The AFC South has been the rare division in football that has actually been pretty even and balanced the past handful of years. Each of the four teams have won the division in the past seven years, and there have been three winners in the past four seasons. The parity is impressive, but a couple of teams have fallen on hard times recently.
The Texans were a 4-12 disaster in 2020, while the Jaguars earned the first overall pick as a result of their abysmal 1-15 finish. Both the Titans and Colts made the playoffs. The Titans are the defending champions, now can they repeat in 2021? Let’s break it all down, starting with the NFL odds for each team to win:
- Indianapolis Colts -106
- Tennessee Titans +130
- Jacksonville Jaguars +750
- Houston Texans +2200
Let’s break down each team one by one:
The Colts haven’t won the division since 2014, but find themselves the favorites in the AFC South this time around. That stat isn’t quite fair, as they’ve probably been the best team in the division a couple times in that span but have come up short. It’s been an offseason of change for Indy, as Philip Rivers and Anthony Castonzo retired while Nick Sirianni left to become the head coach in Philly. Frank Reich reunited with Carson Wentz, and Wentz will determine whether this team sinks or swims.
The defense is loaded with talent, and the offensive line should still be rock solid even with Castonzo hanging up his cleats (thanks in part to a clutch Eric Fisher signing).
The Titans won the division last year, albeit on a tiebreaker over the Colts. Their offense exploded the past couple years with Ryan Tannehill, but the architect of that offense is now gone. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith landed the job as head coach of the Falcons. Tennessee hasn’t exactly been successful because of Mike Vrabel’s defense, and if the offense takes a bit of a step back they’re in real trouble. Vrabel’s secondary and pass-rush have been mostly awful, and they didn’t do much to upgrade the edge rushing situation.
They let Corey Davis walk, so the receiver depth chart beyond A.J. Brown is now pretty unappealing. Josh Reynolds as a number two receiver isn’t exactly ideal. All things considered, the Titans have regressed considerably from what they were last season, and my NFL prediction is that they will struggle this year.
As a reward for their 1-15 finish, the Jaguars were gifted Trevor Lawrence. Not a bad prize for being the NFL’s worst team. Jacksonville won the AFC South in 2017 and even made the AFC Championship Game thanks to their dominant defense, but things fell apart quickly. This team is now unrecognizable from that one, with virtually all the key cogs like Jalen Ramsey gone. Lawrence is far from the only uncertainty with this team, as nobody knows what Urban Meyer is going to look like in his first stint as an NFL head coach.
The Jags are going to have a lot of variance in 2021. They drafted Lawrence’s college running back Travis Etienne in the first round, and signed Shaquill Griffin to a big contract to bolster their secondary.
Speaking of teams with uncertainty. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen with Deshaun Watson. Even with Watson putting up historic numbers last year, Houston only managed to go 4-12. That was likely more the result of some bad luck and a brutal early schedule than anything else though. If Watson is suspended or traded, it’ll likely be Tyrod Taylor or rookie Davis Mills starting for the Texans. The team is entering a rebuild, yet they have the NFL’s oldest roster.
It’s a franchise severely lacking direction. If they manage to salvage their relationship with Watson and he’s cleared by the league their luck could change in a hurry, but things look bleak right now.
At these odds, the favorited Colts make the most sense. Their defense has the potential to be elite, and they have easily the best coach in the AFC South. Wentz doesn’t need to become a top-tier passer again, if he can just get back to mediocre that should be enough. The Titans’ offense will likely regress with Smith no longer calling the plays, and their defense is going to be a disaster with no pass-rush again.
The Jags will have some upside if Lawrence can deliver on his potential right away, so I wouldn’t hate a bet on them at +750. As crazy as it sounds, sprinkling a few bucks on the Texans at 22/1 also doesn’t sound like a terrible NFL pick on the off-chance they fix things with Watson and his legal issues get resolved. After all, they have won the division in four of the past six years. But right now, it looks like it’s Indy’s time to shine.
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