The AFC South promises to be a three-way shoot out this season as the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts all set their sights on the divisional title.
Last term it was the Texans who took the honours with a 10-6 record but the Titans and Colts will be pushing hard to leapfrog them, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are set to prop up not just the division but potentially the entire NFL as they embark on yet another rebuilding project.
Based on their 51-31 capitulation against the Kansas City Chiefs in last term’s play-off, defence appeared to be the area of weakness Texans head coach Bill O’Brien needed to concentrate on this off-season.
Never one to follow the crowd though, O’Brien decided the best course of action was to trade away his top wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals.
In return, Houston got running-back David Johnson, while they also signed Brandin Cooks to fill the very big shoes Hopkins left.
However, with the exception of Hopkins, the Texans return the majority of the squad that performed well last season and have arguably the best quarterback in the division in DeShaun Watson.
Watson elevated Houston to another level and they will need him to be special again if they are to win the AFC South, especially if their back luck with injuries continues, star defensive end JJ Watt and wide receiver Will Fuller having missed considerable time last season.
Few would have predicted the Titans would get within a game of the Super Bowl last season, especially after starting 2-4, but a monster year from Derrick Henry and a career-saving comeback campaign from Ryan Tannehill turned the tide to see them shock the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots on the road in the play-offs.
The Chiefs proved too good in the AFC Championship game in the end but the Titans are viewed as serious contenders as a result of their 2019/20 exploits.
The league’s leading rusher Henry is back after his best year to date but may struggle to build upon his 1540-yard, 16-touchdown season. The loss of Jack Conklin on the offensive line is a big setback, while questions over Henry’s durability remain after having over 400 touches last season.
That could put added pressure on quarterback Tannehill, who had a strong run-in after replacing Marcus Mariota, earning him a long-term deal. Whether lightning will strike twice again is a big question mark but Tennessee are still a solid outfit, going 9-7 the last four years, and return a strong defence boosted by the signing of Vic Beasley.
The Titans are
6/4 to win the AFC South but a stretch of five road games in the last seven weeks of the season, coupled with the wear and tear Henry is likely to suffer, could derail their chances.
There is plenty of buzz about the Colts after some eye-catching additions in free agency and an offensive-minded draft. The big new arrival is quarterback Philip Rivers, who links up with head coach Frank Reich again in the hope of a career-swansong. Bad quarterback play and injuries cost this team last year as they fell to 7-9 but it is hoped Rivers can rectify at least one aspect of their problems.
Rivers is coming off a dreadful year for the LA Chargers, getting sacked 34 times and throwing 20 interceptions. However, the Colts offensive line is one of the best in the league, offering Rivers much better protection and he’ll have plenty of weapons to aim at with Michael Pittman Jr drafted to join TY Hilton and co.
They are also stacked at running back after drafting Jonathan Taylor, who could offer good value at
11/1 to be the offensive rookie of the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts traded away their first-round pick in their year’s draft for talented defensive end DeForest Buckner, while also picking up Xavier Rhodes. With Darius Leonard as impressive as ever at linebacker, the defence should take a step forward.
Indianapolis look the most well-rounded team in the division and are justifiable favourites to win the AFC South at
The Jags’ fall from grace has been fast and spectacular, having gone from participating in the AFC Championship game in 2018 to being one of the favourites to land the No.1 draft this season.
Despite going 6-10 last year, producing some awful performances on the way, head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwel kept their jobs in a surprising move given the need to rebuild the squad.
AJ Boye, Calais Campbell & Nick Foles all left in the off-season and Yannick Ngakoue and Leonard Fournette could get traded before the season starts. Although most of the stars have gone, they still have some nice pieces on the defensive side, in particular Myles Jack, and added linebacker Joe Schobert in the summer.
Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew performed above expectations last season just to get lead the team to six wins and it is highly unlikely they’ll match that tally with the Jaguars
5/8 to win under five games this season.
*All odds correct at time of writing.