Jimmy McGinty previews the NFC South and he expects big improvement from the Titans and Jaguars while the Colts could collapse.
AFC South – 2016 standings
Houstan Texans 9-7
Tennesse Titans 9-7
Indianapolis Colts 8-8
Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13
A bad division where amazingly the 29th ranked offense made the playoffs. I think things are looking up for some in 2017 and the AFC South may throw up a decent playoff team. But there will be some garbage in here too again unfortunately.
Going into the off-season the Colts needed huge improvements on defense (30th in yards conceded) and on their offensive-line (5th most sacks allowed). There were also running back issues (23rd best), despite Gore going over 1000yds, age has to catch up with him very soon.
The already miserable defense lost Robert Mathis to retirement and Mike Adams to Panthers. Bar the addition of run stopper Johnaton Hankins and safety Malik Hooker (15th overall draft pick) they didn’t do much else. This means a bad pass rush, awful linebackers and weak secondary. For good measure their top/only cornerback Vontae Davis is out for the first few games with a groin injury. They’ll be shredded by any remotely decent passing attacks.
Andrew Luck pretty much is the Colts. He’s one of the best QBs in the League but after working behind a terrible offensive-line he’s now like the walking wounded. He had surgery on his throwing shoulder in January and has yet to feature in preseason. Far from an ideal scenario. The running back position is still a major worry as Frank Gore is the starter yet again. He turns 34 and his stats unsurprisingly suggest he’s slowing down.
The Colts allowed 44 sacks last season, 5th most. However none of them came through the rookie centre Ryan Kelly. He was terrific and now he’s also out injured. The weak links who allowed the sacks will be starting again and with a poorer centre beside them. If Luck does get fit he probably won’t stay that way for long.
Jags and Titans are looking like they are ready to deliver on their potential so the Colts could suddenly be the weakest side in the AFC South. Fortunately for them they get some soft out of division games; Browns, Cardinals (home), Rams, 49ers & Bills will be five winnable games. However 4 of those matchups occur in the first 5 weeks of the season – when Davis and Kelly are out and there will be major doubts over Luck’s fitness. A slow start before a stiffening schedule could make it a long year for Colts fans.
5pts Colts under 8.5wins – 4/5 SkyBet.
2pts Colts to finish 4th in AFC South – 11/4 WilliamHill
What interests me the most about the Colts is TY Hilton won’t be retaining his regular season most receiving yards title with so many doubts around Luck. So I scribbled about a few longshots worth supporting in that market.
Off-season notes read: Good roster but pass defense must improve especially at cornerback. Wide receiver another need, maybe even two of them.
The defensive additions included a good run stopping safety, Johnathan Cyprien from rivals in Jacksonville. They also took a cornerback with the 18th overall draft pick and added another in ex-Patriot Logan Ryan. That should do it.
Wide receiver was an awful weakness with Tajae Sharpe, Andre Johnson and Harry Douglas all featuring too often last season. Eric Decker and Corey Davis will change this! Decker played only 3 games last year but still managed almost 200yds and 2 TDs. Prior to this he had 4yrs of roughly 1,000yds & 8 TDs average. Davis was the no.5 overall draft pick, he’s a very exciting talent.
That’s in addition to the top O-Line, solid tight-end and talented QB. All working alongside a strong running game (3rd most yards in 2016) means the Titans have many ways to move the ball and score.
Won 9 last year and have since added talent exactly where they needed it. I like the idea of double figure wins in Tennessee. The Colts look miserable and the Texans and Jags aren’t to be feared. Out of division clashes with Miami, Browns, Ravens, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers are all very winnable; it’s a soft schedule.
5pts Titans over 9 wins – 6/5 Paddy Power, Betfair
2pts Titans to win AFC South – 15/8 Boyles, BetVictor
There’s a lot to like about the Jags but they are being held back by one of the worst QBs in the league. He wasn’t even their best QB in the preseason games yet Blake Bortles will retain the starting gig.
Luckily the Jags added a top running back (4th overall draft pcik Leonard Fournette) which will allow them take the game out of Bortles hands and run the clock down whilst backing their terrific defence. It’s a sensible plan.
The 2016 Jags defense allowed the 3rd least receiving yards and were 6th best in yards per attempt in rushing allowed. The 2017 version will include three quality free agency signings Barry Church, Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye. Campbell will boost the pass rush considerably, it was a potential weak link.
If Bortles gets it together he has three decent receivers to target. There’ll be some low-scoring close games but they should do enough.
It’s a small sample size (2 games) but the Jags looked to be much improved for Doug Marrone once Bradley left as head-coach. They’ve a reasonably talented roster and potentially the easiest schedule of all 32 teams. Ravens (home), Jets, Rams, Colts x2, Browns, 49ers, Cardinals and Texans x2 all catch the eye. With an over/under of just 6.5 games I’m happy to be betting them on the overs.
4pts Jags over 6.5 wins – 8/11 PaddyPower
1pt Jags to make the playoffs – 4/1 BetVictor
Siding with the Jags and Titans I’m already leaning towards being against the Texans in 2017. The fact they won 9 games in 2016 whilst their offense ranked 29th in total yards is amazing – it also speaks volumes of their defense. But it’s not sustainable, the offense needs to improve.
Tom Savage looks likely to start as QB before being replaced by DeShaun Watson. Both are better than Brook Osweiler but neither are proven at this level.
Top receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a massive 2015 but very poor 2016. As he’s pretty much the only talented receiving option with the Texans so they’ll need the 2015 version to reappear. No.2 receiver Will Fuller missing the first few games through injury, broken collarbone, will also impact this already limited offense.
The Texans need a better offensive-line to run the ball better but there were no notable changes during the off-season.
JJ Watt returns from injury but with Vince Wilfork retiring the running lanes may open up for opponents and cornerback CJ Bouye (Jags) and safety Quintin Demps (Bears) also departing the secondary will be vulnerable.
Home clashes with Jags, Titans and Chiefs with trips to New England and Cincinnati will make the opening 5 weeks very difficult. With Seahawks, Steelers and 3 divisional road games still to come the start is key for Texans fans. I see them getting in a hole and struggling to get out of it.
Question marks at quarterback, a lack of depth and talent in the other skill positions, a poor offensive line and a defense that may take a step back. Happy to take under 8.5 wins.
3pts Texans under 8.5 wins – 10/11 BetVictor
AFC South - 2017 Prediction
Tennessee Titans 11-5
Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7
Houston Texans 6-10
Indianapolis Colts 5-11