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NFL Analysis: Handicapping the AFC South

Fresh-Faced Quarterbacks Headline Offseason

The AFC South was the worst division in the NFL last season. However, we should see several teams progress in the 2023 season. The Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans spent high draft capital on quarterbacks. The Texans and Colts also made head coaching changes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the sportsbook’s clear favorite to win the division (-150), but their competition could improve. The AFC South will be one of the most intriguing divisions, with the potential of three rookie quarterbacks stepping into starting roles. How will it impact betting online? Let’s look at each team in the South and notable odds.

NFL Analysis: Handicapping the AFC South
Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars | Jason hanna/getty images/afp

Houston Texans

  • 2022 record: 3-13-1 (missed playoffs)
  • Odds to win the division: +800
  • Odds to win the AFC: +8000
  • Regular season win total: 6½ (Over +110, Under -140)
  • Award candidates: Dameon Pierce, +5000 Comeback Player of the Year; John Metchie, +2800 Comeback Player of the Year; CJ Stroud, +700 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Will Anderson Jr., +325 Defensive Rookie of the Year; DeMeco Ryans, +2200 Coach of the Year

Since trading quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, the Texans seemed uncommitted to winning. They are finally headed in the right direction following a strong offseason.

Coach DeMeco Ryans takes over as one of the league’s bright defensive minds. Houston spent the No. 2 pick on quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has the fourth-shortest odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Texans traded up in the 2023 NFL Draft, selecting edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. with the No. 3 pick. Most NFL expert picks have tabbed Anderson as the clear favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Houston finally has young players who can turn this franchise around.

Despite a 3-13-1 finish last season, the Texans had a strong rookie class with running back Dameon Pierce, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jalen Pitre. This could become one of the best young cores in the league. Wide receiver John Metchie will also make his NFL debut after recovering from leukemia. Metchie’s perseverance will be one of the most remarkable stories of the season, making him a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

Do not expect Houston to contend, as Las Vegas odds have its projected win total at 6½. This season will be about progress for the Texans’ young core.

Indianapolis Colts

  • 2022 record: 4-12-1 (missed playoffs)
  • Odds to win the division: +500
  • Odds to win the AFC: +6000
  • Regular season win total: 6½ (Over -135, Under +105)
  • Award candidates: Jonathan Taylor, +1800 Offensive Player of the Year and +4000 Comeback Player of the Year; Anthony Richardson, +600 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Josh Downs, +2800 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Shane Steichen, +2200 Coach of the Year

The Colts are starting fresh with coach Shane Steichen at the helm. After relying on veteran quarterbacks past their prime, Indianapolis finally invested in a franchise quarterback, drafting Anthony Richardson with the No. 4 pick. With the third-shortest odds, Richardson is among the most popular NFL picks for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Steichen has experience molding quarterbacks into superstars, like Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Richardson is one of the most physically gifted quarterback prospects we have seen. Pairing that with a QB guru should equal success. Plus, running back Jonathan Taylor seems poised for a big bounce-back season. The wide receiving corps has improved with third-round rookie Josh Downs joining the group.

The defense has several players to replace. Edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue remains unsigned in free agency after leading the Colts with 9.5 sacks. Indy also dealt cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys. The Colts will turn to young players, including third-year edge rusher Kwity Paye and rookie second-round cornerback Julius Brents. Indianapolis is also hoping for All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard to be at full strength after playing in only three games last season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • 2022 record: 9-8 (lost to Kansas City in divisional playoffs)
  • Odds to win the division: -150
  • Odds to win the AFC: +1200
  • Regular season win total: 10 (Over -115, Under -115)
  • Award candidates: Trevor Lawrence, +1600 NFL Most Valuable Player and +4000 Offensive Player of the Year; Travis Etienne, +5000 Offensive Player of the Year; Calvin Ridley, +4000 Comeback Player of the Year; Tank Bigsby, +3300 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Doug Pederson, +2200 Coach of the Year

The 2022-23 season was a major success for the Jaguars. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a breakout season, coach Doug Pederson did a terrific job, and the defense improved. Jacksonville could be even better this season.

NFL lines have the Jags’ projected win total at 10. Young players like Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, edge rusherTravon Walker, linebacker Devin Lloyd, and cornerback Tyson Campbell should continue to progress.

Jacksonville did not do much in free agency with limited cap space. It lost right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Left tackle CamRobinson is expected to miss several games due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. The Jaguars spent a first-round pick on offensive tackle Anton Harrison. However, it is unlikely he immediately excels. The offensive tackle spot could be a problem. Walker Little kicking out to right tackle will be an X-factor.

Lawrence’s targets are strong with the return of Calvin Ridley from suspension. Jacksonville traded for Ridley during the 2022 season while he was serving the suspension. Of course, few fans paid attention to the move. Ridley posted 1,374 yards in his last full season in 2020.

Tennessee Titans

  • 2022 record: 7-10 (missed playoffs)
  • Odds to win the division: +350
  • Odds to win the AFC: +4000
  • Regular season win total: 7½ (Over Ev, Under -130)
  • Award candidates: Derrick Henry, +1800 Offensive Player of the Year; Will Levis, +2200 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Tyjae Spear, +2800 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Mike Vrabel, +4000 Coach of the Year

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is past his prime. Tennessee’s offensive line remains a major concern, even with the additions of guard Daniel Brunskill, tackle Andre Dillard and first-round rookie Peter Skoronski. This could be the worst wide receiving corps in the league, with Robert Woods leaving in free agency.

On defense, linebacker David Long Jr. signed with the Miami Dolphins and edge rusher Bud Dupree joined the Atlanta Falcons. The Titans attempted to replace Long with the signing of Azeez Al-Shaair. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting could be Tennessee’s best free agent acquisition.

In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Titans selected quarterback Will Levis in the second round. He could eventually develop into a franchise quarterback. If Tannehill struggles, Levis will get a shot, making him an outside option for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Rookie running back Tyjae Spears will also help lighten the load on Derrick Henry.

Ultimately, Tennessee’s roster has plenty of holes. It is evident the Titans are in the midst of a rebuilding phase. Still, they are the second choice to win the AFC South. Should NFL predictions trust in coach Mike Vrabel? His success is elevating expectations.

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