QB Questions Abound in AFC South

Training camp starts this week! Need to get caught up on where every NFL team stands as the season approaches? Here’s a handy preview complete with odds to let you know what to expect from each team heading into the 2017 season. This is where I usually say something about the dichotomy between the props you can actually bet on (like Super Bowl futures) and props that you can’t (like pick-sixes by Blake Bortles). But I’m going to assume you already read my write-ups on the NFC WestNFC SouthNFC EastNFC North, and AFC West, and don’t need another disclaimer. Instead, I’ll just remind you to read our sportsbook reviews before you do make any wagers. 

HOUSTON TEXANS

He’s back! So naturally, he’ll add Comeback Player of the Year to a full trophy case. (Victor Araiza, via Flickr)

For the third straight season, the Texans finished 9-7 despite below average play from the quarterback position. However, unlike the previous years, last season’s bad QB play cost the team $21 million. The Brock Osweiler contract was so bad, Houston had to give up a second-round pick just to shed the remaining salary. Now for the fifth straight season, the Texans will have a new face starting under center in Week 1. But instead of another desperate free-agent pickup, the franchise will start an actual draft pick for once: either Tom Savage (fourth round, 2014) or first-round rookie Deshaun Watson. It’ll be difficult for either one to play worse than Osweiler, so as long as they aren’t historically inept. With DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller to lean on, either QB should be able lead the Texans to their usual 9-7 finish, because …

Houston will boast a ferocious pass rush with a returning J.J. Watt teaming up with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. The secondary is also equipped to handle the loss of A.J. Bouye, with Kevin Johnson returning from injury. All told, the Texans D should be as good, if not better, than the 2016 unit that ranked seventh in defensive DVOA. Houston also has a pretty advantageous schedule, crossing over to play a beatable NFC West. The only reason the Texans aren’t runaway favorites to win the South again is that the rest of this bummer division finally looks to be on the upswing. It’s unlikely Houston manages a 5-1 division record again.

2017 Texans Odds & Props

Odds to win AFC South: 7/3

Over/under number of sacks for Texans defense: 41.5

Odds JJ Watt wins Defensive Player of the Year: 9/1

Odds Deshaun Watson starts Week 1: 5/7

Based on the price they paid to trade up and grab the Clemson star, you’d figure Watson will get to play soon. But Bill O’Brien seems to be leaning towards Savage, who has never had a chance to seize the starting role thanks to injury. Given that same injury history, though, it’s possible Savage may not even survive camp.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

There’s only one important question that will determine the Colts chances this year, but in order to fill space, I’ll ignore it and talk about their defense. Hey, look at this brand new group! So many new names, so few of which have started 16 games in a season before. Indy’s big free agency haul was basically Johnathan Hankins and a bunch of backups. Add in six defensive players in the draft, and the unit will barely resemble the 2016 iteration. That is good, because the 2016 iteration was some hot garbage. Finishing 30th in the league in total defense and 29th in DVOA, Indy would’ve had a hard time winning games even if their franchise QB was healthy.

That brings us to the real story of this season’s Colts: Andrew Luck’s lingering shoulder problems. If Luck’s recovery from offseason surgery goes well, then Indy should be a competitive force in an up-for-grabs division. But the longer he goes without throwing, the more Colts fans should panic. Remember that season without Peyton Manning? That’s how bad this team will look if you have to turn the offense over to Scott Tolzien. Indy has an easy schedule out of the gate (Rams, Cardinals and Browns), but if Luck isn’t ready to go for Week 1, the Colts are going to be slow starters. Then again, given how bad the offensive line still is, perhaps Luck should sit out against Aaron Donald and the Rams no matter how he’s feeling.

2017 Colts Odds & Props

Odds to win AFC South: 3/1

Over/under regular-season starts for Andrew Luck: 13

Odds Andrew Luck wins NFL MVP: 28/1

Odds the Colts have the best scoring defense in the AFC: 60/1

Hankins seems to think that’s the case. He may be right … if you don’t include the Broncos, Patriots, Chiefs, Steelers, Ravens, Texans, etc.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Chad Henne has the face of every Jaguars fan when they learned they were due for another season of Blake Bortles. (Keith Allison, via Flickr)

Here we have another recycled preview from 2016. Entitled “Is this the year the Jaguars finally make the leap?” the piece gets very excited about personnel upgrades at running back, safety, corner, and along the defensive line. The big difference between this year’s preview and last is that this year’s won’t foolishly tab Blake Bortles as “still improving.” Such proclamations were wholly inaccurate last year, and a big reason Jacksonville couldn’t even improve on the low bar of a 5-11 record. Bortles was every bit as ineffective as in 2015, when he earned the moniker “king of garbage time.” And with Jacksonville’s defense rising to the level of respectability, Bortles had far fewer blowouts in which to pad his stats. Without 35 touchdowns to throw people off his scent, the public quickly figured out Bortles was not a good QB.

Jacksonville’s new head coach, Doug Marrone, has yet to learn that lesson, which is why Bortles not only enters the season as the starter, he’s the only option. The team failed to add a quality veteran backup, so if (when) Bortles fails, another Jaguars season will be lost. Which is a shame, because on paper, this Jags roster can go toe-to-toe with anyone else in the division. With a few tough defenses early, including Houston — masters of the Bortles pick-six — in Week 1, we’ll know very soon whether this Jaguar has changed its spots.

2017 Jaguars Odds & Props

Odds to win AFC South: 11/2

Odds Leonard Fournette wins Offensive Rookie of the Year: 5/1

Over/under pick-sixes thrown by Blake Bortles: 2.5

He’s thrown at least three in each of his first three seasons. The only reason to balk at the over is if you think he may not start enough games to hit his mark.

TENNESSEE TITANS

The Titans have replaced the Jaguars as downtrodden AFC South franchise everyone is excited about, but unlike Jacksonville, Tennessee proved they aren’t allergic to winning after finishing last season 9-7. Thanks to a huge improvement along the offensive line, the Titans boasted one of the league’s best rushing attacks, while keeping Marcus Mariota upright nearly all season. (A broken fibula in Week 16 ended his season, but he is expected to be available to start training camp.) If Mariota can stay healthy, the passing attack should only get better after the team added Eric Decker and rookie Corey Davis.

Stopping the pass is the real area the Titans need to see results if they want to be a force in the AFC. The starting secondary should look quite different from last season, with Logan Ryan, Jonathan Cyprien, and rookie Adoree Jackson taking the jobs of Jason McCourty, Rashad Johnson, and the hapless Perrish Cox. It’s tough to project how a unit will fair when it undergoes such a massive change, but considering the Titans had a strong push up front last season (40 sacks), life shouldn’t be too demanding on this coverage. Tennessee will face some tough tests to open the season, but if they are as good as they look on paper, then watch out for this team down the stretch. They finish the year with the Rams, 49ers, and Jaguars.

2017 Titans Odds & Props

Odds to win AFC South: 7/3

Over/under team rushing yards in 2017: 2,200

Odds Marcus Mariota makes his first Pro Bowl: 5/4

Granted it’s not quite as big an honor as it used to be, since they name about five QBs to the Pro Bowl to replace an injured Big Ben and a Super Bowl-bound Tom Brady.

Boris

Hockey may be a wildly unpopular sport in the U.S., but where no one is paying attention, there's a ton of value for Boris to mine. An avid NHL fan of over 20 years, Malloy made his first bet against a friend during the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals (going against Ray Bourque) and has been hooked ever since. He has yet to pay off that debt of $2, but he's made plenty back since. In between worrying about the league's next lockout, he regularly contributes to MTS and is also fluent in football, basketball, baseball and French (sort of).