2018 AFC South Division Preview: Are the Jaguars the Team to Beat?
Published on July 11, 2018
The AFC South was almost a product of injury in 2017. It’s impossible to say the Jaguars didn’t morph into a good team or that they didn’t have one if the better defenses in the NFL.
They did both of those things. However, the Colts’ season was over from the start thanks to an Andrew Luck shoulder injury, and Houston had theirs upended by injuries to J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, and D’Onta Foreman.
Now healthy – the entire lot – this division promises to be deeper and stronger than ever.
That doesn’t for sure mean it isn’t Jacksonville’s division to do with as they please, of course.
Ultimately, though, that’s one big decision bettors need to decide ahead of 2018. Can anyone take down the Jags? And if not, could this year finally be Jacksonville’s time to go all the way?
The Jags are obviously title threats. They pushed the Patriots to the limit in the AFC title game and ousted the Steelers the round before.
Jacksonville has the defense to match wits with anyone, while Leonard Fournette paces an improved rushing attack.
The lingering question, of course, is if Blake Bortles can be the missing link between this team and a championship.
Here are their odds for 2018 over at BetOnline.
I’m buying Jacksonville’s defense and the running game. That’s pretty transparent, and I don’t think many doubt that.
The problem with the Jaguars is that their division is getting healthier, and both the Pats and Steelers represent tough outs come playoff time. Jacksonville survived a marathon battle with Pittsburgh, but maybe next time they’re not so lucky.
The big issue is Bortles. He looked surprisingly good during Jacksonville’s playoff run, but he has serious issues when it comes to timing, accuracy, and pocket presence.
If he’s the guy that almost got this team to the Super Bowl in 2017, then yeah, the Jags have something here. If he’s someone they need to win in spite of, they’re in trouble.
I do think their defense is enough to get nine wins and win the AFC South, though, so at -160 and +200 respectively, those are viable bets. A +2000 wager on them winning it all isn’t the worst flier, but I just don’t trust the quarterback play.
The Jags surprised a lot of folks around the NFL a season ago, but when you look closely at how the foundation of this team was built, it shouldn’t have come as that big of a shocker.
Their defense from top to bottom was as good as any in the entire league, and the metrics and data support that.
Doug Marrone led this group to a 10-6 mark last year, and their first AFC South title since the division was formed in 2002. I like the +200 number to repeat as division winners this year and think we are getting more than a fair price.
The starting WR tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns is gone, with the Jags moving on with Marqise Lee and newcomer Donte Moncrief.
Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook will also be there to try and get open for Blake Bortles, who needs to continue making improvements if this team is going to get where they eventually want to go.
As long as Blake can win the turnover battle and Leonard Fournette stays healthy, this team should have an opportunity to win every game they play.
While that won’t happen, getting to nine wins shouldn’t be an issue. However, given the -160 price tag, I’d rather get my money in good with a bet on them capturing the division.
The Texans were one of those injury-riddled teams that seemingly never stood a chance last year.
History says they weren’t winning it all with a rookie passer anyways, but it was pretty clear the Texans were at least trending in the right direction.
Was that a mirage, or should bettors bank on Houston being a sleeper to back in 2018?
Personally, I’m not a big Bill O’Brien guy, and I think we need to see a heck of a lot more out of Deshaun Watson before we crown him the next big thing.
I loved Watson coming out of Clemson and felt he was underrated, though, so the glimpses of greatness aren’t of the flukey variety. That still doesn’t mean he’s destined to deliver a title in his second season on the job.
He certainly has the supporting cast to do it, as DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Lamar Miller, and D’Onta Foreman round out a pretty stacked offense.
On defense, the Texans have a few holes, and they aren’t quite as imposing as some would have you believe. I’m also not completely sold that Watt – healthy or not – hasn’t lost a step or two.
Health is the driving factor for me. The Texans could not stay on the field last year, and they showed a lack of depth when their big stars dropped like flies.
If they can’t find a way to be remarkably healthy this year, they’re as good as dead. If they can, they are legit forces inside this division and offer solid value as +175 bets.
I’m not ready to back them for a title run (+2000 seems a tad ambitious), and 10 wins for the Texans is a hard sell, even with all of this talent.
As Noah mentioned, it was hard not to feel for the Texans last season. First, they lost their defensive stud, J.J. Watt. Then they lost their rookie QB Deshaun Watson, who was in the midst of one heck of a rookie campaign.
They’ll need both of these guys back healthy and performing at their peak if Houston plans on contending for a divisional crown. Hopkins and Fuller have the chance to be a scary 1-2 combination for Bill O’Brien’s offense, and the Texans are uber-excited about D’Onta Foreman’s potential as their RB of the future.
They still have Jadeveon Clowney rushing the passer, and don’t forget that they brought in Arizona Cardinal strong safety Tyrann Mathieu, who can disrupt both the passing and running game.
Houston didn’t have a pick in the draft until Round 3, but they were able to snag a free safety in Justin Reid, who they figure will play a decent percentage of the snaps in the defensive backfield.
I agree with ND in the sense that if this team can stay healthy, the +175 number to win the AFC South seems like it could end up being a steal.
The Titans made the playoffs and even upset the Chiefs in the first round, yet Tennessee decided to drop the curtain on the Mike Mularkey era.
I’m fine with that, as I’m a fan of Mike Vrabel’s intense approach and cerebral take on the defensive side of the ball.
That should help an underrated Titans defense, while Tennessee has the tools on offense to compete right now. But just how far can they go?
How much you want to bet on the Titans this year hinges on your faith wrapped up in star quarterback Marcus Mariota.
He had to have been hurt last year, because he was truly awful for the majority of the season. I’ll admit he wasn’t helped out by Eric Decker dropping passes or Corey Davis learning on the fly, but he still didn’t get the job done.
Mariota bounced back with a solid showing in the playoffs, but the Titans will only go as far as he takes them.
The good news is that his defense will be better, and Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis form a strong running game. I still don’t love Mariota’s consistency or his weapons, but he may have something special if Davis can make the year two leap.
There are still too many moving pieces here to buy in. I like the Titans to get eight wins (-145), but you’re probably eating too much cash to get that bet to convert.
While many in the NFL circle jumped the gun and erupted at the firing of Mike Mularkey, I can get on board with Noah’s points here.
Mike Vrabel has the pedigree to be an outstanding coach in the National Football League and should bring a lot to the table in Tennessee. After playing 8 seasons and winning a trio of Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, he coached under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The 2017 Houston Texans DC is more than prepared to take this job.
I’ll agree with Mr. Davis in the sense that Marcus Mariota either needs to wake up or heal from nagging injuries because he can’t play at the revolting level he played at last year if this team is going to ascend.
Are Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, and Taywan Taylor the deadliest combination of wideouts we’ve seen?
Absolutely not. But the duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, mixed in with the trustworthiness of tight end Delanie Walker, should give Mariota enough to score some points.
The Titans traded up in round one to nab Derrick Henry’s close friend and Alabama and Crimson Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans, who will assume a starting role right from the get-go.
Tennessee was the recipient of Malcolm Butler’s fallout with New England, who hopes to get the chance to show the Pats they made a big mistake.
Not to sound like a broken record, but I’m on the same page as Noah again about their win total bet. An 8-8 finish or better seems likely, but laying -145 to find out doesn’t appeal to me very much.
Lastly, we have the Colts, who fought hard early in the year but could never get over franchise quarterback Andrew Luck failing to return from a shoulder issue.
All signs point to Luck returning to the field in 2018, but Indy’s offense still has a lot of question marks.
After getting spurned by Josh McDaniels, Frank Reich takes over the reins in Indy, and nobody seems to know what to make of that.
The good news is that Reich once played for a title himself, while he was with the Eagles when they won last year. That experience potentially makes him a beacon of hope for this team to lean on.
It’s all about Andrew Luck for me. If he’s going to struggle to stay healthy again or can’t be the same guy, this team is a waste of time and money.
That very well may be the case even if he suits up, but Luck is a legit difference-maker and still has enough weapons to work some magic through the air.
Even if Luck returns and kills it, though, the Colts still don’t have a proven ground game, and their defense is far from elite.
Luck alone gets me interested in Indy’s win total bet (+100), and they’re not the worst division flier bet (+450), but expecting a lot in his first year back might be a big mistake.
The situation in Indy is just sad. Calling the handling of Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury a debacle would be the understatement of the century. They are hoping the hiring of Philadelphia Eagles OC Frank Reich is the first step that will turn the organization around.
I don’t need to state the obvious. We all know that a healthy Andrew Luck would be a significant upgrade over the likes of Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzien, but even if the former Stanford QB is healthy, look what he has around him!
A backfield of Marlon Mack and some dude named Nyheim Hines? Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers as your number 2 and 3 wide receivers? Along with T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Jack Doyle and new arrival Eric Ebron figure to be the team’s most reliable targets.
The defensive side of the ball is probably even uglier than what they have on offense, as the average NFL fan probably couldn’t name a single one of the 11 starters. Go ahead, give it a try.
Are you acquainted with Quincy Wilson and Hassan Ridgeway? How about Antonio Morrison and Pierre Desir?
Didn’t think so.
There’s too much uncertainty surrounding the Luck situation, so I’m not touching any of these wagers.
Depending on who you root for, you might say that the AFC South is up for grabs.
Houston appears to be healthy and has the pieces in place to contend, while Tennessee is looking to take the next step of progression after winning a game in the playoffs a season ago.
Until Andrew Luck proves he can play at the level we know he is capable of, we can’t confidently wager any money on the Indianapolis Colts.
That leaves us with the one team with the least number of question marks: the Jacksonville Jaguars. This team’s defense was scary good in 2017, and Blake Bortles doesn’t need to do much other than to move the chains and manage games, and this team will be set up for success.
Noah and I both like that +200 number to win the division. It’s probably worth your attention as well.