive lineman, it’s not his fault that his trade was the beginning of the downfall of the Texans.

They were the worst team defending the run last season and weren’t very good against the pass either.

I think they finish with the worst record in the league this year, get the #1 pick and probably mess it up. There’s a lot of work to be done and very little faith that the ownership/management will be capable of turning any of it around.

So, Titans or Colts for the title?

If I had faith in Wentz being healthy for the year, I would be leaning towards the Colts winning it this year, and I was high on them going over their win total, but with my worries over his health I can’t be looking towards anything betting related on their side of things.

Which means I think the Titans take the division with the Colts in second, Jags and then the Texans being terrible. It may well be a heavily run-focused division with Henry, Taylor, the situation in Texas and the Jags few chaps as well.

Week 6-10 for the Titans could decide it all as they face the Bills, Chiefs, Colts, Rams and Saints in a 5 game stretch which is tougher than the Colts start to the season.

ARGH. Titans, Colts, Jags, Texans

Any bets for the South?

Derrick Henry to lead the league in rushing seems the most obvious first step in the division although 7/2 (Redzone, Hills, PP, Betfred) isn’t massive (it’s much better than the 9/4 on 365) it is justified. With him lined at 1550 (1674 on Skybet for a fat middle if you like that kind of thing), he’s at least 100 yards ahead of second favourite Dalvin Cook and if he stays fit it’s hard to see him not topping that line, you can get 1539.5 on PP for a little more edge if you’re looking to go over.

As said above Jonathan Taylor should have a big year, he’s 12/1 to lead the league in yards, 1175.5 the lowest line I can find at Redzone if you want to take his overs, again, if healthy he should go over it now there’s 17 games.

I don’t want anything on the passing lines for any of the QBs (Tannehill and Lawrence both at 4150.5 at PP), but 18/1 for AJ Brown most receiving yards at Betfred (for the EW) could be interesting. Julio priced at 40/1 on there. Brown’s individual line is 1175 at the lowest with Redzone and 1275 on 365/Skybet. Julio at 995.5 on RZ, 1075 on 365.

DJ Chark is set at 875.5 with Paddypower, a little higher on Redzone if you want the under on him. Despite my disrespect for him I’d still say over.

I have to mention Trevor Lawrence for offensive rookie of the year, It’s going to be a QB or running back and Lawrence is the rightful favourite at 4.33 on Betfred (10/3) – Too short for me to bet it as anything can happen (injury etc.) but hte price is fine.

The Titans went 5-1 in division last year, if you think they can win that other game this season you can get 8/1 on them doing that at Redzone.

I’ve got the Titans in a couple of Acca’s after the Wentz injury news hit, but other than that I don’t think I’ll have anything on anything else in this division.


Fantasy leagues

My Fantasy leagues will be running again this year, if you’ve not done so already submit your interest and I’ll be in touch when they’re sorted later in August.

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