We expect big improvements in the AFC South this year. But how confident are you in putting the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans in your football picks?
It's not easy to fail in the NFL. The system is set up to make bad teams better and good teams worse, what with the draft and the salary cap and all that. It takes a special kind of organizational ineptitude, or even a willful disregard for wins and losses, for a franchise to spend year after year at the bottom of the league standings.
Welcome to the AFC South. This is the home of two particularly sad teams: the Jacksonville Jaguars, who haven't had a winning season since 2007, and the Tennessee Titans, who haven't made the playoffs since 2008. We have some good news for their beleaguered fans, though. According to our projections, based on NFL odds and advanced stats, the Jaguars and the Titans will win more than twice as many games combined as they did last year.
In the Basement
Talk about the soft tyranny of low expectations. They might have improved, but Jacksonville and Tennessee are still aimed at the bottom half of the AFC South standings:
Indianapolis Colts 11-5
Houston Texans 8-8
Tennessee Titans 6-10
Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11
Once again, the regular season win-loss totals and the stat-based projections are very close, although the Jags are looking at a win total of 5.5 with the OVER favored at all the sportsbooks on our NFL odds board, including Pinnacle. We've chosen to round down instead to reflect the advanced stats, and the general malaise that has beset the Jags.
We'd like to think they've got it figured out in Jacksonville. The franchise was bought in 2011 by Shahid Khan, and he put in a new front office in 2013, led by GM David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, formerly the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. These things take time, though, and QB Blake Bortles has a long development curve in front of him.
Middle of the Table
The Titans also dipped into the Seattle waters when they hired GM Ruston Webster in 2012, and they brought in a respected offensive guru in 2014 when they named Ken Whisenhunt as their head coach. We're a bit more skeptical about this team given its dismissal of football analytics, but the on-field product looks much better with Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota in town. Winning four more games that last year would be a positive step forward.
The rest of the AFC South is easy. The Indianapolis Colts have won the division at 11-5 each of the past three years since Chuck Pagano was hired as head coach (including the “Chuckstrong” season under interim coach Bruce Arians), and the Houston Texans went 9-7 in their first season under Bill O'Brien. They get downgraded a step after replacing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick with Cleveland Browns cast-off Brian Hoyer. If Houston isn't careful, it could end up back on the mediocrity treadmill, neither making the playoffs nor collecting high draft picks. The horror. The horror.