Last season, the Indianapolis Colts were overwhelming favorites to win the weakest division in football. But injuries to Andrew Luck, coupled with his ineffective early season play, saw the Colts stumble to an 8-8 record.
The Houston Texans took full advantage of these struggles by putting together a 9-7 season and winning the division.
The Jacksonville Jaguars showed some improvement, especially on offense, which powered them to a 5-11 record – far better than anybody expected.
The Tennessee Titans are in full-on rebuilding mode after a tough 3-13 season. Will they improve in 2016? And who will win the division?
Let’s answer these questions by discussing the AFC South and looking at each team’s betting odds.
AFC South Betting Odds to Win Division (from GTBets)
1. Indianapolis Colts: Projected Record 10-6
After an outstanding campaign in 2014 that elevated him to the status of elite quarterbacks, Andrew Luck took a step back last season amid injuries and inconsistency. But he’s now had an entire offseason to heal and should return to his 2014 form, rather than what we saw last year.
This team faces questions on both the offensive and defensive line, but Luck is a rare talent that can still carry a mediocre team. In fact, just two years ago they were within one victory of the Super Bowl.
T.Y. Hilton will certainly be glad to have Luck back. Although turning in a solid season with 1,124 receiving yards and 5 TDs, Hilton has the potential for more with a quarterback who can throw deep.
The defense returns some solid pieces like D’Qwell Jackson, Vontae Davis, T.J. Green, and the ageless Robert Mathis. But the front seven has some holes and a lack of quality depth that leave questions about this unit.
This looks like a case of the Colts going as far as Luck can take them. If the offensive line provides enough protection, then Indianapolis should win the division.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Projected Record 7-9
It’s hard to call a 5-11 season a breakthrough, but Jacksonville definitely exceeded expectations while showcasing an explosive offense. But the time for promise and potential have passed for this team since Gus Bradley, now in his fourth year, needs to produce some wins.
Blake Bortles had his best season, throwing for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. Allen Robinson was the beneficiary of Bortles’ improvement, tallying 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Allen Hurns also had a strong season with 1,031 receiving yards and 10 TDs.
The big challenge for Jacksonville will be replicating the same success on the other side of the ball. They have young players with potential in Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. But will this potential turn into stops in 2016?
We think that this will be another learning year for the young Jaguars, and one that should result in more victories than the 2015 campaign.
3. Houston Texans: Projected Record 7-9
After a 2-5 start and massive quarterback issues, most people wrote the Houston Texans off. But they put together an impressive 7-2 run to close out the season and win the South. However, things didn’t go too well for them after they were dominated 30-0 by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round.
Bryan Hoyer – one of four quarterbacks to start for Houston – threw four interceptions in this game and convinced the Texans that they needed to upgrade the position. The result was signing Brock Osweiler to a 4-year, $72-million deal in hopes that the former Broncos QB can shore up the position.
It’s unclear if Osweiler is truly the long-term answer at the position, despite the money that Houston threw at him. But he at least has All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins to help him along the way. Houston also drafted receivers Braxton Miller and Will Fuller, in addition to signing RB Lamar Miller in free agency.
Despite the offseason moves, the defense will no doubt anchor this team thanks to star defensive end J.J. Watt. The only problem is that Watt has missed the preseason following offseason back surgery. This means that players like Vince Wilfork, Brian Cushing, and Jadeveon Clowney need to step up in the early part of the season.
While Houston has made upgrades to improve their team, we don’t know if Osweiler is going to be the answer under center – especially with how badly he’s played in the preseason. That said, don’t expect Houston to repeat as division champs.
4. Tennessee Titans: Projected Record 5-11
Marcus Mariota didn’t have eye-popping stats last year, with 2,818 and 19 touchdowns in 14 games. But he also showed some poise by tossing just 10 interceptions despite having few weapons to help him.
If Mariota is to take the next step, he’ll need some help, which the Titans hope that they’ve provided by trading for RB DeMarco Murray and signing wideout Rishard Matthews. They also drafted Jake Conklin at No. 8 overall to shore up the right tackle position, and RB Derick Henry to spell Murray.
Based on the trade for Murray and the drafting of Henry, Tennessee is trying to become a running team. How this works out will be anybody’s guess since Murray has a lot to prove after a down season in Philadelphia. But the Titans have at least made some bold moves to help their anemic running game.
As for the defense, Jurrell Casey doesn’t get the attention that most D-ends do, but he was easily the Titans’ MVP last season. If Derrick Morgan can get back to the pass-rushing level that he showed up until last year, then this team could be excellent at pressuring quarterbacks.
Overall, there are still holes for this team to fill in 2016. But Tennessee should at least be a little bit better.